It’s hard enough to feed children with autism a healthy diet because they’re picky eaters, but many of their favorite foods are among the most toxic and unhealthy for anyone to eat. This double whammy can make the effort to clean up your family’s diet very difficult, but the silver lining is that your child’s potential for improvement is very promising!
I swear, so many autistic kids love pepperoni, it should be included on the list of behaviors used to diagnose it. However, brands like Hormel are extremely harmful for children with autism. Here’s why.
This compound “cures” pork products like ham, bacon and pepperoni, and is also added to hot dogs and cold cuts, because it extends their shelf lives and protects consumers from all sorts of terrible bacteria like listeria, E. coli, Salmonella and more.
However, sodium nitrite is one of the most dangerous carcinogens allowed in food products, and for decades, it has been linked in scientific studies to increased risk of cancer in the lungs, liver, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, bladder and colon. It also causes diabetes, liver disease, Alzheimer’s and autism.
Yes, you read that right. Nitrosamines can cause autism when given to young children. And they’re not just found in cured meats and cold cuts – believe it or not, they’re found in baby formula, baby food and toddler starter foods!
To make matters worse, autistic children have a difficult time eliminating nitric oxide from their bodies, so they tend to retain the toxins, which amplifies the potential damaging effect on their brains.
BOTTOM LINE: Never, ever, EVER give your autistic child any food containing sodium nitrite or thiamine mononitrate.
BHA and BHT
These chemicals, also found in pepperoni, are preservatives that prevent fat from going bad in processed foods. However, they are known to cause cancer. In fact, BHT is classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Institutes of Health. The tests on BHA have been contradicting, with many showing a strong link to cancer while others have not. However, BHA is known to potentially cause liver damage and digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. If your child has problems sleeping, they might be experiencing intestinal distress due to these chemicals. BHA and BHT are both found in cold cereals, but thanks to consumer pressure, many companies have replaced them with Vitamin E, which is much safer.
Eat this instead: uncured meats
I love Applegate brand uncured pepperoni, hot dogs and cold cuts because they don’t contain any of these chemicals, and are sourced from humanely raised animals. Applegate also sells uncured turkey pepperoni, which is what we eat, because pork consumption comes with its own set of health risks. Best of all, Applegate can be found at Target and most major supermarket chains, so this is an easy switch that might not require a trip to a different grocery store. We recently hosted a playdate and offered this substitute to a fellow picky eater, and she couldn’t tell the difference.
While the label says uncured, the meat is actually treated with natural nitrate sources like salt and celery (which explains why that celery in your crisper seems to last forever), so it does have some shelf life. However, like deli meats, once the package is opened, it should be eaten within a few days.
If your pepperoni lover also likes pizza, you can find uncured pepperoni pizzas at Target (we are gluten free so we love Udi’s) but you may have to go to a natural foods store to find a large selection. Or, make your own at home, which can be a fun family activity that provides your child with buy-in on the meal. Tosh is a picky eater just like most autistic children, but he always at least tries one bite if he makes the meal himself.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!