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How Accessible and Affordable is Gluten-free Food? 03/29/2016 - To remain healthy, people with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet. Good availability of gluten-free foods is critical to this. High prices or limited availability can have a greater impact on celiac patients from lower socioeconomic conditions in regards to their ability to follow a gluten-free treatment diet.

Photo: CC--ilovememphisA team of researchers recently set out to assess the availability and cost of gluten-free food in UK supermarkets and via the internet. The researchers included M Burden, PD Mooney, RJ Blanshard, WL White, DR Cambray-Deakin, and DS Sanders. They are variously affiliated with the Academic Department of Gastroenterology at Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, UK, and with the University of Sheffield Medical School, Sheffield, UK.

Their team analyzed data from supermarkets and internet shops delivering to homes in the city of Sheffield, UK, between February and March 2014. They used comprehensive internet searches to identify stores, and analyzed the costs of ten commonly purchased items, and then compared those with standard non-gluten-free alternatives. They also directly measured and compared the number of gluten-free foods available between stores, which were categorized according to previously published work.

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None of the budget supermarkets surveyed stocked any gluten-free foods. Premium and full-service supermarkets stocked the greatest gluten-free range, with an average of 22 items (IQR 39, p<0.0001). They found that when a store did stock gluten-free products, those products were, on average, at least four times more expensive than the non-gluten-free alternatives (p<0.0001). Gluten-free products are prevalent online, but half of the ten products surveyed were significantly more expensive than gluten-free equivalents in supermarkets.

These results show that, for Sheffield at least, gluten-free foods are overall readily accessible, but also significantly more expensive than online versions, or comparable non-gluten-free store items. Still, that changes if you're in a low income neighborhood. Gluten-free food access was poor in low-income neighborhoods, as budget supermarkets stocked no gluten-free foods. This poor availability and added cost is likely to impact food availability and gluten-free diet adherence in low-income groups.

These results are for one city in the UK, but they are likely not too different than results would be in the US. Access to gluten-free food becomes more difficult in poorer neighborhoods, and it's always more expensive than non-gluten-free food.

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7 Responses:

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said this on
01 Apr 2016 3:25:41 AM PDT
Bear in mind you are only talking about processed products here. A gluten free diet is perfectly affordable and accessible if you eat fresh, natural food.

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said this on
04 Apr 2016 10:37:51 AM PDT
In poor communities, access to fresh produce and proteins is often very limited or not available at all. I would agree, for most people, non processed food is a good way to go but in poor communities, that usually isn't an option.

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said this on
06 Apr 2016 8:47:58 AM PDT
This is true, however, it is still more expensive to eat all natural foods. Check it out, unless you grow your own, natural/organic fruits and vegetables are more expensive than the others. Want to make fried chicken or fish as a treat? Well, you have to dish out the big bucks for gluten free panco or flours. No, it's not just processed foods.

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said this on
07 Apr 2016 6:57:51 AM PDT
Nita, I make my own panko crumbs from a box - or 2 - of Rice Chex (GF) that I put in my processor and reduce to whatever consistency I like. They are great. Try the thin boneless pork chops lightly breaded with these crumbs and quickly fried. Delicious !!

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said this on
04 Apr 2016 12:53:46 PM PDT
In my area of the U.S. most food pantries have gluten free items. I volunteer at several of them. Actually more gets donated then they give out for people who are gluten free. So be sure if you are gluten free and can't afford items to call a local food pantry to check!
It's tough in poorer neighborhoods because the fresh produce is often more expensive, not as good of quality and slimmer pickings. I know many local stores and farms donate food to food pantries as well. The deck is often not stacked in some people's favor.

Joe M.
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said this on
05 Apr 2016 5:23:40 AM PDT
In my area there are a few specialty shops for gluten free food as well as some supermarkets. You never see a GF item on sale and when you find something you really like they stop carrying it because it either becomes unavailable to buy commercially or it becomes too expensive for the store to carry it.

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said this on
07 Apr 2016 7:03:16 AM PDT
I agree, Joe, just try to get Dei Fratelli GF Tomato Soup. You just can't find it. It showed up once in our grocery and then disappeared forever. I did find it online, but you need to pay shipping costs unfortunately. It is, however, a really great tasting tomato soup.

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