Nutritional adherence to Mediterranean-type diets and its effect on Autism

Senior (College 4th year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・APA ・5 Sources

Executive Summary

The research paper aims to identify the effects on the adherence to Mediterranean-type diets on autism. A diet rich in proportions of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, grains, proteins, carbohydrates and physical exercise is attributed to a healthy lifestyle. Autism, which results from brain impairment and growth particularly in children, can be managed by incorporating a Mediterranean diet. Extensive research on the effects of diet on autism has been conducted but no conclusive recommendations are given to the exact amounts of nutrients that can relieve the patients from the problem. The reason is that the issue is manifested in various ways and it can be attributed to diverse factors including cultural background and parenting. There lacks a specific clinical test on the condition and as such, most of the patients are diagnosed at a mature stage. No single study has comprehensively researched on the effect of the diet in treating a particular autism symptom. However, all the available studies attest that a Mediterranean diet comprises of all the nutrients and activities that promote a healthy well being and as such, can be used to reduce behavioral effects of autism such as depression and anxiety which essentially leads to management of the medical condition particularly in young children. 


Autism disorder is associated with three core symptoms namely repetitive behaviors, impaired social interactions, and communication deficits. Although the incidence of the condition is rising in the country, the prevailing management and treatment methods are inadequate. A study conducted by Ruskin et al. (2013) established that 1 in 150 people are likely to suffer from autism in the course of their lives. Current treatment practices fail to diagnosis the aforementioned symptoms and pharmacological initiatives focus on co-morbidities in the assumption that reducing the attributed medical issues yields improvements. With the growing concern in the medical industry on the growing number of children suffering from seizures and social abnormalities, correct and sustainable interventions are necessary. With more scientists focusing on the relationships between diet and the health of an individual, this research paper seeks to establish the effects of Mediterranean-type diets on autism by examining recent published studies related to the topic. 

Nutrition experts including Bihuniak, Huedo, and Kenny (2016) attribute Mediterranean diet to enhanced health since it is composed of anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in natural fats and vegetables. The diet protects individuals from depression, metabolic complications, and autism. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Medical Health reported that when combined with physical exercises, the Mediterranean diet is capable of reducing the incidence of autism by 80% (Cho, 2014). According to Bihuniak et al. (2016), a Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fresh fruits, olive oil, beans, seeds, herbs, occasional red meat, and plenty of water. For instance, olive oil contains omega-3 fats such as salmon which is rich in phenols compounds that act as antioxidants. 

Dietary pattern

A dietary pattern that is largely made up of processed foods, low amounts of vegetables, and fruits is linked to autism. Such an unbalanced diet causes deficiencies in critical growth nutrients such as zinc, iron, and omega-3 that are needed for the cognitive and physical development thus it is attributed to the etiology of autism (Cho, 2014). The Universidad de Barcelona conducted a pilot study using the longitudinal design method to establish the effects of Mediterranean diet on autism. The researchers sampled 120 children out of which 60 were diagnosed with the condition (Rios, 2). Although the research did not establish a direct relationship between dietary and autism, a number of strategies that included the Mediterranean diet were recommended in managing the condition. The diet provides nutrients in the right portions and therefore protects children from autism. Adolescents and children are at a sensitive stage in their lives and require utilizing the best nutrients to grow adequately and have a healthy adulthood. However, the authors noted that there is a probability that people suffering from autism since their behavioral disorders prompt them to unhealthy eating lifestyle. 

The study conducted by the Universidad de Barcelona found out that individuals suffering from autism may tend to eat unhealthy fats and sugars in an effort to balance the impulses and emotional distresses (Rios, 2). The process may be vicious whereby the affected eat unhealthy diet to curb the behavioral disorders leading to progression of the condition. Rather than focusing on adequate nutrients, they inhibit an unhealthy lifestyle that worsens the symptoms. For instance, autism is attributed to ineffective social interactions. The affected are insensitive, seek alone time to when other people make them uncomfortable, and may not find comfort from other people. During the times when they are alone, the patients may resort to eating all types of food without regards to its nutritious components since they are angered by the world and do not care about the outcome of their actions. As a result of an unhealthy diet, the nutrients required for proper functioning and growth of the brain lack in the body system leading to promulgation of the autism symptoms. The researchers however failed to compare the feeding habits of the affected and the autism-free individuals to provide clear implications of the Mediterranean diet towards the reversing or reduction of related symptoms. 

The Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet gives people the ability to eat at a slow pace and utilize the locally available nutrients such as fruits and vegetable with the addition of physical exercises on a daily basis. A lack of undue pressure and consistency is attributed to management of autism since it enables the person to have a regular relaxed mood. According to Al-Rashidy (4), the people suffering from autism prefer to have a routine lifestyle such that they are aware of what is to happen on a daily basis. It is also difficult for the individual to start a new practice when he or she is used to a particular pattern. With the Mediterranean diet, a set of essential food nutrients and types is identified in addition to the physical exercises. The diet can be implemented on a consistent regular manner which is important for the individuals due to their repetitive behavioral patterns. As such, the Mediterranean diet affects the people suffering from autism by reducing symptoms since it offers the opportunity to engage in a particular practice on a routine basis. For instance, doctors may propose that red meat is eaten once in week and physical exercise undertaken on a daily basis at a particular time. Such conditions establish a routine that considers the behavior of the patients and essentially leads to corrective management or treatment of the disease. 

According to Al-Rashidy (5), the Mediterranean diet is composed of a restrictive carbohydrate diet. The specific dietary plan prohibits patients from eating a carbohydrate diet rich more than one molecular structure. Foods such as grains, sugar, milk and certain vegetables contain an excess of carbohydrates molecules and prevent digestion. Although the diet was initially developed by nutrition experts to manage ulcers and celiac ailments, it has proved to treat autism particularly in children suffering from digestive problems. 
However, no study evidences the utilization of a specific diet to the management and treatment of autism. Past research supports a diet that is free from gluten and casein in elimination of autism. However, the research carried out by Ruskin et al. (2013) failed to establish a difference in behavior between autism children on gluten-free diet and the ones on a placebo. The hypothesis of the study was that children suffering from autism had problems digesting gluten-rich diet such that their physical irritations manifests as behavioral issues. The authors found no correlation between the diet and autism. 


Though research has focused on the relationship between diet and autism, no strong evidence suggests specific nutrients that mitigate autism. However, that does not imply that a certain diet may not function in particular children with the condition given that the symptoms and stage of the disease varies. A dietary intervention that focuses on the Mediterranean diet is likely to reduce symptoms and pain that contribute to autism disorder. Further research should however focus on the implication of each nutrient composed in the Mediterranean diet on particular behaviors associated with autism.

Works Cited

Bihuniak, Jessica D., et al. ""Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet and its influence on cardiovascular risk factors in postmenopausal women."" Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 116.11 (2016): 1767-1775.

Cho, J., Villani, Z., Wilson., B. and Parletta, K. Association Between Mediterranean Diet Adherence and Mental Health. Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism. Web.

El-Rashidy, Omnia, et al. ""Ketogenic diet versus gluten free casein free diet in autistic children: a case-control study."" Metabolic Brain Disease
(2017): 1-7.

Ríos-Hernández, Alejandra, et al. ""The Mediterranean diet and ADHD in children and adolescents."" Pediatrics 139.2 (2017): e20162027.

Ruskin, David N., et al. ""Ketogenic diet improves core symptoms of autism in BTBR mice."" PLoS One 8.6 (2013): e65021.

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