Recently, a good number of readers have inquired about how to avoid the high cost of a gluten-free diet. Having never faced this challenge myself, I needed to do a little research. Here's what I've discovered:
A gluten-free diet is one that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye.
A gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease, helping to control the signs and symptoms and prevent complications.
Following a gluten-free diet may be frustrating initially because just about everything, it seems, contains some amount of wheat. But there are creative ways to keep the costs down.
—Fresh gluten-free foods. Rather than try to buy gluten-free versions of your favorite foods, change your focus. Fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, poultry and fish are all healthy, delicious and gluten-free. Focus on planning a gluten-free menu based on those foods. Pound for pound, they offer a lot of nutritional value for the buck, compared with refined, processed gluten-free products. Amy's Kitchen's website (http://www.AmysKitchen.com) has a vast collection of recipes for how to cook gluten-free foods from scratch.
—Do it yourself. Instead of buying expensive gluten-free products, make your own. You'll return healthier meals with much better flavor. Look at http://GlutenFreeMommy.com for recipes and snack ideas, especially for kids.
—Become a mixologist. You can purchase gluten-free mixes, but they're expensive. Make your own by following recipes found at the websites Budget101.com and Recipe Goldmine. Type in "gluten-free mixes" in the respective search bars. You're going to save a lot of money, plus when you make your own gluten-free flour mixes, you can customize them to your own tastes and nutritional needs.
—Use coupons. Despite the fact that you may have heard it's impossible to find coupons for organic and gluten-free food products, Kathleen Reale of BeFreeForMe.com says that's not true. Visit her site for printable coupons, sources for samples and interaction with others with gluten problems and food allergies.
—Shop the sales. Many people, I'm learning, suffer from celiac disease and find it necessary to buy more organic foods, which can add to the cost of this specialized diet. But that doesn't mean you should pay the full price, even for organic food. Many retailers that specialize in organic products — such as Sprouts, Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Henry's — have regular weekly sales. Work these stores as you would any supermarket by perusing the weekly fliers, making a list and buying what's on sale. And when it's a really great sale, buy enough to last until the next time it goes on sale.
—Join a group. Check out the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (http://www.gluten.net) and the Celiac Sprue Association (http://www.CSAceliacs.org). You'll meet others who are battling the high costs of gluten-free foods. You'll find friendship, community and perhaps even the opportunity to join forces by buying in bulk to save money.
Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 18 books, including "Debt-Proof Living." You can e-mail her at email@example.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, CA 90723. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.