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It might seem impossible, at first, to eat gluten-free on a budget. I get it. Gluten-free foods (i.e. gluten-free packaged foods) do cost more. However, it’s all how you look at it.
Let’s back up a bit.
Unfortunately, most of us find it easier to fill our bellies with cheap fast food (ever wondered what’s really in the $1 menu food?) than it is to buy fresh produce and foods with quality ingredients. Sure, you might save money in the short-run, but in the long-run, well, that’s a different story.
This is the motto I live by, especially when I start to worry that the food I’m eating costs a little more: “PAY NOW OR PAY LATER.”
I truly believe you have to eat in a way that is good for you, after all, health is wealth. You probably know that modern medicine may keep you all alive longer, but you also know that the quality of your life will deteriorate over time if you don’t take care of yourself now.
So you may be wondering, “Why can’t we eat a healthy, gluten-free diet AND still save a little money?”
Saving a buck or two here and there feels good… and I promise you, it is still possible to eat gluten-free – and healthy – without breaking the bank. I’ll show you how.
Eating Gluten-Free on a Budget
My tips will help you eat not only eat gluten-free on a budget, but also will help you eat healthier on a budget as well. A win-win, right?
I will not only help you find ways to save money, but also I will help you understand what you need – and don’t need – in order to live a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle.
#1. Spend Money on Health, Not Illness
I know, this sounds cheesy… but it’s so very true. Try to spend money your hard-earned money on keeping yourself healthy, not on managing your illnesses.
Think about your last urgent care or emergency room visit. Chances are you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars just to help you get better. You also might be spending hundreds of dollars on shots and prescription pills each month, not to mention missing work due to illness and doctor visits.
What you may not realize is that healthy people rarely visit doctors and take medications. Let that soak in for a second.
Healthy people deter disease by eating healthy foods and taking a few key supplements (which we will talk about next). In fact, healthy people spend their cash on maintaining good health (“health care”), not on treating illness through medications (“sick care”).
Once again my motto rings true… either pay now or pay later.
#2. Don’t Buy Unnecessary Supplements
You can get most of the nutrients and vitamins you need if you consume a largely plant-based, whole foods diet. Most of us gluten-free people only need a few outside supplements to maintain good health.
These are the supplements I take – and I skip the rest:
(a) Vitamin D: Did you know that nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population may be Vitamin D deficient?!? Researchers have found that sufficient Vitamin D can stave off a slew of diseases and disorders.
While you get Vitamin D from the sun, you would need to stand outside naked all day to get enough of it (OK, I exaggerate a bit here). But good sun safety means you limit sun time and use a sunscreen, which, while blocks the sun from damaging your skin, also blocks Vitamin D from getting absorbed in your body.
To overcome this, simply take a Vitamin D supplement and you may just watch your whole health turn around!
(b) Vitamin B12 (or B Complex): Vitamin B helps us maintain our energy and good health and is an essential vitamin (this means it must be consumed as your body cannot make it). If you’re feeling fatigued or worn out, it could be the sign of a Vitamin B deficiency. In fact, researchers estimate that up to 20 percent of the population may be Vitamin B12 deficient! Many people with celiac disease are Vitamin B deficient, mainly because their body hasn’t been able to properly absorb nutrients in a long time!
While you can get various B vitamins from meats and grains, considering taking a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough. Many conventional foods are fortified with Vitamin B to give them some semblance of nutrition, so you may be missing these nutrients if you’re eating gluten-free cereals, which may not be fortified.
I take this Vitamin B complex daily and have found it has helped my nutrient levels – and energy – return to normal.
(c) Multivitamin: I highly recommend taking a good quality multivitamin to cover your basis. If it has D and B12 in it, you may not need to supplement further or simply limit your supplementation (look at the recommended doses for your age and size). I personally like these multivitamin gummies by Smarty Pants.
(d) High Quality Fish Oil: We can’t make omega-3s in our bodies, but boy do we need them to control inflammation. Omega-3s are considered essential fats we need from food.
Take a good quality fish oil supplement to get your daily omega-3 boost. Good fish oil brands (like the ones purchased at a natural grocery store or this one I use) will get their fish oil from small fish like anchovies and sardines; these are the bottom of the food chain fish and typically contain lower levels of mercury than tuna (avoid fish oil made with tuna).
Overall, I recommend you ditch the rest of your supplements, eat nutrient-dense foods, and see first-hand how you can easily save money as you build a healthy immune system.
#3. Eat a Mostly Plant-Based Diet
While I love meat, chicken and fish, it’s important that we’re cognizant of how much we’re eating. We only need a few ounces of animal protein each day to maintain good health.
In fact, the consumption of too many animal products can cause a slew of health issues. This has been well documented in amazing books like How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor and Food Matters by Mark Bittman. Neither book advocates for veganism, but both advocate for moderate consumption of animal products and large consumption of plant-based foods. In other words, both authors will tell you that chicken is not a health food.
A plant-based diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains has been proven time and time again to reverse disease.
The reason I bring up a plant-based diet is three-fold: (1) You can save money by not getting sick. I don’t have to tell you twice that being sick is expensive. Eating more plants will keep you healthy. (2) Meat is expensive, especially if you buy quality, grass-fed, pasture-raised animal products. You WILL save money if you follow a mostly plant-based diet – no question in my mind. (3) When you consume lots of plant-based foods, you won’t need all the supplements so many people think they need to take (see #2 on this list).
#4. Cook at Home More Often
I believe Americans have got to stop spending so much money eating out. I highly recommend cooking at home as a way to save money and eat healthy (and to eat safely gluten-free too). The average dish at a restaurant is $10-$20 – you could seriously feed your entire family with what it would cost to buy one meal at a restaurant, right?
While it might seem that I eat out often, as you might see me around town testing restaurants with my Nima Sensor for gluten, the truth is we eat the majority of our meals at home, and eat out only on weekends or when I’m working (testing restaurants for gluten is part of my job).
In 2015, for the first time ever, Americans spent more on dining out than at the grocery store! If you’re trying to eat gluten-free on a budget, ditch dining out or at least limit it to once or twice a week.
Also, the beauty of cooking at home is that YOU choose the ingredients. Remember that most restaurants have razor thin food margins, which leads them to choose cheap ingredients over good for you ingredients. You can buy higher quality ingredients (like the organic stuff), prepare your meals at home and still save money in comparison to eating out.
#5. Buy Only Dirty Dozen Produce Organic
If you can afford to eat organic all the time, great, but if not, there are a handful of fruits and vegetables that you should buy organic, and then all the others you can buy conventional and save money.
But which ones do you always buy organic?
Take a look at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to find out which produce has the most pesticide residue. If it’s on the “Dirty Dozen” list, spend a little extra and buy those items organic only. If it’s not on the list, feel confident that you can buy those items conventional (non-organic) and save money.
The EWG list changes year to year, so consult the EWG website for the latest Dirty Dozen list.
#6. Search for Gluten-Free Coupons
While most coupons in your Sunday newspapers are for sugar-laden, disease-causing foods like Lucky Charms, Pringles and Coke, there are still many “happy” coupons to be found on organic, gluten-free and healthy products you know and love.
I wrote an article about where you can find the latest gluten-free coupons and deals. There are many gluten-free coupon sites and ways to save money on quality, gluten-free brands. You just have to know how to play the game, which I teach you in this article.
#7. Shop for Groceries Strategically
There are so many great deals to be had online when shopping for gluten-free, organic and non-GMO groceries. Let me share two online places I like to shop:
Thrive Market – This is a huge marketplace of gluten-free products available at a discount (it’s like an online Costco because you pay an annual membership fee; however, unlike Costco, you don’t have to buy in bulk to benefit from the savings). Thrive says you can get up to 50 percent off the retail price of your normal healthy groceries. You can join Thrive by clicking on this link or read more about it here. It’s definitely worth the annual membership fee if you ask me.
Amazon Pantry – Search for “gluten-free” on Amazon.com. This is a convenient and easy way to shop if you’re already an Amazon Prime member, and the prices are decent for many of the specialty products you already buy.
Additionally, while I love when people shop at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and other natural grocery stores because I firmly believe you should shop with your wallet (if you don’t support these stores, they’ll go out of business), I do think it’s okay to grocery store cheat a bit… especially if you’re on a budget and need to eat a certain way.
Walmart, for example, carries a large gluten-free selection and the prices are hard to beat. (Read: Amazing Gluten-Free Groceries at Walmart.) For example, the Tinkyada brand of brown rice penne is about $1 less at Walmart than at my local natural grocery store. It’s hard to pay more when I know I can get it for less.
Also, consider shopping at stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi. These “alternative” grocery stores are rapidly expanding across the country, and they are expanding their selection of organic and gluten-free goods too.
Almost everything is privately labeled at Trader Joe’s and Aldi (they rarely carry national name brands), so if you don’t mind buying Trader Joe’s brand peanut butter, you can easily save money on groceries here. (And I put several Trader Joe’s products to the Nima Sensor test – here is how they fared.)
#8. Buy in Bulk
There are many ways to save money when you buy in bulk. (Albeit, avoid the bulk bins, those are contaminated with gluten and too risky if you’re eating a gluten-free diet.)
At Costco, for example, you can buy a large bag of almond flour for less than $20. If you store the flour in your fridge or freezer, it’ll last you for many months, even a year! That same bag of almond flour can cost you a lot more (and you’ll get a lot less) if you buy it at the grocery store.
You also can buy quinoa, rice, gluten-free brown rice ramen, meats, organic butter sticks, organic tofu, gluten-free breads and so many other great gluten-free products at Costco. Costco has a growing selection of gluten-free products.
Even many of the Costco’s house brand, Kirkland, products are gluten-free. I tested a bunch of them with my Nima Sensor. Read my full report to see how Kirkland products fared against the Nima Sensor.
#9. Frozen Produce Is Your Friend
Produce can quickly spoil and add to your wasted grocery spend. A good way to make sure your produce lasts for a long time (and is way cheaper too) is to buy it frozen. Frozen produce is typically flash frozen at the peak of freshness and ripeness, giving you the best nutrients possible.
I always keep organic frozen peas, carrots, spinach and broccoli on hand, as well as frozen mangoes, pineapple, blueberries and peaches in the freezer. The vegetables are perfect meal accompaniments, and the fruit works well in my green blended juices. Plus, because the product is frozen, there’s no rush for me to use them, allowing me to keep the costs due to spoilage in check. (I made this Blender Pea Soup using frozen peas!)
One special note about frozen veggies. Someone posted in the Gluten-Free Diet Support Group on Facebook that the frozen broccoli bag at Walmart (Great Value brand) had the disclosure, “May Contain Wheat.” So yes, you need to read frozen vegetable bags to make sure you’re not vulnerable to hidden gluten – ug!
#10. Eat In-Season
Timing is so important when shopping for and purchasing fresh produce. The price of fruits and vegetables change based on the season and availability.
When you buy fresh fruit that is in-season in your area (and is plentiful in supply), you’ll get the best bang for your buck (and you’ll feel great too by the way – remember the benefits of a mostly plant-based diet). Remember, the more supply of a product, the better the price (especially when the product is perishable, like fruits and vegetables!). On the other hand, a piece of fruit that is not in-season and is shipped to Omaha from Peru is going to cost more.
A good way to tell what’s in-season is to notice which produce is on sale and plentiful in your grocery store each week. Many grocery stores will have specials on produce they have a lot of (hint, the reason they have a lot of it is because it’s in-season!) and they even strategically place in-season fruits and vegetables at the front of the store to draw your eyes to it immediately.
Remember, eat in-season and you’ll not only save money, but you’ll also boost your health and save on doctor visits.
Bonus #11. A Little Perspective Please
If saving money is top of mind for you, remember that we all mindlessly buy electronics, new shoes, and go out to eat, but then we complain that an organic apple is $.40 more at the grocery store. A friend told me she can’t afford organic as she was sipping on her $5 grande Frappuccino from Starbucks. I truly believe we all need a little perspective when it comes to buying good for you foods.
If your priorities are in order and you’re spending money on good, healthy foods, then you won’t mind spending more on groceries and less on wasted consumerism.
In my house, we place high value on healthy eating, so shopping for products with quality ingredients is our financial priority… any money leftover can be spent on those new shoes I didn’t really need but I wanted anyway. I am human, after all.
So Can You Eat Gluten-Free on a Budget?
Yes, absolutely. You CAN do it!
Just remember to spend your hard earned money on creating health, not feeding illness. Rid of expensive supplements, cook more at home (eat out less), eat those plant-based foods, and shop strategically (and don’t forget to read my post about where you can find gluten-free coupons and deals!).
As a good rule of thumb, always be sure to care more about your farmer than your pharmacist.
Cheers to good health my gluten-free friends!