Following a strict gluten-free diet can be costly, but here are some strategies to spare your pocketbook. First published in Allergic Living magazine; to subscribe click here.
Living with celiac disease is expensive. With the doctors’ visits, missing of work after being glutened, and buying of gluten-free foods, those of us with celiac disease shell out thousands a year on keeping ourselves healthy. Despite this, it’s not impossible to keep our personal costs down while doing what’s best for our physical and emotional well-being.
Saving on Health Costs
Highly informed doctors and dietitians play a vital role in keeping health-care costs down – since they can diagnose the disease faster and provide patients with the appropriate treatment and follow-up. Fewer visits with doctors who don’t know what to test for and less uncertainty about the disease means that you ultimately foot a smaller health-care bill.
If you suspect that you have celiac disease, or have already been diagnosed, you can find a qualified doctor or dietitian by researching online, seeking suggestions from local or online celiac disease support networks and calling local doctors’ offices asking for a recommendation.
One great way to cut down on the cost of extra doctors’ visits and build up your celiac disease knowledge is to do your own research. While I never recommend self-diagnosis, reading science-based books and articles about celiac disease can empower you to take better control of your health.
It’s also helpful to take notes on every appointment you have. Medical professionals keep notes on your patient file, but there’s no reason you can’t keep your own. During appointments, write down what the doctor says, the suggestions put forward and which medications or tests you will need.
We all have imperfect memories, and the anxiety and fear that accompanies hearing a new diagnosis or treatment plan can leave you overwhelmed and unable to absorb important information.
On the flip side, it’s often helpful to write down any questions you have and any problems you are experiencing in advance of a doctor’s visit. Taking the list with you prevents you from forgetting to raise a concern – and needing to set up another appointment, what about those surprise medical bills? While it’s not fun and often involves listening to a lot of elevator music, check in with your insurance company to find out which doctors, tests and procedures they cover. This can save you from a shockingly expensive bill.
If your insurance will only pay for a test done at a certain lab or for a dietitian who works for a certain company, go to that lab and company. If you need a referral from a primary care physician to have specialist visit covered, request one before setting an appointment. Insurance plan documents usually only give a high-level overview, so call a representative who can give you a definitive answer.
Paring Your Food Costs
Outsiders often mock the major diet changes that people with celiac disease make, as if these were “lifestyle choices.” ln reality, eating gluten-free is the only treatment available, so you can’t cheat on holiday dinners or not take this regimen 100 percent seriously. Following the gluten-free diet in a society saturated with packaged foods often means spending extra money on groceries that are certified as safe to consume.
Yet, even food costs can be reduced. Checking manufacturers’ websites and store flyers for coupons, buying in extra quantities and shopping online for special deals are all ways to trim food costs, but only on specific products. For larger savings, collect all your grocery bills over the course of a month, and not just those for specifically gluten-free alternatives.
At the end of the month, examine where you might over-spend and what you could do without. Are there expensive items that you could swap for the store brand? Do you tend to throw out a certain item over and over because it expires before use? Making small adjustments can grow your savings quickly.
If produce from your regular grocery store proves too expensive, try buying from produce wholesalers, warehouse stores or local farm-share programs to reduce costs. It’s best to buy produce in season and you can even freeze your favorite treats like berries – so you can enjoy them all year long. It’s also helpful to find recipes that use inexpensive dry ingredients such as beans and naturally gluten-free grains, to which you can add your favorite vegetables.
Don’t settle for tasteless meals, however. Stock up on gluten-free spices and seasonings, or consider growing your own herbs. Living gluten-free is necessary for our community, and making adjustments can be emotionally and financially challenging. However, with the right planning and a positive attitude, we can keep our bodies, and our wallets, full and healthy.
Alice Bast is the CEO of Beyond Celiac, the national organization working on behalf of the celiac patient community. Visit Beyond Celiac to learn more.