The Cost of Healthy Living, Gluten-Free

On October 31, 2011, in Uncategorized, by celiacuniverse

The decision to be on a gluten-free diet is not one to be taken lightly.  Not everyone can play tennis like Novak Djokovic (ranked #1 in the World Tennis rankings, but a gluten-free diet has been attributed to his success.  I would imagine that with a career earnings of over $30 million dollars, the cost of gluten-free bread likely wouldn’t phase him, anymore than one of my passing shots.

Compared to the $4 billion dollars spent on regular old sandwich bread, (Baking and Milling News 2010), the gluten-free food industry is seeing unparalleled growth.  $2.6 billion was spent on gluten-free foods in 2010, and estimates of a $6 billion dollar industry by 2015 (Packaged Facts 2011).

In preparation for a recent hospital grand rounds, I visited a few local grocery chains, to price a few basic gluten-free items.  For sandwich bread, a basic “Mrs Baird’s”compared to a loaf of “ENER-G” gluten-free brand differed four-fold (7 vs. 30 cents/ounce). Both products were on sale, but the Mrs. Baird’s was buy-one get-one free.  The difference was even more striking if you wanted to make your own bread.  Compare Gold Medal All Purpose flour at 2.6 cents/ounce compared to 18 cents/ounce for Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour, almost seven times more expensive.  That price differential didn’t include the xanthum gum, which cost $13.49 for 8 ounces.  And what may be surprising to many readers, is that certain products @WholeFoods and similar stores were CHEAPER than the larger national and regional chains evaluated.

When I first began the gluten-free diet, two things were evident, the specialty food was neither tasty, nor cheap.  The relative expense to taste ratio was also too high, and I was on a resident’s budget.  Fortunately, with a growing industry comes increase competition and improved quality (translation=taste).

So how does one on a budget, keep expenses to a minimum while still keeping the gluten-free diet convenient and tasty?

1) Balance cost and time.  While driving to three stores in a city might provide you the maximal combination of favorites, it is somewhat impractical.  It is important to know which stores offer products you like, while at the same time developing a rapport with the stores.

2) Be a smart shopper.  Clip coupons. Stock-up when your favorites items are on sale, and try new items when they are on sale.

3) Buy as many products that are naturally gluten-free and/or available universally.  Try local produce, or sample farmer’s markets.

Keeping these tips in mind will improve the everyday gluten-free shopper’s experience, and make specialty diets easier on the pocketbook (even if you are the #1 tennis player in the world).


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