Are You Wasting Your Money by Going Gluten-Free?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 11 comments

The gluten-free craze has overtaken the supermarket aisles. Gluten-free products, once only available in specialty food stores, are now featured prominently in nearly every category of grain-based products.

While striving to live a healthier lifestyle and make better food choices is an admirable goal, you should exercise caution before jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon.

What You Need to Know About Gluten

What Is Gluten?

First of all, many people don’t even know what gluten is, let alone why they should be eliminating it from their diet. Gluten is a naturally-occurring protein in wheat, spelt, and a few other grains. About one in 100 people have celiac disease — a condition in which the body treats gluten as an allergen. Some people are highly allergic and must eliminate all gluten from their diet, and can even react negatively if they come into contact with it. Others may not be strictly diagnosed with celiac, but have various degrees of allergic symptoms. This is called gluten sensitivity and is hard to diagnose.

If you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the ready access of gluten-free products in recent years is a blessing; but if you’re not, it can be easy to assume that gluten must somehow be bad for you. That’s certainly how the marketing companies are painting it.

Is Gluten Really Bad for You?

Again, if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free may not only be the best option for your health, but the only option! If you’re not, gluten may not be your worst diet enemy. The tricky thing is that many people eliminate bread and pasta from their diet, and start losing weight, feeling less bloated, and showing generally better health. This isn’t necessarily due to gluten.

Eliminating any processed carbohydrates from your diet will yield these results, because they typically represent nutrient-deficient, calorie-dense, low-fiber foods. For this reason, it’s a good idea to eat fewer processed grains of any kind — whether you’re gluten intolerant or not.

Of course, if you suspect you have a gluten sensitivity, you should get tested. Diagnosing less severe cases of gluten-induced symptoms is difficult, so it’s best to trust your body. If your body works better without gluten, go for it. But know the difference between the medical condition and a dietary choice, and be prepared for the cost and sacrifices.

Gluten Is In More Than You Think

Some people decide to go gluten-free and simply eliminate wheat-based breads and pastas from their diet. But gluten is present in a multitude of packaged foods, such as condiments, sauces, and meats. You may be paying extra for the gluten-free noodles in your stir fry, but replacing it with the gluten in your soy sauce! This is just one more reason to be fully aware of the reasoning behind your food choices.

Gluten-Free Foods Are Expensive

One of the major reasons to think twice before you go gluten-free (unless you’re allergic) is the expense of this lifestyle. Though gluten-free products are flooding the market, they’re still vastly more expensive than their glutenous counterparts; in many cases, you’ll pay up to three times as much for a gluten-free product. I recommend heavy couponing and filling your diet with naturally gluten-free food such as vegetables and fruits, some dairy, and fresh meats.

The gluten-free craze may continue — but with some research and planning, you can avoid getting sucked into it for the wrong reasons, and save money on your grocery bill while still living a healthy lifestyle.

Are you gluten-free? How do you save money on GF products?

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  • Alexis says:

    I’m not gluten free but at times feel like I might be. I get excruciating pains in my stomach randomly and it’s often at times after I’ve eaten some kind of bread or some type of gluten meal.

    • jim says:

      Alexis,
      If I were you I’d have my doctor check me for eoe. They do an elimination diet, check your white blood cells (that’s what eosinophils are) in your stomach, gut, esophagus and can tell you what may be causing your pain. Go to a GI ’cause family practitioners don’t have a clue about this. Good luck.

    • David Ning says:

      Sorry to hear Alexis. Maybe you can make a log and then once you have more data, you can share it with your doc to see if he/she can figure any patterns out.

  • jim says:

    Another group of people who have to avoid gluten are those with eoe – eosinophilic esophagitis. It’s fairly rare and extremely difficult to diagnose. But those who test negative for celiac and yet still get sick eating gluten should be tested for eoe.

  • Noah says:

    Nowadays a lot of people spend money on trendy diets such as gluten-free and think it’s worth the money. The problem is, we all have different metabolisms and it’s always important to first learn what your body needs and then decide what diet suits your body the best. I think we can all agree that eating healthy foods generally help us lose weight. But gluten-free does not guarantee healthier life for some people, hence, they would have wasted their money on buying food based on a label that they didn’t completely understand. It’s important to do our research before determining if it’s worth it. Also, gluten-free enthusiasts can always reduce their groceries’ costs by couponing or cooking their own meals.

  • Michelle says:

    We are working towards being gluten free. My husband’s family (I believe it is his dad, sister, and younger brother) were all told by their doctors to go gluten free immediately because they are all allergic. They were even told to throw away or wash any item really good that has been in contact with bread in the past even. We believe he may be allergic as well, and his family has a history of diabetes (his mom and sister have it), so I guess that makes it even worse. Stinks because I LOVE bread but I am going to do this with him.

    • David Ning says:

      That’s good of you Michelle. I’ve always wondered why we have so many more types of allergies these days. My son is allergic to eggs for instance. Eggs! It wasn’t this bad 30 years ago. What happened?

  • Aldo@MDN says:

    If you don’t have celiac disease then the answer is yes! Like you said, a lot of people cut out carbs all together and felt better, but that has nothing to do with gluten. This gluten-free craze is just the new diet fad and it will probably die soon. I guess the fad is helping people with celiac disease to be able to find more food to eat, but it is not really helping the average Joe at all.

    What helps you be healthier is the way you eat. Eating gluten-free cake will never be better than eating a piece of fruit or vegetables.

    • David Ning says:

      I second that having good eating habits is key. Intake and burn rate (through exercise) will eliminate just about 99% of health issues. And the 1% of issues that can’t be cured will also be better because a healthy body is stronger and can fight disease more efficiently!

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