Eating gluten-free is not a fad for Celiacs, those with Lyme disease and others. There are many articles on the Internet telling you that a gluten-free diet can be done on a budget. As Blue Bell aptly points out in his comment in this article, eating GF on a budget assumes you have a place to cook and store food and can cook. Cynthia brings up a good point that there are people with celiac disease that cannot afford a gluten free diet. There are approximately 3 million Americans or 1% of the US population living with celiac disease. According to the US Census Bureau of the 319 million people, about 15% of the population is living in poverty. If you combine those two numbers, there are about half a million people who have celiac disease and are living in poverty.
I don’t live in poverty but have been living with celiac disease for the last two years. I hate that eating gluten-free to avoid getting sick is adds to my family budget. But eating a healthy diet is expensive in general. It has also been documented by the Harvard School of Public Health and others that eating fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy and balanced diet is more expensive by about $550 each year per person. I’d estimate that eating healthy and gluten-free probably costs more like an extra $1000 or more per person each year depending on where you live. The USDA’s Economic Research Service has stats on food expenditures by income level. But enough about the problem—let’s talk about a solution. How do we take all of this data to make a positive change?
One solution to reducing the cost of a healthy diet would be what psychologists call operant conditioning or rewarding the desired behavior. By rewarding people who choose a healthy food such as fruit, vegetable, lean protein rather than an unhealthy food, you are encouraging the choice. There are already numerous mobile apps that let you track what you eat. Maybe this data could be linked to IRS databases so that people who consume healthy foods at the grocery store could report their eating habits and get a tax credit for making the healthy choice each year.
Although those with celiac disease are currently able to deduct the additional cost of food price differences as a medical expense if it exceeds 7.5% of their total income, the accounting for this along with other factors makes the deduction flawed. Rather than a deduction, perhaps the U.S. could follow the Italian model and provide a monthly stipend to those having a documented proof they live with celiac disease. We could pay for either of these options by reducing or eliminating sugar subsidies and other creative solutions.
There are compassionate people using their tech skills having food hackathons all around the world. We can solve the problem of reducing the cost of healthy, gluten-free foods by using data and creativity, can’t we?