Rising costs forcing people on gluten-free diets to buy food that makes them ill, Coeliac UK warns

  • Aaron Mayhew reports on Coeliac UK's warning over gluten free food prices

The cost-of-living crisis could spiral into a health crisis for people on gluten-free diets, a charity has warned.

Those with a gluten intolerance or coeliac disease avoid food containing wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

But Coeliac UK says the high and rising cost of alternative "free-from" products risks forcing those on gluten-free diets to eat gluten-containing foods and suffer the health consequences.

The charity says the cheapest loaf of gluten free bread can be up to seven times more expensive than a regular loaf and a gluten free diet can cost an extra 20% each year.

With rapid inflation, the premium cost of gluten-free products has risen even higher.

Sue Loades from Gorleston in Norfolk is gluten intolerant and said she had been struggling with the cost of living crisis.

The 66-year-old has had to buy gluten-containing food which gives her stomach problems.

She said: “I felt a failure because I wasn’t able to look after myself properly.

"I felt guilty but I felt angry. Why should I have to pay all this extra money just to eat the same as someone else?

"Soul destroying, it can be soul destroying.”

The cost of bread, pasta, flour and jam tarts compared. Credit: ITV Anglia

Coeliac UK has warned there could be severe long-term consequences for people with the more serious autoimmune condition of coeliac disease.

If coeliacs do not follow a strict gluten-free diet, they can suffer from malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies and a higher risk of certain cancers.

Hilary Croft, chief executive of Coeliac UK, said: “For those people particularly at the lower income levels, it’s really difficult for them to afford a gluten-free diet and our concern is that they may not stick to a gluten-free diet.

"We’re potentially not just looking at a cost of living crisis, we’re looking at a health crisis for those people who have coeliac disease.

"We want to help people live well gluten-free by making it more affordable and more accessible to all.”

The charity is calling for a return of gluten-free prescriptions like bread and flour for coeliacs, which were scrapped for much of the East of England around seven years ago.

The charity said this would help make staple gluten-free products accessible for those on low incomes.

The charity also wants to speak to manufacturers about costs. However, it said it understood this will not be simple because of the reason for higher production costs.

Gluten free oats must be manufactured in a particular manner to avoid contamination. Credit: ITV Anglia

Many standard oats are produced in the same place as wheat, barley and rye, which makes them unsafe because they can be contaminated with gluten.

In order to be classed as gluten-free, oats must be produced separately from this environment.

Glebe Farm in Kings Ripton in Cambridgeshire produces gluten free oats and cereals and says these safe procedures increase manufacturing costs.

Philip Rayner, owner of Glebe Farm Foods, said: “Why’s gluten free different from other food industries? It’s because we have to put in a huge amount of care - it’s essential for coeliacs that we have absolutely purity in there.

"We need absolute dedication throughout to make sure they’re totally gluten-free.

"There are things such as gluten testing where we can’t cut costs with that because it’s very important to the customers for their health.”

With the support of Coeliac UK, in Westminster the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coeliac disease was re-established last year.

It aims to drive policy changes which help make coeliacs' lives easier.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.