Tips and Recipes for a Gluten and Dairy Free Diet

April 15th, 2009

Ask VinDo you have recipes and tips for families following the gluten and casein free diet which can be very effective in helping children with autism?

For those that may not know, gluten is a protein found in most grain based foods and casein is a protein found in dairy. Many people react negatively to these proteins and experience a wide variety of health complications as a result. Because of this, it’s becoming more and more common for people to eliminate grains and dairy from their diets.

Food Reactions and Poor Digestive Health

Few people realize how extremely important the digestive tract is to good health. In addition to breaking down the food we eat and facilitating it’s absorption into the blood stream, the digestive system represents more than two thirds of our immune system and is often referred to as the “second brain” because it has an entire branch of the nervous system dedicated to driving its function.

Grains have only been part of the human diet for approximately 10,000 years which is not nearly enough time for an evolutionary adaptation. As such, many of us are unable to properly digest grain based foods. While dairy is arguably a much more natural part of the human diet than grain, nearly all dairy is exposed to the destructive pasteurization process which significantly alters it’s natural composition. While pasteurization is intended to kill germs and improve the safety of dairy products, it also destroys and deforms beneficial nutrients making them less beneficial and potentially difficult to digest.

During digestion, gluten and casein are digested into smaller peptides. With compromised intestinal health, these peptides can easily enter the bloodstream where they’re likely to be recognized as antigens and attacked by the immune system. This can result in autoimmune disorders, and because some gluten and casein peptides are opioids, they can alter brain function as well. The immune response to gluten and casein can also occur within the intestines which will cause inflammation and can ultimately lead to more intestinal damage. This will likely case an increase in intestinal permeability and result in a higher susceptibility to the problems associated with gluten and casein.

Because most people eat grain or dairy with every meal, it should be no surprise that these digestive issues can eventually destroy the intestinal lining, cause the immunity of the intestines to shut down, affect the rest of the body, and open the door to major disease.

The Link to Autism

The gluten and dairy free diet is commonly included in natural treatment protocols for autism because of the excessive immune activity and alteration in brain function that gluten and casein can cause. There’s an especially strong association between autism and a specific type of casein called A1 beta casein. Autism is often associated with chronic infections, immune deficiency, and even autoimmune disorders. As such, giving the overworked and rundown immune system a rest from having to fight off reactive foods often provides symptom relief and gives the body a much better chance of healing itself.

Gluten and Dairy Aren’t the Only Culprits

As intestinal health declines, we become more susceptible to developing food sensitivities. Unfortunately, this can and typically does include healthy foods such as meat, fruit and vegetables. As such, avoiding gluten and dairy isn’t always enough and it’s often important to be tested for food sensitivities. Doing so will enable you to eliminate unnecessary immune activity within the intestines by specifically identifying the foods that you react to and should avoid.

Gluten and Dairy Replacements

While it’s best to avoid grains completely when gluten intolerance is a concern, there are several gluten free grains that can usually be eaten without a problem. They are amaranth, rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa and millet. However, if you’re very sensitive to gluten, keep in mind that these grains are sometimes contaminated with small traces of it.

Excellent replacements for dairy include coconut milk, coconut oil and ghee. While soy is often used in place of dairy, it’s far from the health food that it’s advertised to be and can cause worse problems than the dairy it’s replacing. For more information on the risks of soy, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Soy Alert page or read The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniels.

Get the Entire Family Involved

The modern diet is extremely high in grain based foods, and unfortunately, we’ve developed quite an appetite for them. In fact, many people are literally addicted to highly refined grain based foods such as bread and pasta. Although dairy isn’t quite as popular as grain, it’s not far behind. As such, following a diet that eliminates these two foods can be extremely difficult from both a mental and logistical perspective.

Because grain and dairy intolerance are so common, especially when you consider mild cases, most people would benefit from trying a grain and dairy free diet. If you or someone in your family needs to avoid grain and dairy, having the entire family follow the diet will not only provide support, but will likely improve the health of everyone involved as well.


Because I’m not a big fan of cooking and tend to follow a simple diet that many would consider boring, I don’t have many good recipes to share. However, I do have two excellent nutritional resources to recommend that contain plenty of grain free and dairy free recipes.

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is an excellent resource that provides a combination of nutritional information and a wide variety of traditional recipes based on whole foods. Whether or not you’re looking for recipes, this is a book that anyone interested in nutrition should own.

The Garden of Eating by Rachel Albert-Matesz & Don Matesz is another excellent nutrition book that contains plenty of gluten free and dairy free recipes, and like Nourishing Traditions, it also discusses nutritional principles in great depth.

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