Is there such a thing? What an oversimplification right? How could there be one best diet for Down Syndrome?

Don’t worry, I don’t end with saying there is no such thing.

Join me to explore the list of questions you need to answer to find what diet might be best for your child with Down Syndrome, and if you even need to consider changing your family’s diet.

Listen On



Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.

Audio Transcription: 


Welcome back to functional nutrition and learning for kids after a gap of one week, unfortunately, I was out last weekend at a four-day silence program The Art of Living Foundation, which is why I missed putting on the episode.

In the world of meditation, it is said that for adults to reach a long distance, it must first be pulled back. And that’s what I was trying to do last week, I was trying to pull myself back a bit. I’m also recording this interview today in the midst of a lot of background noise in a place that doesn’t have excellent Wi-Fi. And I apologize that the sound quality sounds a little different to you.

This weekend, actually this week earlier this week, I had the chance to talk to the three phenomenal to chat with the three phenomenal hosts of the lucky few podcast and during my discussion, a question came to mind. And this is a question that many people have asked me over the years. What is the best diet for a child with Down syndrome? I always say depends, right? So that’s my answer. It depends. And that is obviously profoundly dissatisfactory to whoever is asking the question.

However, it is also profoundly true. So today, I want to address this question, what is the best diet for a child with Down syndrome or for an adult with Down syndrome? And obviously, I cannot answer this question. So instead of answering it or trying to answer it, let’s talk today about what other questions might be of help to you in answering this question.

Now, why on earth do you need to be on a diet anyway? Other than the fact that we’re all on diets, whether we like it or not, do we need to give more thought to the fact that we should be on a diet? The answer lies in our past, our present, and our future. Now, the past is our story, our genetics, the conditions under which we were born or raised, the exposures we’ve had, and how our body systems work.

The present is our nutritional status, our inflammatory status. And these are the things inside of us. But the present is also the continual environmental assault on us today, the state of agriculture, and maybe even the quality of the food industry that surrounds us. When I think of the future, or what I want the diet to do for my child, it is just this, I want my children.

Now actually, I want every child to have the ability to live their life without bodily discomfort getting in the way. Now at this point, you might hear some water boiling a kettle making a sound as I said, this is being recorded in a very candid environment, forgive me. But coming back to our topic, if you have ever thought that your child is not functioning optimally, if you feel like there is a there’s veil if you will, right, or fog, something that’s holding your child back. And you know, this could be focus issues, this could be anger, this could be mood, bloating, weird laughter, constant infections, low energy, and there could be more. These are times when it is worth considering if your child’s diet is hitting the right spots. So what should you eat?

I think it’s safe to say that research supports that almost everyone should eat a whole foods diet that plants heavily. And I keep saying plant heavy. I am going to keep saying plant heavy. But I’m going to alter that right away and say vegetable and fruit-heavy with a caveat. So but we’ll come to that in a bit. And yes, I know that there’s been controversy about even this, but this is the diet that the longest-living and the healthiest civilizations and the populations in the world have eaten for centuries. So this would be my baseline always. And this is the diet that I would want to eat for the rest of my life.

This is not the diet I would go to and hop back off, right? So like I said, not just plant-heavy, but vegetable-heavy. Now, remember that refined sugar is not whole food. Right? So often when you eat such a diet, it is automatically though not necessarily low in sugar. So I will say that such a diet probably has fruits that are lower glycemic, as opposed to super high sugar foods, but that’s not necessarily a requirement. Okay. Now, if you drop everything from your diet that is not a whole food, you’re often already in a really good place to start. But not everyone is ready for these protocols.

We know that many children with Down Syndrome have low muscle tone. And this is the reason that we want to think about how it can affect their digestion. This can manifest itself actually in every aspect of digestion. That chewing is the first phase of digestion. It even has a name. It’s called the cephalic phase. And actually, the cephalic phase starts with even just looking and smelling and thinking about food. But chewing is really the first step of breaking food down into smaller particles right of generating enough saliva, and can significantly impact further digestive actions in your body, starting from the breakdown of proteins in your stomach to the breakdown of carbs in your small intestine. Now, since the entire digestive tract is a muscle, low muscle tone can obviously impact other areas of digestion.

This is one of the things I do when I work with families that are concerned about poor digestion, and obviously, therefore poor nutrient absorption. It is to optimize digestion by supporting the relevant parts of the digestive system. Here’s a hint that’s usually the whole digestive system, but will often also focus on special areas where we think that the child is struggling a little bit due to the symptoms that they present.

Now let’s focus a little bit more on a specific food dairy, since dairy consumption is so correlated with upper respiratory infections, and children with Down syndrome seem to be significantly more prone to such infections. My next recommendation over this baseline diet we talked about is to try getting off dairy. Truth be told, this is the area where I noticed the most pushback. But the truth is also told, I have a really hard time seeing improvement in symptoms, whether immune digestive or learning-based, when dairy is still in the diet.

We can definitely explore the details of dairy in another podcast. There’s the hard-to-digest casein. There’s simple lactose intolerance. There’s the addictive nature of casein that forms opioid-like peptides and there is mucus formation, there’s inflammation. Due to delayed sensitivity, there are also actually just straight-up allergies. It’s a hard one for sure.

In fact, I’ve spoken to a lot of clinicians that report that the harder it is for someone to drop dairy, the more important it may be that they drop it based partly on the theory that incompletely digested dairy in the presence of a leaky gut, which is the unofficial name for a permeable inter Stein, understands aligning can result in addiction. The same is true for gluten very, unfortunately, because I know it’s such tasty and amazing food, right? Gluten follows many of the inflammatory pathways that dairy does, including the suspected opioid addictive pathway, it is also extremely difficult to digest protein.

Now, if your child’s growth is impacted in any way, the question to ask yourself first is about celiac disease, which is significantly higher in children with Down Syndrome and people with Down syndrome. But also think about non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which just means that you don’t have celiac, but you can’t tolerate gluten anyway, this condition is in rice in the general population, which therefore means that it’s, it’s on the rise everywhere, including people with Down syndrome, right. And when you hear standard statements like there is no proof that removing gluten works for children with Down syndrome, let’s take it out of the context of Down syndrome. And look at the number of people with or without Down syndrome that are struggling with nonceliac gluten sensitivity.

This can result in significant inflammation in your gut, which can therefore lead to malabsorption, which can maybe impact growth. And there are many reasons for this, ranging from agriculture to processing to simply your digestion. Often at this point, we end up being in the baseline of all healing diets, okay? In other words, all diets with a purpose when we’re trying to reach a very specific goal. So let’s differentiate our baseline, in general, is a whole foods diet, which is really grounded solidly in vegetables and fruits, low glycemic low in sugar overall, we then added a layer of removing inflammatory foods, especially gluten and dairy. And obviously, if your kid is sensitive or allergic to any other foods, those who joined the list as well.

Now often people, you know, parents that I talked to are very proud about their kids doing super restrictive diets. But I just want to say here that we never want restrictions. And it may sound like we’re talking about restrictions. Yes, we want to remove the minimum number of foods that we need to make sure that we’re not adding inflammation to the body. But diets are always a land of what you can eat, not what you can’t eat. Food diversity is one of the most important factors in our health, especially as it relates to the microbiome. Now, this is again another place to add another caveat wherever you are in your journey. Remember that that is all this is, this is a journey. We’re making changes we track.

We adapt, we move on, some things work, and some things don’t. Okay? No food guilt, unfortunately, is so pervasive in all of us, as we try to eat and quotes healthier. There’s always somebody or some information around that our food could be more healthy, but not doing enough, right? So one framework that I use is that we draw our initial lines around us when we say this is my boundary.

This is where I’m eating now. When I need to drive differently, I will. But if this is working, for now, I’m good. Another framework is that a diet is never the end goal. And it does seem that as a society, we have reached the place where a diet is the end goal, right? A diet of nutritional supplementation is key to unlocking bodily freedom. So my body doesn’t hinder my mind. And then we move on. That’s all this podcast is about. Right? And then we move on. But I started this conversation by talking about what diet is best for Down syndrome. Now we’ve obviously made it clear that there is no such thing as a yet and we need to talk about diets.

We had drawn, however, a basic framework and a tighter healing anti-inflammatory framework. It is from here that we look at our goals and our hurdles. What is it that’s bothering your kid? Is it persistent bloating? Let’s be cautious of assuming that all persistent Bloating is always SIBO. And if you have not heard about SIBO, that is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. But if it is, there are some diets that are used specifically for SIBO. Among these are SCD, which is the specific carbohydrate diet, and the low FODMAP state, which stands for a group of carbohydrates that are easily fermented and cause bloating. Okay, now, you can see we’re entering the world of acronyms, which is always a dangerous thing, because, you know, gives us the feeling that we know something when we actually don’t you know, that’s what we like to do.

We like to throw acronyms, so please pardon me while I throw a few acronyms here. The idea is to just show that there are specific diets used for specific purposes. We don’t have time in the format of this podcast to go into what each of these diets includes, and what that means right here. But these are restrictive diets. That’s the whole idea, especially since the diets have been talking about SCD-low FODMAPs. I haven’t talked about anything else yet, but I will. They restrict certain types of carbohydrates.

The assumption we’re making is that by restricting these carbs, you’re starving Some microbes. And these could be bad bacteria that are just making hay and overgrowing, and their metabolites of his products are clouding our systems and causing symptoms such as but not limited to bloating, aggression, maniacal laughter, constipation, diarrhea, emotional dysregulation, and the list goes on.

Right. So they could also be good bacteria growing in the wrong place, which is often SIBO. So we restrict certain carbs in order to cut off the food supply to these bacteria. In fact, many but not all of the further modifications in our diet are based on resolving not just symptoms, but the root cause of gut dysbiosis. gut dysbiosis stands for an imbalance in health-promoting and disease-causing microbes in your gut.

These diets include the body ecology diet, widely used for Candida or yeast overgrowth in the gut, SCD sometimes the low FODMAP diet we talked about, and also gaps, which is which many of you might have heard about because it’s one of the most popular diets around it stands for gut and psychology syndrome. There are diets like the ketogenic diet, which are used for neurological symptoms, blood sugar regulation, and seizures, even the GAPS diet is used for some psychological disorders. There is also the autoimmune Paleo Diet, which is used in situations where autoimmune issues do not resolve with other interventions.

There are still four to five diets, including specialty elimination diets that I haven’t mentioned, every one of these sites can be extremely helpful, if used for the right person at the right time, for the right amount of time, because remember that all of these diets are significantly restrictive. So now we are firmly in the realm of restrictive diets, which means that it’s not recommended to be on these diets forever unless it’s needed for some extra healing or unless you’ve been specifically told that you need to be in this space by a practitioner. So let’s come back to our main question and summarize. Since we are talking about your child with Down syndrome, we’re likely talking about oxidative stress We may be talking about a higher risk of autoimmunity.

We may also be talking about impaired digestive function and altered metabolism. And as we put these factors together what comes together is that is an anti-inflammatory diet that is formally and dare I say completely rooted in Whole Foods heavy in vegetables and globalized Simic fruits, low in sugar overall, you know, pretty much really close to very low in sugar zero and sugar added sugar overall, but loaded with naturally occurring antioxidants. You know, the veggies in the bellies kind of take care of that, but also spices. From there make changes as you see fit to address your child’s unique needs. Redraw your boundary lines, and continue your journey. And keep in mind that this is just a means for a full expression of your child’s potential. never an end, a diet is never the end goal.

A restrictive diet is even more so. Respect, and perhaps inclusion. If that’s what you’re looking for your child living life on their terms, that is the end goal. Thank you for staying with me on this journey. If you have enjoyed this podcast, I would enjoy it very much if you would leave a review for me, wherever you hear it. And that could be iTunes, Spotify, Google, or wherever your favorite podcast app is players.

Remember, I’m here to answer your question. So if you have questions about this podcast, or you want me to address another topic in another podcast, send me an email with advice at functionalnutritionforkids.com. Until next week, then I’m your host Vaish Sarathy. And today’s music, like always was by my daughter Maitri Gosh. See you next week for sure. I am back in town with better audio quality. Bye Thank you for listening.


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