Chris Y Perez

One diet change that can make a huge difference for Autism

There are many challenges and changes that parents of children with autism face. I know how hard it is to make changes. So I ask what is the most pressing challenge that we can work on?

For me, that was my son’s aggressive, explosive behavior which started after his toddler years.

My one thing

The one diet change that significantly improved, in fact eliminated, my son’s violent explosions was reducing sugar and simple carbohydrates from his diet. 

Even grade school teachers observe kids given more sugary snacks become hyperactive. But with a child with special needs, that same diet-induced hyperactivity can look like explosive behaviors. 

What I specifically noticed with my son was that after sugary foods, he would become hyperactive, laugh and shout, as his blood sugar rose. The bigger problem would happen the next day when he would exhibit explosive behaviors and even hurt his siblings when he got agitated. This was because he could not handle the consequential blood sugar drop. 

New research has shown an association of metabolic abnormalities, specifically reduced glucose metabolism in the nervous system, brain insulin resistance, and cognitive impairment.1

Another study specifically found that children with autism who drank sugar-sweetened beverages at least twice per week were less able to regulate, as well as organize and plan their tasks.2

Another major problem with sugar is it is very addictive. Commercial snacks are engineered to hijack the reward centers of the brain and impair the decision-making process similar to drug abuse.3 

This makes it extra hard to change dietary habits and results in a vicious cycle compromising health in the long term. Continuous consumption of sugar drives inflammation and has long-term health effects. A study found that early childhood consumption of sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, adversely impacted cognition at a later stage.4


While we all know the hazards of too many simple carbohydrates and sugar in a child’s diet, changing diet may not be that easy. But the following are good ways to start: 

DO NOT just cut out sugars and carbs from your child’s diet, unless you want more explosive behaviors. If your child does not metabolize sugar properly, he/she will likely have more problems regulating as blood sugar level drops and “hanger” tantrums bring about more agitation.  Continue to give meals as snacks when your child asks but replace them with the following options. 

The objective of the recommendations is to help your child feel full after eating, minimize the rise and fall of blood glucose, and thus, minimize behavior explosions.  

Replace sugary meals or snacks with full meals with more complex carbohydrates and proteins. For example, replace sugary breakfast cereal with the previous night’s leftover dinner, or an easy-to-fix chicken in whole grain sandwich. 

Add proteins to increase the feeling of fullness, and reduce blood sugar rise and dip. For example, add yogurt to muesli, and add sugar-free peanut butter to sliced bananas.  

If your child has several sources of sugary snacks or drinks, reduce them gradually. For example, remove soda in the first few days. When your child has settled with the change, replace the breakfast cereal with muesli, nuts, and fresh fruits in the next round, and so on.

As the child gets older, slowly shift towards 3 whole meals and minimize snacks. 

Replace sugar drinks with fruit and vegetable smoothies or simply make water the staple. 


Things may be difficult at first. Sugar is very addictive. Even adults have a hard time skipping their morning donuts with healthier options. However, the rewards are great. 

My son, Nathan, did not change overnight as it took time to adjust his diet. However, in time he shed off so much agitation. At the height of his aggressive behaviors, I used to be covered with bite marks because the best way to protect his siblings from bites and pinches was to put myself in between them. Eventually, Nathan stopped needing to bite and pinch people and my skin recovered. Today he does not hurt anyone and self-regulates.

I am praying that the tips above help you and your child.


Every child is different and may respond differently to dietary interventions.  Consult a health practitioner for specific health advice for your child.


  1. Manco, M., Guerrera, S., Ravà, L. et al. (2021) Cross-sectional investigation of insulin resistance in youths with autism spectrum disorder. Any role for reduced brain glucose metabolism?. Transl Psychiatry 11, 229.
  2. Pan, S., Wang, X., Lin, L., Chen, J., Zhan, X., Jin, C., Ou, X., Gu, T., Jing, J., & Cai, L. (2022). Association of sugar-sweetened beverages with executive function in autistic children. Frontiers in nutrition9, 940841.
  3. Wiss, D. A., Avena, N., & Rada, P. (2018). Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Frontiers in psychiatry9, 545.
  4. Cohen, J. F. W., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Young, J., & Oken, E. (2018). Associations of Prenatal and Child Sugar Intake With Child Cognition. American journal of preventive medicine54(6), 727–735.