Gluten Free Doesn’t Have to be More Expensive

Gluten-Free sweet potato with spinach, garbanzo beans, and poached egg

Last week, I clicked on an article talking about how much money being gluten free costs a person. My eyes widened, my head hurt, and I sighed out loud. Since I was in my office, sighing was better than screaming. Because articles like this miss the point.

Okay, truth. Yes, if you buy gluten-free processed foods, you will pay a premium. No question. No argument. Depending on your source of data, you will pay a decent double- or triple-digit percentage more for a gluten-free version of a food than the non-gluten-free version. So, yeah, that makes your GF diet expensive.

The reasons for this are obvious: smaller market, special production requirements, different ingredients, certifications, marketing campaigns. This stuff adds up, and most of the list are attributes welcomed by the gluten-free community.

But here’s the thing, and it’s often overlooked by the press: none of these foods are necessary for a healthy and happy gluten-free life. They make our lives more convenient, but they don’t add much in the way of nutrition (or, often, flavor). They are the nice-to-haves in our world, and, frankly, they are the gluten-free versions of foods that are causing health problems in the non-gluten-free world.

If you focus on eating whole, real foods, your gluten-free diet will not be more expensive than other choices. Yes, cooking real foods can add time and effort to your weekly routine — and I am incredibly aware of this since I rarely get home before 7:30 in the evening — but it’s not more expensive. It simply means shopping the meat, dairy, and vegetable sections of the store, with the middle aisles supplementing.

My personal approach is to focus on purchasing (and preparing) naturally gluten-free foods. I keep a small stock of gluten-free pasta for weeknight emergencies. I keep a loaf of GF bread in the freezer (never the refrigerator…it will dry out there!) for sandwich cravings. I keep a stock of gluten-free flours for various purposes. And, yes, gluten-free soy sauce (generally tamari, though I have a bottle of really good stuff for garnishing recipes). Otherwise, my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator are filled with foods that don’t cost me more more money.

One thing I do when I shop is make it a point to buy the products that are labelled gluten free. Pesto, sauces, tortillas (thank you, Mission!), gluten-free bread crumbs, and other products that manufacturers have taken the time and energy to ensure are gluten free. When a manufacturer cares, I return the favor with my patronage. I’ve found most of these foods don’t cost more.

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(Note: For purposes of this site, I will occasionally buy new GF products to taste and review, but I try to keep that to a minimum. I am not opposed to gluten-free breads, pastas, or other foods, but they do cost more, and I want to focus on healthy, smart, cost-effective gluten-free eating!)

Tip of the Week

One of the cheapest, most flexible gluten-free foods you can keep on hand is corn tortillas. Not only are they great for tacos, but they are perfect for enchiladas, quesadillas, and chips. Heck, when I was a kid, I devoured them heated and spread with butter…I mean, everyone loves butter, right?

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

For the past couple months, the husband and I have been very social. Lots of meals out with friends, lots of late evenings, and lots of “what was I thinking?” eating. Sure, we try to be smart by splitting entrees and focusing on healthy options, but sometimes, well, you know, we treat ourselves.

So when we return to our boring lives — and we love our boring lives! — we return to lighter, simpler foods. One meal that fills us up, both body and soul revolves around the sweet potato (or yam, depending on what’s in stock at your local store). When I was a kid, I hated sweet potatoes because they were covered in sugar and syrup. Ick!

Now I make my sweet potatoes with a savory, slightly spicy flavor profile. For example, after baking (or micowaving) a sweet potato until soft, cut it open, top it with seasoned greens, some roasted chickpeas, and an egg. It’s a full meal that erases the guilt of massive bowl of chili you had on Friday night…plus, the ingredients are inexpensive and naturally gluten free!

(Bonus! You can top your sweet potato with anything! It’s a perfect palette for Indian-, South American-, Italian-, Middle Eastern-, or Asian-inspired flavors.)

  • Sweet Potatoes Topped with Spinach, Chickpeas, and Poached Egg
  • Cole Slaw

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