For the 3 million patients in the US with celiac disease, a quick trip to the grocery store can put a significant dent in a family’s weekly food budget. It is widely acknowledged that gluten-free foods can be 2-3 times more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts, however a strict gluten-free diet is still absolutely necessary for individuals with celiac disease. Unfortunately many families who experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal relief and need to rely on local food banks and other food assistance programs for support [1,2].
Gluten-Free Food Assistance
Dr. Schär is committed to ensuring access to gluten-free foods for all patients, regardless of socioeconomic means. For many families across the country, the pandemic has strained grocery budgets and posed new challenges to accessing gluten-free food. In light of rising food insecurity, we are proud to partner with the National Celiac Association to support their Feeding Gluten-Free Initiative, which provides a searchable directory of food pantries that provide gluten-free food. The program also offers a wealth of food assistance resources, including guides to help food pantries and soup kitchens get set up to offer gluten-free food.
Through the Feeding Gluten-Free Initiative, we have donated our gluten-free breads, pastas, and snack items to food pantries across the country. Throughout the pandemic, we have donated thousands of products, amounting to over $300,000, which have helped ensure all celiac patients have access to delicious, nutritious gluten-free pantry staples. We are also proud to be growing the number of hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities within our donation network. We encourage Registered Dietitians to direct celiac patients facing insecurity towards the National Celiac Association’s website to learn more about this impactful program.
Budgeting for a Gluten-Free Diet
Regardless of income level, the burden of a gluten-free diet can be high, especially because celiac disease is a lifelong condition. Strategies for grocery shopping and meal planning can help reduce extra costs, such as ordering gluten-free foods in bulk to reduce shipping costs and cooking from scratch instead of relying on convenience, pre-made foods. All online orders from the Schär store receive free shipping when you spend $25.00, and our website offers dozens of delicious gluten-free recipes for patients to cook at home. Furthermore, educating patients on naturally gluten-free foods, such as fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats and dairy, which often do not have a gluten-free label, is also vital in supporting them as they learn to shop and cook gluten-free.
In addition, the incremental costs of a gluten-free diet can be deducted as a medical expense. For example, patients purchasing gluten-free bread that costs $6.00 per loaf, when a standard loaf would cost $3.00, can deduct the $3.00 as part of their medical costs. While itemizing expenses may seem daunting, over the course of the year these costs can amount to a significant tax benefit. This is especially true for families where multiple members have been diagnosed with celiac. Find more information on how to qualify, track and file expenses on the Celiac Disease Foundation’s website. Dr. Schär USA is a proud supporter of the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Celiac Disease Advocacy
The pandemic has also highlighted just how important a number of long-term policy initiatives are in supporting those with celiac disease. On a national level, funding is needed to shed light on the causes and contributing factors to the onset of celiac disease and to find complementary treatments that can help patients better manage symptoms. Lack of adherence to a gluten-free diet puts those with celiac disease at an increased mortality risk; yet newly diagnosed patients still do not qualify for Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) under Medicare or Medicaid. Extending MNT coverage for those with celiac would greatly improve health outcomes and quality of life for celiac patients.
Celiac disease is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act prohibits discrimination in institutions receiving federal financial assistance, such as schools, on the basis of disability. Schools, from preschool to college, must remove barriers to learning for children with celiac disease and accommodate for their gluten-free diet. A 504 Plan is the federally recognized way of outlining accommodations that schools must make to ensure a child with a disability, such as celiac disease, receives resources and accommodations to thrive developmentally and socially. The Celiac Disease Foundation offers detailed support for parents to learn about 504 Plans and advocate for their child’s needs.
To help those who work in learning environments properly support their students with celiac disease and food allergies, we are offering a free School Nutrition Webinar Series, which will start on July 20th, 2021. This series will include sessions with experts in the field and provide practical advice on how to build safe menus for children with special dietary needs. We encourage you to share the RSVP link with your local school foodservice team.
We are proud to say that fighting food insecurity and advocating for those with special dietary needs has become a company priority over the past year and look forward to improving the lives of those with gluten-related diseases in the many years ahead.
- See, J. A., Kaukinen, K., Makharia, G. K., Gibson, P. R., & Murray, J. A. (2015). Practical insights into gluten-free diets. NATURE REVIEWS GASTROENTEROLOGY AND HEPATOLOGY, 10, 580.