If you don’t have food allergies or special dietary needs, you might have heard about gluten but are not necessarily aware of what it is, exactly. As defined by Merriam-Webster.com, gluten is “a tenacious elastic protein substance especially wheat flour that gives cohesiveness to dough.”
Simply put, it’s the substance in wheat and flour that holds dough together, causing that sticky texture. In the next sections, we will take a look at the basics of a gluten-free diet, why some people need it while others don’t, and how you can save money if you do need gluten-free food.
What is a Gluten-Free Diet & Why Do People Need It?
If gluten is that substance found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and triticale, it is quite difficult to go on a gluten-free diet, but not impossible. The purpose of going on a gluten-free diet in the first place is to treat celiac disease.
Those who are afflicted by this health condition will have their small intestines inflamed once they consume food items with gluten. To prevent complications and control the disease, patients would have to go on a gluten-free diet.
There are also diabetics who prefer to have a gluten-free diet to stabilize their blood sugar levels.
If, for whichever reason, you need to go on a gluten-free diet, it does involve a big change with your eating habits. Initially, you might feel as if you are depriving yourself of the right to eat good food. But due to your health condition, it is better to err on the side of caution.
The good news is that instead of feeling restricted because of what you are not allowed to eat, you can focus your attention to what you can actually consume. There are plenty of food items which are naturally gluten-free including the following:
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh meats, fish and poultry
- Most dairy products
- Unprocessed beans, seeds and nuts
Those who are on a gluten-free diet should always avoid food and drinks containing these ingredients:
- Barley, malt, malt flavoring and malt vinegar
- Durum flour
- Graham flour
Finally, when it comes to breads, cakes, pies, meats, salads, soups and other food items, you should only consume them if they are labelled as gluten-free; or are made with corn, rice, soy or other grains which are gluten-free.
If you are going on a gluten-free diet, you would have low levels of some vitamins and nutrients, so you might want to ask your dietitian for supplement recommendations.
Some of the key nutrients that you might be missing out on are fiber, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate.
Top 9 Ways to Save Money on Gluten-Free Food
There are more than three million Americans suffering from celiac disease and have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This means that you will be hard-pressed to find a supermarket without a gluten-free food section.
According to the National Foundation for Celia Awareness, the projected sales of gluten-free products will reach $5 billion for 2015, so manufacturers are definitely cashing in on the trend.
For those who do need to undergo a gluten-free diet, however, it comes with a steep price. Since gluten-free products are not made with wheat, they are more expensive.
So what can you do if you do need to follow a gluten-free diet but you don’t want to break the bank? Here are a few money saving tips for you to remember:
1. Consume food items which are naturally gluten-free.
There are many delicious food items which are naturally gluten free: eggs, meats, fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, beans, seeds, nuts, etc. These are the healthiest food items that you can eat which do not contain any gluten.
Instead of spending so much money looking for gluten-free items in the aisles of your local grocery, check out the produce section instead. Not only are they gluten-free, but there are also plenty of dishes that you can come up with using them as your main ingredients.
2. Look for cheaper sources of gluten-free carbohydrates.
Similar to trends in the themes of restaurants, there are also trends that you can follow when it comes to gluten-free diets. Ancient grains are all the rage right now, but these have a higher price point.
If you want to stick to a gluten-free diet without breaking the bank, stick to more basic grain options like rice, corn, or oats which are gluten-free. These are a lot cheaper than millet, quinoa or buckwheat.
There’s nothing wrong in consuming the last three items, but again, they are a lot more expensive than your basic grains.
3. Make your own cookies and breads which are gluten-free.
When you visit the gluten-free section of supermarkets or grocery stores, you will usually see boxes of cake mixes, ready-made cookies, breads and similar items which are labelled such. The problem is that these have a really high price tag.
To save money, why not make your own cookies and breads? These have a long shelf life anyway, so it will be similar to buying the same thing from stores. Start training yourself to bake with a gluten-free drop-cookie, and work your way from there.
4. Purchase gluten-free ingredients in bulk.
Since gluten-free food items are not made with traditional ingredients, they are generally 2.5 times more expensive than their regular counterparts. There are plenty of superstores, supermarkets and even health clubs which offer gluten-free ingredients at bulk, discounted prices.
- Calrose rice
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Organic brown rice
- Organic eggs
- Organic unsweetened apple sauce
- Organic peanut butter
5. Plan your meals.
Even if you’re not required to have a gluten-free diet, you can still save a lot of money – and even avoid food wastage – by planning your meals. What you can do is buy a list of the gluten-free ingredients that you need.
Look for recipes online and start your shopping. Allot one day of the week as your cooking day, where you can prepare several meals and freeze leftovers. This will save you a lot of time, effort and money – while also providing you with a totally gluten-free diet.
6. Go online to look for deals on gluten-free food items.
When you go online, you should be able to find plenty of discount vouchers, coupon codes and similar deals on gluten-free food items. You can also use the old fashioned way of clipping coupons from magazines – just make sure that they are for items which are indeed gluten-free.
Sign up for newsletters with companies that manufacture gluten-free food items, and they would update your e-mail with offers on discounted products or even free items.
7. Include in-season fruits and veggies in your grocery cart.
With fruits and vegetables having no gluten content at all, you are free to fill up your shopping cart with as many items as you want. To save money, look for fruits and veggies which are in season. Plan your meals around them.
If tomatoes are in season, for example, you can prepare a huge batch of your grandmother’s secret pasta sauce recipe. This can be refrigerated and kept for a long time, so that you only have to boil gluten-free pasta to enjoy a quick, healthy dish.
8. Frequent online stores which offer discounts for gluten-free food items.
Aside from the actual stores which sell gluten-free products for a discounted rate, there are also online stores which offer discounts. Check out Vitacost, Amazon and similar online stores so that you can get the best deals for gluten-free items.
9. Say no to junk gluten-free products which have mostly processed ingredients.
Finally, beware of products that say gluten-free, but have mostly processed ingredients. Just because a box is labelled such does not mean that it is instantly healthy. A box of delicious-looking brownies which are gluten-free but is ridiculously expensive may not be worth every cent, after all.
It’s better to bake your own brownies, breads and cakes with gluten-free ingredients rather than pay for the convenience and perhaps not even be satisfied with the taste of the product.
Steer clear of pre-baked items labelled gluten-free, as well as any convenient food items that will simply require you to open the plastic package. Not only are these pricier, but they’re probably not healthy at all.
Switching from a regular to a gluten-free diet might seem daunting at first. But once you know which ingredients to avoid, which food items to keep stock of, and how to plan your meals, you can easily follow a gluten-free diet without having to burn a hole in your pocket.