Recipes, Special Diets on April 27, 2011 by

Carol Fenster: Celebrating April as Autism Awareness Month: Scrumptious Coconut Macaroons

While there are many treatments for the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder that strikes 1 in 110 children, one treatment that gets a great deal of attention is the gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diet.

Experts disagree on the effectiveness of this diet for treating autism, but many parents and physicians believe that some children do respond well.  One expert, Dr. Alessio Fasano, of the University of Maryland, believes that approximately 20% of autistic children are gluten intolerant.  I have been working with parents of autistic children for nearly 15 years and, despite the lack of rigorous scientific evidence in support of the diet, I have heard many personal accounts of a child’s improved behavior, ability to focus, making eye contact, and so on.

Gluten and Casein

How do gluten and casein affect some autistic children?  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, but also in related grains such as rye, spelt, and barley.  Oats are inherently gluten-free but were once avoided because of likely contamination with wheat in the field or processing plant. Today, oats that are grown and processed under controlled conditions carry a “gluten-free” label.

Casein (kay-seen) is a protein found in dairy products such as milk, cream,  yogurt, ice cream, butter, cheese, and many others. It also shows up as caseinate in unlikely non-milk products such as soy cheese and hot dogs.

The GFCF Diet

The GFCF diet therapy is based on the premise that some autistic children don’t completely digest gluten and casein and these undigested proteins seep through their “leaky guts” into the blood stream to produce a drug-like effect on their behavior.  Removing gluten and casein don’t “cure” autism; instead, experts say that removing them allows other treatments to work more effectively in some children.

When you implement the GFCF diet, other members of the family are affected as well because, ideally, the family cook prepares only one version (rather than multiple versions) of a dish so everyone eats the same food.  In addition, some autistic children have issues with the texture and size of their food. Therefore, recipes that everyone can eat safely and deliciously are extremely important to these families.

Here is a recipe for a delightful Coconut Macaroon that contains no gluten or casein. It can be made in regular or bite-size balls to meet every family member’s preferences. To add fiber and nutrients, replace ¼ cup of the cornstarch with mild-flavored white bean flour from Bob’s Red Mill.  If you would like to know more about using beans in a gluten-free diet, download a free copy of Pulses and the Gluten-Free Diet: Cooking with Beans, Peas, Lentils and Chickpeas, visit: The booklet was written by Shelley Case and Carol Fenster and contains a wide variety of items such as main dishes, soups, sides, breads and desserts.

Coconut Macaroons

Reprinted with permission from Gluten-Free 101: Easy, Basic Dishes without Wheat (Savory Palate, 2010)

By Carol Fenster (

Macaroons are moist, chewy, and delicious and satisfy our cravings for something sweet with very little effort. They can be packed in a child’s lunchbox or frozen for use later. Drizzle a little chocolate sauce on top for a garnish and some added sweetness.

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 package (14 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

[1]  Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease large baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

[2]  Combine all dry ingredients in food processor and pulse just until blended. Add egg whites and vanilla. Blend until completely mixed. Dough will be stiff.

[3]  With wet hands, form 15 balls––1 ½-inches in diameter––on baking sheet. Leave at least 1 inch between cookies. (Or form bite-size balls for children.)

[4]  Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until cookies start to brown around edges. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Store in tightly closed container. Makes 15.

Carol Fenster is the author of nine gluten-free cookbooks, including 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, 2010—one of the Denver Post’s 2010 Best Cookbooks and Natural Solutions magazine’s “Top 12 Cookbooks from 2010”) and the award-winning 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (Wiley, 2008). Her 10th cookbook, 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes, will be published in July, 2011 (Avery/PenguinGroup). She blogs at, offers a weekly gluten-free online cookbook at, and is a spokesperson for the United Sorghum Checkoff. She develops the gluten-free products for industry leader Bob’s Red Mill and appears on PBS, the Health Network as well as many radio, newspaper, and web sites. She teaches cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma and is a guest speaker at the American Dietetic Association, Canadian Dietetic Association, International Association of Culinary Professionals, Whole Grains Council, Disney, National Product Expo, FoodEX in Tokyo, the Institute for Biophysics and Genetics in Italy, and the famed Rancho La Puerta Spa & Resort in Mexico. A member of Les Dames d’ Escoffier International, she is the former associate food editor at Living Without magazine, and her articles, recipes, quotes, photos, and reviews of her books appear in USA Today, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, New York Times, Washington Post, Woman’s World, Vegetarian Times, Delicious Living, Today’s Dietitian,  Living Without, Gluten-Free Living, Energy Times, Better Nutrition, Taste for Life, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal, and Edible Front Range.



Coconut macaroons are a favorite here! We are huge coconut fans! These cookies look perfect.

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