Two years ago my husband stopped eating gluten. He had recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and read that a gluten-free diet might help ease some of his symptoms. We switched the way we ate – and shopped – and the effects have been dramatic. In fact, he says that he’s never felt better.
The thing is, once we made the switch from normal flour and started using ground almonds for our cooking, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out I have a tree nut allergy – which means I can’t eat any nuts other than peanuts (which are technically a legume, FYI).
So, we then became “that couple”. You know, the ones that you invite to a dinner party and find catering to their dietary requirements an absolute nightmare? Yep, that’s us.
But, it is not just our household that has had to implement a special diet for medical reasons, there has been a reported increase in the prevalence of food allergies in western countries: with a report from the US nonprofit Fair Health revealing a 400% increase in life-threatening allergic reactions to food between 2007 and 2016, based on an analysis of private insurance claims. In the UK, hospital admissions for children with food allergies increased by 700% between 1990 and 2007.
And to add insult to injury, it turns out that having a strict gluten/nut-free diet – or any food intolerance, for that matter – might be better for your health, your bank balance will take a beating.
HOW COSTS COMPARE
For instance, gluten-free products can be three to four times more expensive than their standard counterparts in supermarkets, according to figures from Coeliac UK, a national charity which supports people suffering from the autoimmune disease.
For instance, a 500g bag of own-brand gluten-free fusilli costs £1.20 at Tesco, compared to 56p for the regular gluten-filled variety. While Tesco Finest Super Seeded Bread (800G) costs just £1.10 at the supermarket giant, compared to the Wholesome Five Seeded Bread (535G) by popular free-from brand, Genius, which sells for £2.80 a loaf. Ouch.
But having a food intolerance doesn’t need to break the bank. Here are five ways to cut costs.
1 Opt for naturally “free-from” foods
The best way to save money on a gluten-free diet is to avoid buying as many specialist products as possible. There are many popular branded foods that are naturally gluten free, without the hefty price tag – just be careful to carefully read the list of ingredients.
For instance, buying a 470g bottle of Morrisons Basics Tomato Ketchup sells for just 78p, compared to Chippa Gluten-free Tomato Ketchup (315g), which costs £1.50 at the supermarket chain.
Other branded goods that do not contain gluten and are significantly cheaper than the “free-from” counterparts include Heinz Beans in Tomato Sauce, Knorr stock cubes and Cart Dor Vanilla ice cream.
2 Make your own bread
If you love bread, but hate paying the price for a gluten-free loaf, it makes financial sense to buy a bread maker.
According to consumer group Which?, most bread makers can produce an 800g loaf. If you consider the cost of two loaves of the above-mentioned Genius bread each week, you would pay £291 annually.
Even with the cost of gluten-free flour the machine should pay for itself in a matter of months.
3 Get a diagnosis
If a doctor diagnoses you with coeliac disease, you can receive gluten-free staple foods via prescription from your GP such as bread, breakfast cereals, flour and pasta.
How much food you receive each month is determined by the National Prescribing Guidelines and depends on your age and gender. However, thanks to NHS budget cuts, some areas are restricting or cutting gluten-free prescribing, but the good news is that around 80% of Clinical Commissioning Groups in England continue to recommend that GPs prescribe gluten free foods.
Units are allocated to the different types of gluten-free staples. For instance, a man between the ages of 19-59 is entitled to 18 units a month. For one unit, you can get a 400g loaf of gluten-free bread or a 250g bag of pasta.
Bear in mind that in England, prescriptions for gluten-free food are not free of charge unless you qualify for free prescriptions for another reason and will cost £8.60. While those who live in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, these do not pay anything.
However, don’t be put off by the charge for prescription as it is worth paying this fee upfront.
For ease of comparison, consider the cost of the above-mentioned gluten-free bread. This loaf would account for two units, if you used your full monthly entitlement of 18 units on bread alone, you could get as much as £25 worth of bread for just £8.60.
If you pay for prescriptions, it may save you money to purchase a pre-payment certificate (PPC) which allows you to pay a set fee for either three months or 12 months. A PPC costs £29.10 for three months or £104 for 12 months.
This means if you’re going to buy 4 or more prescriptions in 3 months, or 14 or more prescriptions in 12 months, it may be cheaper to buy a PPC. You can also spread the cost and pay in 10 monthly instalments if you buy a 12 month PPC.
The good news is that a PPC covers you for all of your NHS prescription costs, regardless of the ailment. To find out more about PPCs, speak to your local pharmacist, call 0300 330 1341 or you can order one online.
4 Check out the discount supermarkets
This summer, Aldi launched it’s very own gluten free range of foods, and prices are often much lower than their competitors. For instance, Aldi is selling Gluten Free Plain Flour (1kg) for just £1.29 compared to £1.50 for the same size bag of Sainsburys’ own brand.
The discount retailers also stock branded free-from products. Aldi, for instance, has Nairn Gluten Free Wholegrain Crackers (114g) for just £1.29 compared to the same product at Tesco, which is selling at £1.60.
5 Print off a next level list
Shopping with an allergy or intolerance can be difficult, especially if you are newly diagnosed. To help make life easier, many supermarkets provide product guidance lists of their products that are made without certain ingredients such as milk, egg, nuts, peanuts and gluten. These are updated monthly so check every month to get the latest list.
Find these lists on the retailer’s website: at Sainsbury’s, for instance, you can find out about allergens and intolerances by visiting the ‘Health Advice’ section of its’ Live Well for Less website, while Aldi’s can be found here.
After reading the list at Aldi, for instance, we discovered that the Pork & Sweet Chilli sausages were gluten free and only cost £1.89 for six compared to the same size package of Heck Gluten Free sausages, which cost £3 at Tesco. Armed with this information, you will be able to make shopping decisions from the shop floor, and drastically cut costs.