Food Safety and Autism

In my opinion, the search for “the cause” of autism is a misnomer, because in our modern world there is no single cause, but a complex of environmental factors that trigger a genetic predisposition. While our technological advances have aided us, they have also hurt us in terms of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the stress we absorb on a daily basis.

In the last twenty years, America as seen a 400 percent increase in allergies and ADHD, a 300 percent spike in asthma and skyrocketing cases of autism. Obesity is a national health crisis and we have the highest cancer rate on the planet. Those two decades correspond to at least three trends: an intensified childhood vaccination schedule, increased births by c-section and the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) into our food supply. 

Driven by profitability, genetically modified foods now account for as much as 80% of our food supply. GMOs have yet to be tested as safe for human or animal consumption and represent a perpetual criss-cross of bacteria and virus contamination from a myriad of genetic versions of multiple crops and animals. 

American GMO crops are subsidized and deregulated. If a bio-tech company merely says its products are safe, that is currently sufficient for approval. While over 40 nations have either banned genetically engineered (GE) food or required labeling of it, the United States has not joined their ranks. Prolific use of pesticides compound our food safety hazards.

So what can you do on a personal level to address the sorry state of our food sourcing for you and your family? 

Certified organic food is a good path to take, but outrageously expensive. But you need not forego safety entirely for cost. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out that while commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue, vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

Here are five strategic organic foods that Dr. Alan Greene, author of “Raising Baby Green,” has identified as making the biggest impact on the family diet:

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,” says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the EWG. 

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. 

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

A complete list of Dr. Greene’s organic choices is available at Organic Rx on his website. Another simple guideline proffered by Dr. Mark Hyman is to never eat anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce and nothing with more than five ingredients. 

As parents of children with autism, we are especially mindful of our children’s dietary needs, knowing that it lays the foundation for their health and well-being. It’s heartening that we can find ways to balance our awareness of the importance of pure food and our family budget.


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit

2 Responses to Food Safety and Autism

  1. Mary Nichols says:

    Hello. Thank you for this thoughtful article. I am working on some articles also and you mentioned a point I am looking for back-up for. I left my email but there is also a mail link through our website (which perhaps you’ll like too). Please provide citations or links about how GMO crops are subsidized and others are not. Or if it is a bit less direct where GMOs fetch the subsidies because they are churning out more volume or something, I’d like that information. Whether it is by design or effectively, the fact that GMOs are paid for by our taxes and other food is not is very important in this article I’m writing which is due to be published very soon. I have evidence of many kinds of preferential treatment- some very shady, but I am missing original documentation on this matter yet I keep seeing it in editorial articles. Thanks again for your article and please visit our website and facebook where you are welcome to post links to your work and join our network of people helping each other eat GMO-Free. We are also on call if you provide your phone number we will make ourselves available should someone you know ever need help with this diet or information.


  2. Susan says:

    “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien is a comprehensive investigation into GMOs that has the information you seek. Her website is great too.

    Thanks for the info on your website as well.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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