Low sugar fruit consumption is linked to increased risk of autism spectrum disorder in adults, new research suggests.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that consuming a lot of blue fruit and low-calorie fruits such as berries, avocados, mangoes and grapes was associated with increased risk.
The findings have been supported by other studies that also suggest the same relationship exists.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, conducted a large study to determine the effects of diet on autism risk.
They compared children with autism and non-autistic controls and compared the children’s eating habits with their siblings.
Researchers found that children with a higher sugar intake had significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with autism.
Children who were eating a lot more fruits and vegetables had lower risk of developing autism.
But, as in previous studies, the children with the highest risk of ASD had the lowest sugar intake.
The researchers also found that low-sugar fruit consumption was associated only with the autism risk in children with ASD, but not in children who were not autistic.
The authors of the new study suggested that it could be a “socially constructed bias” that may contribute to the higher risk for autism.
“It’s a question of how much of the risk may be genetic,” said study co-author Dr. David Lieberman, an associate professor of pediatrics at UCSD.
“Some of the genes are related to autism risk, some of the susceptibility genes are more likely to be related to risk.
And some of it is just a cultural preference, where we don’t eat a lot or we don, say, pick certain kinds of fruits.”
The authors did not say what kind of fruit is most dangerous for an individual to consume, or whether children with an autism spectrum condition have different risk levels depending on their age or the type of fruit they eat.
“If we want to find a way to reduce autism risk at this time, we need to look at the genetics of autism,” Lieberman said.
“The best way to prevent autism is to increase the exposure of the brain to the right environment, and I think we can do that by making more of the food we eat, not less.”
For children with mild autism, the study showed that eating a diet high in fruits and low in processed sugar may help lower the risk of the disorder, but that the same is not true for those with severe autism.
The new study does not mean that kids with autism are “dietary malnourished,” Lieberman added.
He noted that there are many different types of eating disorders, and that a person’s diet will change depending on how they develop.
“There are children who have autism, there are children with ADHD and there are kids who are not on medication and there’s a spectrum of developmental disabilities, so there’s no one disease that’s a cause of autism, so to say that they have to avoid all foods that are not safe for them is not scientifically supported,” Lieberman explained.
“But the data do support the idea that there’s something that’s happening in the brain that’s triggering these disorders.”
The new research is a step in the right direction, Lieberman said, but it is still very early in the study.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a web page for people with autism that offers tips for parents, caregivers and educators on how to make healthy choices for their children.