Autism Food List

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

December 19, 2022

Our autism food list can help children with autism get all the vitamins and minerals they need to grow strong. The optimal food list for autism should include whole foods with sufficient amounts of essential micronutrients. 

You should pay special attention to the vitamins and minerals that children with autism are at risk of not getting enough of. Foods that provide multiple vitamins and minerals—such as dairy products, leafy greens, beans, nuts, and eggs—are especially important to include in any autism food list

It can be challenging to make sure children with autism get the proper nutrition, since they are more likely to have food aversions and food sensitivities. 

Balanced Diet and Autism

Maintaining a balanced diet can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with ASD are more likely than children without ASD to reject foods based on:

  • Texture or consistency
  • Taste or smell
  • Mixtures
  • Brand 
  • Shape 

If a child rejects foods from one or more food groups, they put themselves at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can affect their health. Studies show that children with autism are at risk for deficiencies in several vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Choline

What Diet Problems Should You Look Out For?

In general, if your child is eating food from all of the food groups and is growing well, there is no need to be concerned. However, there are some red flags to watch for

Contact your doctor or pediatrician if you notice any of the following in your child. 

  • Eats less than 20 foods
  • Rejects foods from one or more food groups
  • Constipation
  • Tooth decay
  • Losing weight or not growing well
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Tiredness
  • Pica (eating items that are not edible)
  • Missing school as a result of eating problems
  • Coughing or choking while eating
  • Missing social opportunities due to eating problems 

Food List for Autism

The following lists contain whole foods that are good sources of the vitamins and minerals that children with autism often lack. When you make your personalized autism food list, you may add or subtract some foods based on food allergies, sensitivities, and personal preference. 

Foods Sources of Calcium

The following foods are good sources of calcium

  • Nonfat or skim milk
  • Nonfat or low fat yogurt
  • Fortified milk alternatives 
  • Cheese 
  • Leafy greens (like spinach, broccoli, and kale)
  • Tahini 
  • Fortified fruit juice

Food Sources of Vitamin D

The following foods are good sources of vitamin D.

  • Fish (like salmon, trout, tilapia, and tuna)
  • Milk
  • Fortified milk alternatives 
  • Yogurt 
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified fruit juice 

Food Sources of Vitamin A

The following foods are good sources of vitamin A.

  • Leafy greens
  • Tomatoes 
  • Red bell peppers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Eggs 
  • Fortified foods 

Food Sources of Vitamin K

The following foods are good sources of vitamin K.

  • Leafy greens
  • Soybean and canola oils
  • Meats
  • Cheese
  • Eggs 

Food Sources of Iron

The following foods are good sources of iron

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Duck
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Shrimp
  • Shellfish
  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Green peas
  • Sweet potato
  • Prune juice
  • Sesame seeds
  • Cashews

Food Sources of Fiber

The following foods are good sources of dietary fiber.

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Popcorn
  • Oatmeal 
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • All vegetables
  • All fruit
  • Seeds and nuts (like pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds)

Food Sources of Potassium

The following foods are good sources of potassium.

  • Leafy greens 
  • Water chestnuts 
  • Plantains
  • Butternut squash
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes 
  • Artichoke
  • Carrots 
  • Pinto beans
  • Avocado
  • Onions
  • Red bell pepper
  • Beans
  • Bananas 
  • Most fruit
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Coconut water
  • Meat and seafood 

Food Sources of Magnesium

The following foods are good sources of magnesium

  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole wheat
  • Rice 

Food Sources of Phosphorus and Choline

The following foods are good sources of phosphorus and choline.

  • Dairy products
  • Meat and seafood
  • Eggs 
  • Nuts
  • Beans 

Why Is a Balanced Diet Important?

A well-balanced diet that includes all of the food groups provides the energy and nutrients necessary to grow and stay active. 

The food groups that make up a healthy, balanced diet include:

  • Vegetables—all types 
  • Fruits—especially whole fruit
  • Grains—at least half should be whole grain
  • Dairy—includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified milk alternatives
  • Protein food—includes lean meat, chicken, eggs, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils—includes oils in seafood, nuts, and vegetable oils

Can Food Affect Autism Symptoms? 

Medical research has not been able to prove that any special diets are effective treatments for autism. 

Gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet is considered an alternative treatment for autism. This diet eliminates all foods that contain gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley products) and casein (found in dairy products). 

It is thought that children with autism process gluten and casein in a way that affects behavior, and eliminating these from the diet may improve speech and behavior. However, current research on the effectiveness of this diet is lacking. 

What Are the Risks of a GFCF Diet?

The GFCF diet has some risks. Cutting gluten from the diet increases the risk of not getting enough fiber, since whole wheat products are some of the easiest sources of dietary fiber. 

Eliminating casein means cutting out all dairy products, which are a great source of many important vitamins necessary for a child to grow and thrive. One study found that boys with autism on a casein-free diet had reduced bone thickness compared to boys who were not on a restricted diet.  

10 Tips for Introducing New Foods

It can be a struggle to introduce new foods to children. Here are some tips to help make it easier. 

  1. Offer choices—Let your child pick which food to try next.
  2. Play with food—Make a funny face on their plate or a rainbow out of veggies. 
  3. Pay attention to texture—Start with foods that have a smooth texture.
  4. Go slow—Only introduce one new food at a time and serve new foods with ones they already like. 
  5. Don’t use their favorite food as a reward—using your child’s favorite food as a reward for trying a new food may make your child feel that eating a new food is a chore. 
  6. Get kids involved—Ask your child to help to cook a healthy dinner.
  7. Try it first—Have an adult try the food first to show your child that it's good.
  8. Offer food multiple times—It can take many tries before your child likes it. 
  9. Use healthy alternatives —Swap out a favorite treat for a healthier alternative that looks and tastes similar. 
  10. Keep a food diary—Food diaries can help you figure out what, when, and how much your child is eating.  

Conclusion

An autism food list is a useful tool to make sure your child gets the right amounts of vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. A food list will look different for everyone, but should include whole foods that are good sources of multiple essential vitamins and minerals. This is especially important for children with autism who are at risk for multiple vitamin deficiencies. 

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