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The secrets to gluten-free grocery shopping

At first, finding enough safe and wholesome foods that won’t break the bank at the supermarket can seem daunting. Currently, the FDA is working on gluten-free labeling standards, but until then, Alice Bast, who following her diagnosis went on to become the president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, offers this advice.

Get label savvy

As gluten-free food becomes a bigger seller, grocers are increasingly providing dedicated gluten-free sections. Some store managers can supply you with a list of gluten-free packaged foods found in their aisles. iPhone apps, such as Is That Gluten Free? (, also make finding gluten-free brands easy. A caveat though: Products labeled “gluten-free” can be just as devoid of nutrients as other processed goods. Choose items with few added sweeteners and that are made with whole grains such as brown rice instead of processed carbohydrates such as white-rice flour.

Gluten can sneak into a dizzying array of foods and ingredients. And “wheat-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “gluten-free”—other grains, such as spelt, rye, and barley, contain gluten. Until you become an expert on the many guises of gluten, take along a detailed list of off-limit foods and iffy ingredients. Or arm yourself with “The Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide” available at Take a tour of a supermarket or natural food store with a dietitian who specializes in celiac disease, Bast suggests. And once you find your go-to brands, “always double check the ingredient lists to be certain the company has not altered their manufacturing to include a gluten-containing ingredient that could ruin your weekend,” she says.

Spend wisely

Gluten-free versions of common gluten-containing products, such as bread and pasta, can cost two to three times more than their gluten-containing counterparts. One way to save is to form a buying group with other gluten-free shoppers, and purchase gluten-free pizza crusts, cereal, almonds, and rice in bulk, at a discount. Some stores offer their own brands of gluten-free items, often at a lower sticker price than national brands. With more food manufacturers offering gluten-free products, compare prices on similar items. Bast says the competition is driving down prices and improving taste.

However, there are several areas to avoid, despite their appeal: Even though bulk bins are a great place to scoop up gluten-free foods such as dried lentils and brown rice, the risk of cross-contamination—when gluten-free goods are tainted with gluten-containing ingredients or residues— outweighs the price savings, Bast says. Be cautious with salad bars and sampling, too.

Write it off

You may be able to write off some food expenses associated with celiac disease if your total medical expenses for a year exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Go to the tax section of the Celiac Disease Foundation’s Web site ( to learn more and to download a tax deduction worksheet to keep track of your gluten-free food costs.

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