Life StoryDec/Jan 2010 Issue

Mother with a Cause - Autism

Actress and author Jenny McCarthy credits a special diet for her son's recovery from autism

It’s been 15 years since Jenny McCarthy’s centerfold days. The 36-year-old Chicago native has since branched out creatively into films and television. She has also authored six books, including three on autism—Louder Than Words, Mother Warriors, and most recently, Healing and Preventing Autism.

Ever since McCarthy’s 7-year-old son Evan was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, she has put her celebrity status to use by serving as a spokesperson for Talk About Curing Autism, appearing on Larry King Live’s special dedicated to autism and speaking out on many Oprah shows on autism. In August, McCarthy opened Teach To Talk Academy, the first of a planned 19 schools across the country for children with autism.

McCarthy, who lives with boyfriend, actor Jim Carrey, 46, is also an advocate for healthy living and the importance for women taking an active role in their own wellness and longevity. She's a spokesperson for Your Shape, a Wii fitness game geared for women that’s launching in December.  

Living Without Why is women’s health such an important issue for you right now?
McCarthy
I believe that women are really the foundation of the home. We care for the family and make sure things run smoothly. I never would have been so into health and nutrition if it weren’t for my son Evan. People come up to me all the time and say, “Oh my God, you saved your son’s life,” and I say over and over again, “No, he saved my life.”

Is Evan still on the gluten-free, casein-free diet?
Yes, he is. The GFCF diet was a huge part of his recovery, along with vitamins and detox.

What vitamins does Evan take right now?
Very similar to what I take. He takes cod liver oil, omegas for the brain, probiotics, which are good bacteria for his gut, enzymes with every meal to help break down his food.  He’s on calcium, magnesium, selenium—some things he was deficient in. Every six months, he gets his blood checked to see what he’s low in and we balance it out. I take a multi-vitamin, cod liver oil, probiotics and enzymes. They’re what I call my essentials.

Are you eating gluten free and casein free, too?
Yes, both Evan and I are on the GFCF diet. And Jim [Carrey] is, as well. We're all on it. It’s a lot easier not having to cook different foods for everyone. And we found out, ironically, that Jim and I both have similar food sensitivities. It was weird kismet. They say people come together for certain reasons. We found that we all need to be on the same path of health in order to have total wellness in our lives. So we all do the same thing. 

What kind of food sensitivities do you and Jim have? 
Wheat and dairy. I’ve also got probably 35 different foods that I discovered I’m sensitive to through various means of testing and elimination. Jim used to have about 40 different sensitivities but by now we’ve healed about 99 percent of them. So food problems can be healed; it just takes some time. I’m still going through my own healing process with yeast. 

If you were to go home tonight and make dinner, what would it be?
Oh, I love that question! I’m from the south side of Chicago, so food is very important to me. I would probably say Mushroom Pie. [Recipe on page 19.] It’s got a gluten-free, casein-free flour crust with mushrooms and non-dairy cheese inside. It’s a complete dinner, like a quiche. 

So when you fall off the wagon, does Evan ever veer off track nutritionally?
No, Evan always eats perfectly.

If he fell off the nutritional path you have put him on, would he revert to autism behaviors?
I don’t think he’d revert back. I think we would see some behavior manifestations of brattiness, irritability, loss of sleep, things like that. So he will maintain a perfect diet until he’s around 16 because that’s probably about as long as I can control his eating. In the meantime, he’s going to be taking courses in nutrition, taking courses in cooking, everything to have the skills that I think a human being needs to get through the rest of his life, which is knowledge about health. That’s what I plan on implementing with him.  And like I said, sometimes I go off track on eating but then I get right back on again because now I know the tools to get back to balance and happiness.

Does Evan still experience gastrointestinal problems with yeast?
He does. He has to go on a round of anti-fungal medication every six months. We don’t know why the yeast keeps coming back. This is a big unknown in the autism community.  Many of these kids have a lot of candida issues. When there’s an imbalance in the gut, an overgrowth of yeast is going to happen. 

If you were to give a quick formula for success with Evan’s recovery from autism, what would it be?
I would say food and vitamins. I would tell mothers if you can’t afford to get your child into a full recovery program, if you just changed foods and added vitamins, you’d likely see miraculous results. 

You just opened your first school for children with autism in Sherman Oaks, California. Can you tell us about it?
The school, called Teach to Talk Academy, is located in the house where I used to live. I got rid of all my furniture and converted each room into a classroom. We have about 30 kids enrolled between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. The school is an intensive treatment center for autistic kids. We’re basically teaching them how to speak, how to go to the bathroom, how to function, how to look their friends in the eyes. We’re treating autism through nutrition, as well. So I’ll be bringing all my nutritional advice to the school. We have a doctor on board who will come in and do the blood work with the kids and have them on a health regimen. The same diet, the same vitamins, the same detoxing…all the things I’ve done with Evan’s recovery. There’ll also be behavior therapy. I consider these kids in the school right now to be one of the luckiest groups around because we have the very best of the best therapists from UCLA, combined with the best doctors in the world to treat autism. I’ve just put them together under one roof—and there it is! 

In hindsight, what immediately comes to mind when you think, gosh, if only I had known? 
If only I had known the importance of health and if only I had known to not necessarily trust everything I hear. In other words, I would have educated myself on things directly related to my child. I think I could have skated around a lot of the things that happened to him. But would I change it now in a million years? Never! Because the Evan I have today is the most awesome kid in the world.

Bonnie Siegler is a freelance writer who lives in Playa del Rey, California.

Jenny McCarthy is an outspoken advocate for the autism community and for women's health. Photo: Courtesy of Ubisoft

Jenny's Mushroom Pie

SERVES 8

Don’t remove this pie from your oven too soon. The bottom crust should be crispy and golden brown.

Crust

2½ cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup Earth Balance or dairy-free

butter replacement of choice, chilled

1 cup vegan sour cream

1. Whisk first 3 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Slice butter replacement into chunks and cut them into the flour mixture with a fork or your hands until mixture forms a coarse meal. Add sour cream and stir until dough forms.

2. Divide dough in two (make one much larger than the other) and form into rounds. Place rounds between parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to one day.

3. Roll out the larger round and place it in a 10-inch pie plate. Roll out the smaller round and cut it into thin strips to make a lattice to top the pie.

Filling

3 tablespoons Earth Balance or butter replacement of choice

2½ cups chopped onions

8 cups chopped crimini mushrooms (about 1½ pounds)

2 tablespoons chopped thyme

1 (8-ounce) package vegan cream cheese replacement

1. Melt butter replacement in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and golden. Add mushrooms and thyme. Saute until mushrooms are tender, about 6 minutes. Gently stir in cream cheese replacement.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spoon filling into uncooked pie crust and top with dough strips formed in a lattice pattern. Work fast doing the lattice. Crimp edges of dough together.

3. Place pie in preheated oven and bake 45 minutes or until crust is crispy and golden brown.

Each slice contains 571 calories, 37g total fat, 15g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1050mg sodium, 54g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 6g protein. LW

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