Friday, September 25, 2009

5 Tips to Optimize the Financial Sustainability of the Gluten-free diet

Gluten-free (GF) diets can be costly. The availability of GF foods in the marketplace is on the rise, however, the market prices of many of these products make them inaccessible to those on a budget.

The fact that the GF diet is incredibly restrictive makes it challenging for most people to sustain in the long-term, and when you tack on the financial implications, long-term compliance becomes more of an issue. The gluten-free diet is the only known, effective treatment for celiac disease. Gluten-free diets have also been shown to alleviate symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, multiple sclerosis, autism, ataxia, irritable bowel syndrome and hypothyroidism. Therefore, given the diet's effectiveness in managing chronic health conditions, how can the diet be more economical for those whose optimal health depends on it?

Find the bulk bins in your supermarket: Foods that are sold in bulk, such as whole grains, nuts and seeds, and dried fruits, are less expensive than their packaged counterparts. Bulk foods usually do not contain gluten or added refined sweeteners, oils, and chemicals. Always defer to the bulk section when you're in need of these foods. For example, 1 pound of bulk rice costs $0.89 at most supermarkets, whereas a 1 pound box of Uncle Ben's rice is $1.69, almost double the price of bulk.

Caution: Cross-contamination can be an issue in bulk bins. If the bins and scoops are not washed out thoroughly before adding a GF item, there can be risk of cross-contamination. Individuals with celiac must be careful about this and research indicates that the non-celiac gluten intolerant should be equally as careful. Always read bin labels. If you see evidence of cross-contamination such as flour dust on or nearby the GF items, report it to the grocery manager. Some stores are more conscious about this than others, exclusively assigning GF and non-GF items to specific bins. When in doubt, inquire with the grocery manager.

Cook with whole grains: There are many whole grains that are naturally gluten-free such as rice, corn, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and teff. Grains are versatile and can be used as the base of a dish such as fried rice, polenta, or kasha. They can also be used in side dishes, salads or served hot with nuts and fruit, as breakfast porridge. Noted above, it is cheaper to purchase whole grains in bulk rather than packaged.

Eat a whole foods diet: When individuals are put on a GF diet, the first question that pops into their minds is "What am I going eat?" Do not panic. The fact is, there are countless whole foods that are naturally GF including: fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheeses, butter, whole grains noted above, nuts and seeds, soy products, beans, coffees and teas, oils, honey, maple syrup, and spices. It can be more time consuming, but it is less expensive and more nutritious to construct meals using foods in their natural state, whole foods.

Minimize consumption of GF packaged foods: If possible, reduce the frequency with which you purchase GF packaged foods. When purchased in abundance, these foods will inflate your grocery bill.

They are enticing because they're "ready-to-go" and it is challenging to find decent GF "ready-to-eat" meals, sweet things, cookies, bars, etc. However, an abundance of naturally GF whole foods exists and when combined, these foods can make healthy, low cost snacks and meals. See 25 Naturally Gluten-free Snacks for whole food snack ideas.

Get curious about GF baking: GF packaged baked goods and baking mixes are costly. For example, one box of Pamela's chocolate chip cookies costs $4.49. Pamela's ultra chocolate brownie mix will run you $7.19. GF baking can be intimidating, even for a seasoned pastry chef.

In Seattle, there are resources to help you navigate this new world. PCC Cooks offers GF Baking Classes with Shauna James Ahern, author of Gluten-free Girl. Glutenfreegirl.com and gluten.net are good resources for baking information.

Find recipes online and start experimenting with different GF flours such as quinoa, sorghum, rice and bean. Blue and yellow corn meals and nut-based flours also work well in GF baked products. Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills sell these products certified GF, the gold standard for GF product testing. This certification guarantees that the product is GF.

- Genevieve Sherrow, Candidate Master's of Science in Nutrition and Samer Koutoubi, MD, PhD, Professor and Core Faculty, School of Nutrition and Exercise Science

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