The Cost of a Gluten Free diet

The cost of living a gluten free lifestyle has been reported and debated in the media for many years by now; both in terms of the cost to the NHS for Gluten Free prescriptions, and the cost to those with Coeliac Disease to purchase appropriate food products. As a recently diagnosed Coeliac, I must admit, one of the first things I noticed was the increased cost of a routine food shop.

Yesterday, The Mirror reported that those on a gluten and/or dairy free diet spend on average £370 more on food shopping. Previously, The Independent also reported that gluten free products cost 3-4 times more than non gluten free foods, and that the gluten free food market in the UK would surpass £500million in 2016.

As a quick example, I did a simple price comparison on the Tesco and Asda websites for GF and non GF products: (product comparisons were all based on the supermarket’s own brand products)

  • GF Flour £1.65 / Non GF 45p
  • GF Bread £2 /  Non GF 50p
  • GF Pasta £1.35 /  Non GF 59p
  • GF Biscuits £1.40  /  Non GF 40p

Those who are formally diagnosed with Coeliac Disease are eligible to receive a selection of gluten free products via prescription – in Wales, this is free, and in England there are pre-paid prescription plans available. This in itself has often caused some disagreements over whether food that is readily available to buy in store should be given out on prescription at a cost to the NHS, despite Coeliac Disease being medically recognised as an auto-immune disease and the treatment being a gluten free diet. In 2015, the Daily Mail incorrectly reported that the NHS spending on gluten free prescriptions totals £116million “for custard creams, doughnuts and pizza ….. calorie-rich treat issued to patients on special diets include italian style biscotti, cakes bars and muffin mixes”. This was formally addressed and corrected by Coeliac UK as actually amounting to £26.8million, equalling £180 per patient, the cheapest treatment for any long term conditions on the NHS. For some campaigners, this is acceptable,for others, its classed as a waste of tax payers money.

Let’s just clarify; NHS prescriptions for gluten free foods aren’t bottomless shopping lists. We aren’t able to order as much as want of whatever we want. Prescriptions work by allocating each individual with a set amount of units per month (e.g 10 units for a child aged 1-3;  14 units for a female aged 19 to 74; 18 units for males 19-59). This then equates to various food products – a loaf of bread is 1 unit, flour is 2 units, cereal is 1.5 units.

Also, despite what some reports may say, prescriptions do not offer “luxury gluten free items”- they are only to be used for staple dietary requirements.

“Coeliac UK does not support the prescribing of luxury products such as cake mixes and chocolate biscuits on prescription. We have issued national guidance which states that prescriptions should focus on staple products such as breads, flours and pastas”

So, how can you help to reduce the cost of your weekly food shop?

  • Choose naturally gluten free foods – fruit, veg, meat, rice, beans, potatoes … they’re all naturally gluten free and therefore come in far below the price of modified gluten free products.
  • Home Made Food – if you aren’t already, its time to get acquainted with your kitchen! Whether you’re a natural cook or not, there are lots of recipe books, blog sites, and recipe archives online to give you some yummy ideas. In addition, why not cook up multiple batches and keep some in the freezer for those days when you’re in a rush or feeling less organised!
  • Special offers – keep an eye out for special offers and coupons. The Gluten Free Centre has a special offers page; sign up for newsletters from your favourite brands to receive notifications of promotions, and visit some gluten free forums where fellow Coeliacs often share any offers they’ve seen (e.g The gluten free under thirties facebook group, and this message board)
  • Buy in bulk – if your favourite products are on offer, don’t be afraid to buy a couple of extra packets! Most thing can be stored in the freezer for a couple of weeks, but double check individual product labels.



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