My guest this week is Julie Matthews a Certified Nutrition Consultant and published nutrition researcher specializing in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders. She is the author of the award-winning book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, and co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients.
Julie’s approach is based on the BioIndividual Nutrition® needs of each person and stems from her 17 years of work with autism. Using autism as a model for complex chronic disease, her approach and methodology have helped practitioners specializing in varied disorders aid in the improvement of the health and healing of their clients through strategic BioIndividual Nutrition and dietary intervention. Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California, and supports families and clinicians from around the world with her nutrition learning tools and professional training courses.
In this episode, Julie and I discuss and demystify many popular special diets for children with autism and neurodevelopmental needs. Julie shares her expertise on a variety of diets such as gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, low-oxalate, paleo, & GAPS diets. Children struggling on the Autism spectrum and those with neurodevelopmental needs can greatly benefit from specialized nutritional and dietary interventions that aim to target their specific needs for optimal results. To learn more about Julie click here.
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Research On Special Diets for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Needs
- Research shows that kids with Autism have more gastrointestinal issues
- Study published in Nutrients based on a multivitamin-mineral formula, digestive enzymes, carnitine, Epsom salt baths, and a healthy gluten-free, casein-free and soy-free diet
- After one year:
- an almost 7 point improvement in non-verbal IQ
- 4.5 times developmental age improvement
- Improvements in anxiety, depression, irritability, language and more!
- After one year:
- Gluten and dairy are two of the most difficult inflammatory foods for the digestive system
Soy-Free Diet & Why Any Diet Must Be “Healthy”
- Soy, is similar to gluten and casein in that it can be difficult to break down and cause inflammation
- Why a “healthy” diet is important
- There are countless food products that are labeled and technically free of dairy, gluten, and soy but this does not constitute them as being healthy
- Many foods contain artificial dyes and flavors which can cause hyperactivity in any child
- The more organic, the better
- Avoiding GMOs and pesticides (known neurotoxins)
- Any time the diet can be healthier, you are going to find a happier and healthier result!
Low-Oxalate, Paleo, & GAPS Diets
- Low- Oxalate Diets (LOD)
- Reduced consumption of high oxalate foods such as certain greens (ex: spinach), beans, legumes, nuts and nut flours (ex: almond flour)
- Can help reduce inflammatory symptoms
- Paleo Diet
- Grain-free diet which cuts beans, refined sugars, and dairy
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet
- Grain-free diet which cuts refined carbs, dairy, starchy vegetables and mucilaginous fibers
- For more information on ‘Why Diet Matters’ click here.
What Is The Right Diet For My Kid?
- A step-by-step process is best
- Do your research
- Evaluate the symptoms
- Take your time through the process
- Jumping into anyone diet without the right steps and you may find yourself or child with other symptoms and issues
- There is no one right answer or diagnosis for everyone
Taking The First Step
- Avoid junk food, artificial colors, preservatives, and sugars
- Start with cleaning up the diet you currently have
- Evaluate what you are feeding you and your child now and see what the differences are before you start a specific diet
Where to learn more about Julie Matthews…
- 6 Nutrition Essentials Guide
- Nourishing Hope Website
- Twitter: @nourishinghope
- Facebook: Nourishing Hope
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Research On Special Diets … 00:03:30
Why Any Diet Must Be “Healthy” … 00:16:35
Low-Oxalate, Paleo, & GAPS Diets … 00:21:15
What Is The Right Diet For My Kid? … 00:30:50
Bio-Individuality … 00:34:00
Taking The First Step … 00:35:15
Episode Wrap Up … 00:39:06
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I am Dr. Nicole and today we are going to delve into the realm of special diets for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. You may have heard about things like the gluten-free diet, the dairy-free diet, paleo diet, specific carbohydrate diet, Ketogenic diet, low-oxalate diet — and the list goes on. There are so many different options out there and it can be really confusing and overwhelming for parents to try to figure out which diet is necessary or appropriate for their child. I know a question that I get asked a lot is: What type of diet or which diet is the best for my child or for kids with these kinds of issues? And there’s no one I know who is better equipped to answer those questions and talk about this topic than my friend and colleague Julie Matthews.
Let me tell you a little bit about Julie: Julie is a certified nutrition consultant and published nutrition researcher specializing in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders. She is the author of the award-winning book, ‘Nourishing Hope for Autism’ and co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism, published in the peer-reviewed journal ‘Nutrients’. Julie’s approach is based on the BioIndividual Nutrition needs of each person and stems from her 17 years of work with autism. Using autism as the model for complex chronic disease, her approach and methodology has helped practitioners specializing in a wide variety of disorders to help improve the health and healing of their clients through strategic BioIndividual Nutrition and dietary interventions.
Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California and supports families and clinicians from around the world with her nutrition learning tools and professional training courses. And I will tell you that Julie is one of the first people that I started learning from way back, years ago, when I got interested in the role of diet and nutrition in children and specifically kids with autism and related kinds of things — so I have been learning from Julie for a long time. And today, she is going to help us cut through the confusion and demystify the world of special diets for these kids. So Julie, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much! This is great! I’m so excited to be here!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So, I want to start out with something that I think is really important when we start talking about diets and just nutrition strategies in general for kids who have these issues, and that is the question that comes up around research — and you know, for years, people in the field have said, “Oh, there is no research on these diets, you know this is just parents and a few fringy professionals talking about using foods or special diets, but there really isn’t good research for it.” And I want to start there because I know you have a lot to say about that and also have recently done a really important study in this realm. So let’s talk about the research basis for using nutrition, particularly specialized diets in kids with these kinds of issues.
Great. I would love that because one of the most common things I hear from — typically if I’m on an airplane, sitting next to a doctor or something, then I’ll hear, “Oh, there’s no research or science for that diets for autism stuff.” So it’s frustrating and you can imagine for parents, if they even question or ask or wonder or ponder these ideas, they are met with that same level of resistance and skepticism and inaccuracy. It’s frustrating for me as someone who has studied the science for many, many years. If you’re a parent, you don’t even know really where to go with that. So I feel a strong responsibility to families to share the science with everybody that I can — both the parents, because those are the ones I want to help, but also the doctors and various people in the healthcare community because they’re the ones that would be hopefully making these recommendations.
And so I have been studying — and even the American, they’re called something new now — American Dietetics Association, called now the American Nutrition and Dietetics, I think — and even they have sort of a policy that there really isn’t enough science to even the gluten-free and dairy-free diets. So parents really do find themselves doing their own research. So that’s why I’m really passionate about the research. It’s there. It’s just people need to read it and they need to be guided to it, so I feel that’s my job.
So there is a lot of research on special diets. Number 1: The gluten-free and dairy-free diet. We can approach this from a couple of different angles. We can approach it from the fact that research shows that kids with autism have more severe gastrointestinal issues. The more severe their gastrointestinal issues, the more severe their autism. There is a study that shows that. We know that depending on which study you’re looking at, a large percentage of them have digestive issues. So even if you just started there, when you have a digestive issues, you’re not able to break down the foods you’re eating and gluten and dairy are two of the most difficult inflammatory foods for the digestive system. So that right there is at least a little clue as to what might be happening. But then we look at the research actually on the subject and we see increased opioid compounds in the urine to things like gliadins, gluten-based/wheat-based compounds and casomorphins, casein, dairy-based compounds.
We see research on improvements in GI symptoms when a GFCF diet is done for people with autism and there is a wide variety of different studies looking at the benefits of the diets, improvements in their symptoms and that leads to a variety of different studies that have been done, including the study that we just put out last year that was just published in the Journal of Nutrients, which we are super excited about! Which goes into a gluten-free and dairy-free diet plus a whole host of other nutritional interventions, which is really more the way that a family would really implement diet. You know, families don’t decide to implement one nutrient, wait a year, see how it goes then implement another one — of course not, they don’t have that much time and also, that’s not the way, as you and I know, nutrients work. So they’re synergistic, one requires the cofactors of another and also nutrients and diet go together.
So in our study, we did a multivitamin mineral formula as an essential fatty acid, digestive enzymes, carnitine, epsom salt baths and a healthy gluten-free, casein-free and soy-free diet. And we did about one intervention a month over the course of — until we had them all implemented, it was little slightly different than that, but that’s the gist of it and then followed them for a whole year to see what their improvement was and there was, boy, an almost 7 point improvement in non-verbal IQ, which is huge! There was a 4 and a half times the developmental age improvement. So with developmental delays, you would expect a delay in development. So in 12 months you might have the neurotypical child would develop 12 months and 12 months, a delayed child would develop less. And so we did see that the non-treatment group, the control group developed about 4 months in that 12 months period. The group that got the treatment developed 18 months in that 12-month period. So 4 and a half times the development.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Amazing. Astounding. Yes.
Very exciting! And there were improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms, improvements in anxiety, depression, irritability, sociability — boy, language! I mean the list goes on and on. So we were really excited about the results of that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, it’s so exciting because as you just pointed out, there has been research dating back years and years now in the research literature supporting this concept of using dietary interventions for kids with autism, with other types of neurodevelopmental disorders, but what you and the team that you were a part of did with this study was really seek to answer this question about incorporating special diets, in this case the gluten, casein and soy-free diet. And for those of you that aren’t familiar, casein would be essentially a dairy-free diet. So a gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free diet for kids with autism and showed, yes that does make a difference and I think that’s so important because this whole idea has been just invalidated, I think over time by so many people — as you mentioned, even really the professional organizations who deal with nutrition who are supposed to be reading the literature and looking at this stuff, and these are not fringy ideas and I think that’s really what’s so important for parents to take from this is there is a lot of fringy stuff out there for sure.
The idea that food, that diet, that nutrition impacts the symptoms of autism and related disorders is a research-based concept. In fact, when we look just even as you said, outside the field of autism, we’ve got lots of research on how basic dietary intervention — special diets, whether it’s gluten-free, casein-free, whatever it is, impacts human beings with a wide range of conditions and that’s not a new idea. And for some reason, it’s been really sort of poo poo’d in the field of autism and related disorders. So you guys doing this study is such a pivotal moment in this discussion because it really does give parents and practitioners who are using these interventions some leverage now for saying, wait a minute, there is some good research around this.
Absolutely. And each of the interventions that were used in the study was actually already studied a number of times individually, which is why we brought them all together under one study to see what it was. So it’s not that — none of these, like you said, none of these are fringe concepts. They’ve all been tried and tested individually already. So we wanted to see, okay — what happens synergistically if we put them all together and what happens if we do a long-term study? Not a 6-week study, but a year-long study, what do we see? And what was interesting is that the GFCF diet was implemented last. So we had already seen a bunch of interesting gains along the way, but parents found that the multivitamin, the fish oil and the diet were the 3 things they noticed the biggest kind of boosts in. And there were a couple of really cool individual case studies that I think can highlight this as well.
One was a young man that was catheterized and had been, I believe, for years. He was not able to urinate on his own and when they did this diet, the dairy-free portion, he was able to urinate. He lost his catheterization, he was able to get rid of it, he was able to urinate on his own and then accidentally one day, he had eaten a fraction of, I think it was ice-cream and boom — came back, had to be catheterized again. They said wow, there is something really significant to this. Let’s go ahead and let’s just take that dairy out. This is obviously a challenge. So that’s a physical example. Sometimes, you know — how much language did someone improve from day 1 to day 2 might be a little harder to see sometimes than this very clear blockage that happened probably immediately when this happened for him. Shows you how much inflammation can happen and it can not only affect things like the gut or things like urination but it can affect the brain’s ability to function or a variety of other inflammatory-type conditions that can really impact people.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, I think that’s an important point because you know, sometimes amongst professionals or even parents, but specifically professionals — we like to have lots of arguments about, well — there is no diet for autism or this is the diagnosis. I just say, well let’s forget about the diagnosis for a minute. Let’s look at individual human beings. If I’ve got a kid in front of me who happens to have a diagnosis of autism or ADHD or whatever, and they’re severely constipated or in the case of the case study you just said, can’t urinate freely without catheterization, or is having pain or a vomiting reflex. Forget about the autism for a minute. Can we agree that dietary intervention could be helpful for these other issues and then by addressing those kinds of issues, lo and behold, we allow the person to function better and lo and behold, we find the symptoms of they neurological kinds of things improve. To me, that is just so obvious and I’ve been seeing it in practice for 20+ years, so I think that’s an important point that okay, even if we can’t all agree about treating the actual autism itself, can we agree that there’s a lot of people with a lot of symptoms that we can treat using nutrition, right?
Exactly! So what we do is we work on healing the body and I think every parent is going to agree — if your child is healthier and happier, that’s the most important part, right? So if we just address the pain they’re feeling or the symptoms they have and we just try to look at that and then we say, okay — well what happens with their autism secondarily? That’s also a reasonable approach. Nobody has to say this one diet is healing all of their autism. I mean, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t but that doesn’t even have to be the goal and like you said, it also doesn’t matter really to some extent what the diagnosis is because the underlying conditions of inflammation, gut dysfunction, immune system reactivity — these things can occur in a variety of conditions whether you’re 82 and you have Alzheimers or you’re 5 and you have autism. In fact, there was a man in the study who was — he had autism, he was 58. And he improved as well, so it doesn’t even really matter how old you are, you can still get improvement. And quality of life is, I think, what we all really care about in the end.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So powerful and so true. Could not agree more. I want to hone in on a piece that you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about the diet that you implemented in the study and I caught something that I think is important for us to touch on here for parents. You said that you implemented a healthy gluten-free casein-free, which is dairy-free, and soy-free diet. Two pieces I’d like for you to touch on there for our audience. One is: Why did you include the word healthy in front of that? I know, but I want you to share with people. The other piece is: Can you talk a little bit about why you also took soy out of the diet?
Absolutely. So I’ll start with soy first. So gluten and casein are similar, they have a similar ability to create opioid compounds. They’re also both difficult to break down. The same thing is true of soy. So all 3 of them can create the same type of inflammation and they can all fit when the proteins aren’t broken down into this opiate receptor and function like morphine or these opiates that I mentioned in the urine earlier. So foggy thinking, inattentiveness, those kinds of things as well as cravings for those very foods. So that’s the reason that soy is included in that picture.
And then, the reason it’s healthy is that there are a lot of candies on the market that are filled with artificial dyes and flavors that are technically gluten and dairy-free, I mean there are kind barely foods to begin with that don’t have any wheat or dairy in them but they are not healthy and we know that just the standard, average, everyday child that eats artificial additives can get hyperactivity from that. So if that can happen to any child, when you have some maybe digestion that is not working as well or detoxification that’s not working well or whatever it is, you might have an even much more strong reaction. So we don’t want to add a bunch of junk in. And the other thing is that organic is ideally — a healthy diet would have as much organic as we could, especially avoiding things that are GMO’s and things that would have pesticides. And we know pesticides are neurotoxins.
And so any time we can make the diet healthier that’s just going to help the individual in the end, like we said, be healthier and happier and contribute to their overall health. So we didn’t want to sacrifice quality for taking out this gluten and dairy, because you can have muffins and cakes and candies that are gluten and dairy-free but that is not going to help the person heal or feel better or that kind of thing. We want to try to take off the burdens that are really burdening the system and try to get as much nutrition to support the system as we could.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I think that’s really important and that’s a distinction, I think, for families to think about too when trying some of these diets. I’ve had numerous families over the years come into the clinic who say, “Oh, we tried the gluten-free diet.”, or “We did gluten-free and dairy-free.” And when I start looking at what they actually did for those diets or the quality and the nutrient density of foods, they essentially did gluten and dairy-free junk food diets, because as you said, even with the huge increase in the number of people who are celiac, I mean it’s not hard to find gluten-free packaged foods now, which is a blessing and a curse.
The great thing is it’s more accessible, the bad thing is people think they’re doing themselves a favor by putting themselves or their child on a gluten-free diet and if you’re doing that in the packaged food section, you essentially now have a very poor diet that just happens to also be gluten-free and you’re not going to in most cases get the same results. And so what you’re talking about is not just removing, in the case of the people in this study, the gluten, the dairy, and the soy but also replacing those things with nutrient-dense foods. So the quality of the diet still really matters even if we are going to go on a specialized diet and I want to talk about some more of those in a minute. I think that’s a key piece that is sometimes missed in the conversation around special diets, is kids still need to be eating enough and they still need to be having nutrient-dense foods regardless of the diet that they’re on.
Absolutely, absolutely and sure it’s a process. So we don’t expect every child to go from eating cookies and muffins and things to eating brown rice and broccoli tomorrow, but just having this eye on making it healthy, having an eye on when we can choose organic, that’s the other thing that a lot of gluten-free foods aren’t necessarily organic, you know I still think gluten-free is a good thing, but we really want to pay attention to how we can also try to make it healthy. I think that’s an equally important part of this, so I’m glad that we did our best to help them pay attention. And you know, not everybody can get every single item organic and you know, we realize that too. We’re not expecting people to be perfect, we’re just kind, you know — kind of have an eye on these principles so that we are aware and we can bring them in when it’s possible.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I think that’s a great point, especially for parents because — you’re a parent, I’m a parent, most of our listeners are parents. They were all in various states of overwhelm at various times, right? And our goal is progress, not perfection so I like what you’re saying about we want to keep an eye on that, we want to be aware of the importance of good quality foods, nutrient density of eating organic and at the same time not get so bogged down and overwhelmed around that that we don’t act on it, right? Just be aware of it and work towards it but you don’t need to be perfect with it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So I want to delve into — we’ve talked about this gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free — let’s just spend a couple of minutes, because this is really a specialty of yours, all the different types of specialized diets and obviously we don’t have time in our half-hour show to get into the nitty-gritty of all of these, but do I just want to throw some out there and maybe have you just talk briefly about what types of issues can sometimes be connected to these diets. So for example, let’s talk about low oxalate diet, which is one people may have heard of — LOD, low oxalates. Just briefly touch on what that is and who that could be helpful for.
Sure, well you jumped right into the heart of it, you don’t even mess around!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
No! Just going right for it!
For parents that are new, this would not probably be the second place I would go. So the oxalates are these compounds found in plants that can — that are known in kidney stone issues where they create a lot of inflammation, they can create a lot of oxidative stress, pain, things like that — but they’re not only an issue when you have kidney stones — they found in a study on people with autism that they can actually be a problem. They filtered out and did not allow people into the study that had kidney issues. So they did some prescreening. So everybody that was in the study were surprised they still had — there was really a high rate of oxalate issues, even in the population that actually didn’t have any kidney issues.
So that’s just something to know, you don’t have to have that in order for these to be a problem. When they are, we see lots of inflammation and oxidative stress in autism. So just from that level, we don’t want to add to that, potentially. And when we have normally many of us — we can handle some oxalate. We’ve got some good bacteria to break it down, we’ve got a nice healthy, solid, gut lining — well I shouldn’t say solid but appropriately solid gut lining…
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Not overly permeable.
Yes, yes! But when we don’t have those things going on, we can more likely have a problem. Also, there are certain deficiencies and things can cause an issue. So for some people, they just happen to, I believe, have a biochemistry that predisposes them a little bit more to having issues with these and when they do, it can affect the mitochondria, energy, inflammation, pain — all of those kinds of things. And so when that’s present, lowering those can be helpful.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And what are some of the types of foods that are high in oxalate? So if somebody is on a low oxalate diet, what are some of the things that we’re looking to just reduce in the diets?
Yes, so spinach is a big one that probably people are familiar — it’s probably one of the most common ones. And then things like nut flours, particularly almond flower and I mentioned these two foods because a lot of times when people try to make a diet “healthier”, as we were saying — they might decide, “I need to add more greens!” Which is wonderful. Or they might decide, “I want to take out some of the grains and maybe substitute some of those refined flours with some nut flours — again, very reasonable ideas for making diets healthier. What can happen though is that parents can say, okay well that means that I’m going to go with spinach, I’m going to do spinach everyday, and I’m going to put a bag of spinach in my child’s smoothie everyday.
Now we get an imbalance going on. Now we don’t normally eat that much spinach and when we do, we can create imbalance. Or we substitute our 8 servings of breads, muffins, cookies and whatever on our regular diet and now we do 9 servings of nut muffins, nut breads, nut crackers, nut cookies — and we get overloaded with almond, too much almond flour, for example. So even one serving of these has about 10 times that amount of oxalate that a low oxalate person would normally do in a day. So you can see how these can get really high, really fast.
And I’m not suggesting that we don’t do a healthy diet. I’m not suggesting we take out all greens — I’m just suggesting that again, we have an awareness of how high some of these foods are and be able to make a choice. Maybe one day we do kale, maybe one day we do something else. Even Swiss chard has half the amount of oxalate. Or Kale, 1/5th of the amount. Or a certain type of kale, 1/10th the amount. So you can just see by choosing certain greens over other greens — we don’t have to give up greens, I wouldn’t want to do that, but we’re just having that awareness, we might choose more variety, we might choose different options.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I’m glad you touched on that because that was one of the reasons that I brought this up — not because most parents are considering a low oxalate diet for their kids, but to show the importance of being aware of how food can impact your child, right? And what you said is something I see a lot in clinical practice. Families just say, okay — put my kid on this gluten and dairy-free diet and we saw improvement for a little while but now we seem to be having all of these symptoms. And sometimes it’s not related to the original diet changes you made, it’s not related to problems from replacing those foods with too much of the same thing.
Yes. Exactly. Too much of the same thing or just coincidentally more of something they have a hard time processing.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Right, right. So I think paleo is another common one that is going around in the autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, can you just briefly just touch on that?
Sure, absolutely. There are several diets these days that are grain-free and also starch-free potatoes. So in addition to being gluten-free, this diet, paleo, doesn’t do any rice or millet or any other grains, even the gluten-free ones. And it doesn’t do any starchy things like potatoes and that sort — so this diet does lots of vegetables and meat and well, it also depends. This diet is not like a hard and fast set of exact quantities. So different diet authors will, you know — the complaint about paleo is it’s very meat-heavy. Well, it can be! But it doesn’t have to be. So again, it’s really about how you put it together and where your awareness is on the diet. But the gist of it is vegetables, meat, eggs, plant foods, some fruit — things that we would have gotten many, many generations ago before we had agriculture — foods that are generally more easy to digest and less irritating for the gut.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, absolutely. How about GAPS? That’s another one that I think is commonly talked about, G A P S, the GAPS diet.
Absolutely. And by the way, so when I say things like nuts or eggs — of course, if you’re allergic you would not be doing those on that diet, right? These are only if you tolerate the particular foods. So GAPS is based on a diet called the specific carbohydrate diet. It was a diet brought forth in the 1930’s and 40’s by a doctor named Sidney Haas and he brought it forward and helped heal a woman’s child. Her name was Elaine Gottschall. So she was — I guess this might have been in the 60’s or so, maybe the 70’s that she was doing this diet. So this doctor was on the older side, probably getting ready to retire, he’d been doing this diet for decades. She had all sorts of colitis and she had, let’s just say very significant diarrhea, bloody diarrhea — let’s just be specific. Very, very, very, very sick. And they were really concerned whether she was going to really survive.
And so they put her on this diet and it worked incredibly well for her. So then when she was about 80, maybe in her 70’s — she found the autism community and realized that they have a lot of gut issues and brought this diet forward for them. And so we were blessed to find that out and then Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride used this diet to help heal her son’s autism, added a bunch of additional principles, some more kind of nourishing supportive practices, some further supplementation, some other additional principles and really that’s called GAPS diet, so the Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet and that’s what it’s based on. Similar in some ways to the paleo diet in that there are no grains and no starches, but it also takes it a little further in that it avoids certain mucilaginous polysaccharides — so things like flaxseed or things like that it would avoid that would have a similar mechanism in the gut and with the bacteria.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So I mean some of these diets get really specific, more on the general end we’re talking about things like a gluten-free diet or a dairy-free diet or maybe a combo gluten-dairy-free diet. And then sort of — I look at something like Paleo being somewhere in the middle, and then on the more really complicated and restrictive end, we have things like the specific carb diet, GAPS, some of those types of things. So there is certainly — what I want people to take away from this is there is a wide range of things to consider and certainly lots of options, but I think I want to bring the conversation now to the important question that people often ask, which is — well what’s the right diet for me to put my kid on or what’s the diet that you recommend, or what should I do with my kid? So talk to us about how people can figure that out, what’s the answer to that question?
Yes, oh the question is the diet that’s right for your child is the diet your child should be on, which is the million-dollar question of course. It’s not an easy answer, I wish it was — I wish I could say, “Oh! You do this Julie Matthews diet! I figured out the answer to everybody!” It just doesn’t really work that way, so my message is a little more complicated. I try to still take people through a methodical step-by-step process because over the years, I have found out there are certain diets that are easier to do trials on, certain diets that are more likely to cause problems, certain diets that are more likely associated with certain symptoms and things like that.
So I have tried to simplify it someway into a process, but it can’t really be simplified down to a single diet. And so how to figure that out — well I look at symptoms, there are certain common symptoms associated more likely with certain foods than other foods. I look at maybe taking one step and seeing how that diet helps and then taking another — so for example, there was a really interesting study on the GFCF diet vs. the Keto diet. And yeah, Keto diet showed a little bit better results, which was really interesting. However, a third of the people dropped out. Whereas that didn’t happen in the GFCF diet.
So do I suggest everybody jump straight to a Keto diet and then a third of the people get no benefit because they end up avoiding diet altogether? Now that doesn’t seem like an ideal approach. We also don’t know if that Keto diet benefited because they took grains out. All grains out, because there wasn’t an interim, right? So I think that all this provides really valuable information. I love to break down these studies, I do them at Nourishing Hope, you can find that a breakdown of all these different things, kind of see how it all pulls together.
I think the point there is I like to go step-by-step because then we don’t overly restrict the diet or we do our best to avoid overly restricting the diet. I think variety is important, I think anytime you restrict the diet more, it might be incredibly powerful for that person. It might be exactly what they need but let’s be honest that the more you restrict something, the more likely you’re going to reduce variety and the potential that you could not have enough of a nutrient or you can get some sort of imbalance or something from it. So I like to keep it as varied as possible. I like to do a step by step process. So for parents, I say how would they know? I’d say they do a lot of research, look at the symptoms and kind of go step by step.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And so really what you’re saying is there is no one right answer for everybody and not even for a diagnosis, and I think that’s important for parents to hear. Just because your child has been given a table or a diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that there is a specific diet for that diagnosis. So you know, we’re talking a lot about autism — we can have 10 kids diagnosed with autism and each of them may benefit from a different type of diet and that is sometimes the frustrating thing for families, but it’s also the reality and what I think you’re so good at and what you’re speaking to here is the BioIndividuality, right?
That we may give 10 kids the same label, that doesn’t mean that their underlying physical health or physiology is all the same and that what’s going to benefit one is going to benefit from the other — you and I both had kids in our practice, some who do great and really improve their symptoms on just a gluten-free diet, and others who have required a very extensive, very complex combination of diets in order to really get better and so I think that your point is really an important one, starting with some basics but really too, working with a practitioner who can help sift through that and help guide with figuring out what’s the right approach.
I think you do such a great job because parents are so overwhelmed and I know that you do have a program that guides people through step by step. So I’m just curious if you could just share what is the first step that you feel like — so for parents out there listening who are going, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I need to — my kid’s got these symptoms, I want to start exploring making diet changes, I’ve read about so many things, it seems overwhelming.” Where do you encourage people to start as a first step?
Yes, so my program actually has two halves and the first half is what I would call essential foundations. And so it really starts with people that are really starting from the very beginning that haven’t made any changes at all and they’re really thinking, “I wonder if this approach will be for me, if diet can help me.”
And so the first step is: Avoid junk food. Get out the junk, get out the artificial stuff we talked about earlier, it’s fairly easy to do, doesn’t even required a change in pallet or really too much sort of participation with the child in that yes, we want to get rid of cookies, but you know if I just get out the artificial colors and flavors in the cookies or in the candy as a first step, now I can just see what happens when the body is unburdened by all those additives.
And I saw a news story the other day about this boy who suffered for — I want to say it was years like maybe 7 years or something of these extreme behavior issues and it turned out to be — it was red dye. And we’ve been hearing about red dye since we were kids, right? And you know, I’m surprised sometimes to realize that even today, people don’t realize how significant something small can be. So I like to start at the very beginning, just getting out the artificial colors, the artificial flavors, preservatives and seeing what changes in the initial step.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I recommend the same thing to families and I love you talking about that as a first step because it is so doable. Before we even delve into what specialized diets or whatever else — let’s start with cleaning up the diet we currently have, right? And that’s something that feels doable and reasonable. And so if you’re a parent listening who is like man, this all sounds really interesting — my kid’s got gut issues, I feel like this could be helpful, I don’t know — kind of overwhelmed.
Great starting point that Julie’s talking about here — just start looking at labels on what’s in your cupboard right now: What is in the foods that you’re feeding your child right now and just start cleaning that up, getting rid of the chemicals, dyes, those kinds of things and it can make a huge difference and then I always think as a parent myself too, it’s easier if I take a first step like that, I’ve got my feet under me with that, we’ve got that going now I feel like I can take the next step and I know that your program really breaks that down and you have several steps that you share there to help systemically take people through that, which I think is easier on the kids too — it certainly is easier on us as the adults, right?
Absolutely. In fact, I don’t even talk about special diets until about step 5! So I really want to set a solid foundation and you’re right! If you get a little success under your belt as well, you feel like “Oh wow! Maybe diet really could make a difference!” You get to see it in action and then you get to — you don’t have to just go on faith, you can go on experience that oh, let’s see what else might be helpful. And then the second half really goes into the special diets and it practices something I call ‘BioIndividual Nutrition’, which is what I teach my practitioners in my training, which is how to methodically go through all the special diets — I mean there are dozens so I really broke it down into kind of chunks. And how to walk through those pieces of the process and see which ones might benefit.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. I want to make sure that we share with people where they can find more information about that program. I mean you’ve got a wonderful book, you’ve got this amazing program, and then you’ve got lots of just resources in general that people can access online. So share with people where they can go to get more info on that.
Absolutely. Well, if they go to nourishinghope.com, they can find all of my information. You can find all of this and more, all the studies and things we talked about. And if they want the guide, I have a guide that takes them through the first 6 steps of the process and gives them one actionable item under each step and also leads them to more if they want more information on the special diets. And that is nourishinghope.com/the-6-nutrition-essentials.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And we will have all those links with the show notes too so that people can just click on those and access them and that way if you just want to get some basic immediate information with the 6 nutrition essentials, you can download that guide easily from the site and those of you that want to delve in more beyond that, you can look at the amazing program that Julie has put together for that. And those of you who are professionals, highly encourage you to check out what she’s got put together for professionals. Nobody else that I’m aware of has put together training remotely like that in terms of really helping professionals to understand all of the different diet options and how to really guide clients and patients through that.
So just wonderful, wonderful resources. I know that we’ve gone a little bit over, you and I could talk about this stuff for hours and hours. I’m definitely going to have to have you back on the show another time to pick up on some of these — I’ve got a whole bunch of notes and things that I want to follow up on. Let’s just leave people kind of with a final thought with this. So people who are just maybe delving into this for the first time or just becoming aware of how these things may impact their child — what’s one piece of advice that you would give?
Hmmm, that’s a great question. I would say that Nourishing Hope is really a process. So really, it’s just about being in a mindset, inquiring — how can I help improve my child with diet, what steps can I take, where do I want to start, and then just taking it little step by little step. So it’s not — I just want there to be hope for people and Nourishing Hope, I feel like it’s an important thing, no matter where your child is, no matter if your child is an adult or still a child — there is always something that they can do, there is always a step, there is always a way to work towards improving the diet. And so just encouraging people wherever they happen to be right now, figuring out what that step might be for them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love it. Perfect, encouraging, hopeful first step. Fantastic. Julie, thank you so much for being here with us today — really appreciate your time.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Okay, everybody. That’s it for this episode. We will see you next time on the better behavior show.