The new study, published in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s journal Nutrition & Dietetics, compared the cost of a basket of gluten-free healthy foods, with a traditional healthy food basket, among four different family types.
University of Wollongong researchers Kelly Lambert and Caitlin Ficken found that following a healthy gluten-free diet was most expensive for nuclear families, single parent families and single young males - and was even more difficult for these family types receiving welfare payments.
“A gluten-free diet is unaffordable for the majority of family types we studied and for most families receiving welfare payments in Australia,” said Ms Lambert, an accredited practising dietitian.
Their research found the purchase price of a basket of gluten-free staple foods was up to 17% higher than the equivalent gluten-containing foods.
They also found a hefty mark-up for gluten-free staples, like bread and flour, compared with ‘regular’ foods.
“In all cases, gluten-free flour, muesli, wraps and bread were more expensive. For example, gluten free items were between 316% (for wraps) and 574% (for flour) more expensive per 100g,” said Ms Lambert.
Extra Burden for Coeliacs
The research highlights the barriers facing sufferers of coeliac disease, a gastrointestinal condition managed solely through a lifelong gluten-free diet and affecting one in 100 Australians. Carefully following a gluten-free diet is crucial in preventing complications such as bowel cancer, osteoporosis and infertility.
“For Australian families with a member affected by coeliac disease, the expense of a gluten-free diet is an unavoidable reality,”said Ms Lambert.
“Sadly, the higher cost of the specialised foods they need to manage their condition often impacts on how well they can stick to the diet. Families on welfare with people who need a gluten-free diet are particularly vulnerable.”
She called on the government to consider a national subsidised medical foods program in Australia similar to a model being used in England, so that people with coeliac disease can have better access to affordable gluten-free staple foods via prescription.
The research also provides ‘food for thought’ for those who have self-diagnosed a gluten sensitivity.
“Over the past decade or so, avoiding gluten-containing foods has become a popular diet choice. Some people buy gluten-free foods because they think it will help them lose weight or because they think gluten-free foods are healthier, and others believe they are sensitive to gluten.
“If you suspect your body can’t handle gluten, see your doctor first for a proper diagnosis. Without this, if you continue on a gluten-free diet, you not only risk missing out on important nutrients, but you’ll be up for a much steeper bill at the checkout, which for some people will mean less money for healthy foods like fruit and vegetables.”
Quick tips from the Dietitians Association of Australia to cut costs on a gluten-free diet:
• Cover your nutritional bases by prioritising in-season vegetables and legumes, which are gluten-free and economical. A good guide is to aim for 2-3 cups or more of vegetables or salad each day.
• Cook more at home as a way to trim your budget, keep tabs on what’s in your food, and improve the quality of your diet. Research shows people who regularly make their meals at home have better overall diets.
• Avoid gluten-free ‘discretionary’ foods, such as biscuits and cakes. Like their gluten-containing counterparts, these are pricey – and should be viewed as an occasional treat.
For more information visit www.daa.asn.au.