Today there was an opinion piece on NPR about a study recently published about the benefits of cooking vs. eating ultra processed foods. As someone with Celiac, our family has ditched most of the ultra processed foods, because they all contain gluten. I also cook, a lot. So, this article was right up my alley.
The study was for four weeks. They split the participants into two groups. The first group they fed an ultraprocessed diet and the other group they fed a whole foods or minimally processed diet. Then after two weeks they switched. The group fed the ultraprocessed diet ate 508 more calories per day and gained on average 2 pounds during the two weeks. Also, the whole foods diet was 40% more expensive than the whole foods diet.
Ok – duh. We all know we are supposed to eat healthy whole foods – fresh whole fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. As people with gluten issues, we all live this daily.
If my kids are hungry, a $1 double cheeseburger from McDonald’s is going to be my food of choice rather than the $6 salad from McDonald’s. While the double cheeseburger is terrible for them, it will keep them full much longer than the salad and is significantly cheaper. But I totally understand the logic. As folks with gluten issues, this $1 double cheeseburger is not a valid option and I know it. That part of what eating a gluten free diet is so difficult.
Here’s where I disagree with the assessment of the cost increase. I feed a family of four a primarily whole food diet on about $100-$120 per week. I think it is all about choice. I was at the grocery store yesterday. I bought gluten pizzas for my family at 2 for $6.00. Those are pretty cheap pizzas. Maybe there are even cheaper options, but I don’t remember seeing them. But I could have also bought a whole chicken for about the same price. We just like pizza on Friday night.
Frozen peas, broccoli, and corn are $1 per 1lb or enough for 4 servings. Fresh corn is in season right now 10 ears for $3.00. Chicken breasts can be bought for $1.99 per pound. A gallon of milk is $1.99 at Wal-Mart. 1lb of rice is approximately $1.99 and will last a family of four 2 or more meals. 18 eggs cost about $2.50. 1lb of dried beans is $1 – those can go in the crock pot. On and on – my point is whole foods are actually reasonably priced if you alter the way you think about food.
Furthermore, processed gluten free foods are expensive. Very, very expensive. They are a treat in my house. I buy gluten free English muffins or bread of some sort and gluten free pizza for Friday pizza and a movie at our house. That is probably $15 out of my whole food budget that is spent on gluten free items.
I never liked gluten pasta, so gluten free past just seems gross to me. I never ate sandwiches growing up because I liked Ritz crackers and peanut butter. I didn’t like cakes, cookies, or brownies that much. We always had corn tortillas rather than flour for our taco nights growing up. I just didn’t eat gluten laden foods that often. I do miss a good biscuit, Chick Fil A chicken sandwich, a good corn dog, and french bread. Don’t get me wrong – the transition to a gluten free diet was still really hard. I had to mourn the gluten foods that I did eat and am constantly frustrated at how many foods that shouldn’t contain gluten actually do.
But for us and because of our dietary restrictions we have to eat whole foods – we don’t have much of a choice unless we want to go broke buying gluten free alternatives. Really, we have to be smart about how we spend our grocery money. I was posting what we ate every week and how I was able to keep our food budget down. I might need to get back to posting that. We eat a lot of the same stuff and occasionally I find a new recipe that is added to the rotation. I will get back to posting my weekly menu and how much I spent.
The reality is the gluten free diet is burdensome in a million different ways. It is expensive, difficult, and socially isolating. But if you do it right, it can be a blessing in disguise. It means whole foods and less ultra processed foods, which is really a much healthier diet overall. So, that is the one bright side to this awful disease.