Going Gluten Free… Will it be a run for your money?

In my previous post, I talked about the low compliance of many Celiac patients to a strictly gluten free diet. For class, we read an article in the New York Times about the growing awareness of Celiac Disease and how gluten-free diets are becoming a sort of trend or fad in the food industry and even popular media.

With this growing awareness and availability of gluten-free products, why is it still a challenge for many people diagnosed with Celiac Disease to stick with the diet? In my previous post, I reflected on some challenges in strictness needed to evaluate the foods being eaten and the self-discipline required. I decided to do some research about other possible reasons and found an article about the economic burden of a gluten-free diet.

Here, they looked at the availability of gluten-free products from different sources and the cost compared to their wheat-based counterparts. They found that in the areas of the US in their study, the availability regular grocery stores carried 36%, upscale markets carried 41%, and health food stores carried 94%, compared with 100% availability online. Items they looked at included bread, muffins, cereal, waffles, crackers, cookies, pretzels, pasta, pizza, mac’ & cheese (that’s interesting!) and cake. More importantly, overall every gluten-free product was more expensive with their wheat-based counterpart. Staple foods such as bread and pastas were even twice the price of the gluten containing versions. Perhaps the cost of maintaining a gluten-free diet just isn’t manageable for some individuals, which leads to low compliance and subsequently, intestinal damage and related health implications.

Cost is a pretty large concern, especially when so many cheaper products are available (that contain gluten). I decided to investigate by doing some cost comparisons of my own. I went to a local supermarket (Zehrs Markets) and observed the differences in prices of gluten-free pastas. I noticed that the selection of gluten-free products was not as wide as the gluten containing varieties, and was interested to find pastas made of corn flour and rice flour.

Gluten-Free Wheat (Gluten)
Product Unit ($) Weight (g) Cost ($/g) Unit ($) Weight (g) Cost ($/g)
Spaghetti 2.99 340 0.0088 1.49 450 0.0033
4.99 340 0.0147 2.39 900 0.0027
Fettuccini 2.79 454 0.0061 1.99 900 0.0022
2.39 900 0.0027

Comparing a few different products and brands, I see that the gluten-free products can be 2-5 times more expensive!

I then decided to see how expensive it would be to make homemade gluten-free products. If I were diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I would definitely try cooking and baking my own products at home. I turned to the blogging community and found a simple recipe for gluten-free pasta (from simplygluten-free.com).

Ingredient Recipe Price ($/g) Cost ($)
White Rice Flour

1/6 cup = 18.4g



Millet Flour

1/6 cup = 18.4g



Tapioca Starch

1/3 cup = 36.8g



Potato Starch

3 Tbsp = 20.7g



Xanthan Gum

1 Tbsp = 6.9g



Kosher sea salt

1/2 tsp = 1.1g



Olive Oil

2 Tbsp = 27.0g



Large eggs

3 = 144.6g

5.99/12 eggs



3 Tbsp = 45g



*used volume conversion factor for cake flour (1 cup = 110.5g) and vegetable oil (1 cup = 216.3g)

Using this recipe, the total cost to make 318.9g of homemade gluten-free pasta is $3.05291. Per gram, that’s $0.0095.This is similar to the gluten-free spaghetti costs I observed in the supermarket. I was surprised that the homemade version is not cheaper than the store variety.

Looking at the results of increased costs shown in the journal and from my own observation, I am convinced that the gluten-free diet may very well be a run for your money, in more ways than one. The cost is only one aspect, added to many changes in lifestyle and food choice decisions and restrictions. Though gluten-free diets and foods may be a popular trend, it might actually be quite difficult to maintain a diet completely free of gluten, especially when first starting off.

Sources used:

O’Brien, K. 2011. Should We All Go Gluten Free? New York Times. Online Magazine. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/magazine/Should-We-All-Go-Gluten-Free.html?pagewanted=1

Lee, A.R., Ng, D.L., Zivin, J. Green, P.H.R. 2007. Economic burden of a gluten-free diet. J Hum Nutr Diet. Volume 20. pp. 423-430.

Carol Kicinski. Simplygluten-free.com. Gluten-free Fresh Pasta Recipe available at:  http://simplygluten-free.com/blog/2011/01/gluten-free-fresh-pasta.html

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