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Living as a vegan with a gluten intolerance is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes willpower, determination, and a strong love of cooking (especially if you want to be a healthy gluten-free vegan).
Though I have been a vegetarian for over 9 years, I never intended to become a vegan or to eliminate gluten from my diet. My vegetarianism came about from a dislike of meat and an interest in experimenting with new foods, but I could never give up ice cream or desserts. My diet took a turn last fall, when I realized how unwell and fatigued I felt. I experimentally eliminated dairy and gluten from my diet, and followed a variation of the vegetarian version of the Whole30 diet.
I felt incredible. My adult acne vanished (per my dermatologist, dairy is a culprit), I felt less bloated, I had an increase in energy, and my fitness picked up. Nearing the holidays, I added a few of the offending foods back into my diet and immediately felt the effects.
Then I panicked. I shop Whole Foods. I shop Sprouts. Dairy alternatives and gluten-free products are damn expensive. How in the world was I going to stick by this diet, one that made me feel the best version of myself, on my limited budget?
Farmer's Markets Are Your Friend
The right ones, that is. Los Angeles has several farmer’s markets each weekend, and while some offer an abundance of low-cost fresh fruit and veggies from local farms, some of the smaller markets tend to have only a few, pricier vendors. Aim for the produce in season at the time, and you’ll be likely to score an incredible deal.
In some cities, you may also find a local CSA or a company that will deliver a scheduled produce box to you. Prices may vary from city to city due to supply and demand, but I found a delivery service in Los Angeles for about $35+ every two weeks. The best part about this service is that I can choose what goes in my box from the available produce, and as long as it’s kept refrigerated, the box typically lasts me two weeks until the next box comes in.
Cheap Gluten-Free Options Exist
You just have to look. With the gluten-free trend taking off, these options are more abundant than ever before. It sometimes takes a keen eye, but I’ve found chickpea pastas, flours, crackers, snack bars, and more that are not only good for you with minimal processing and added sugars, but that also taste good. That’s right, no more cardboard crackers! I’ve even taken steps to make my own pancakes and wraps from garbanzo bean flour, dumplings from buckwheat flour, and cakes and cookies from gluten-free baking flour. Yes, some of the gluten-free crackers and pastas are expensive, but there are some amazing new brands out there that are not only cheaper, but often featured on grocery rebate apps such as Ibotta. Also, garbanzo bean flour is super cheap and works well in cookies, cakes, pancakes, and breads. It’s one of my new go-to flours.
Here’s a bit of a disclaimer to everything above: being a gluten-free vegan on a budget is often easier in larger cities. Lucky for me, Los Angeles seems to be the capital of food and diet trends. Grocery stores and restaurants that sell and serve foods that fit my specific diet are easy to find and because it’s still a trend, it’s often not too expensive. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a gluten-free vegan in smaller cities or more rural locations, but it may take a bit more creativity and product hunting.
Tending to your wellness is definitely not easy or cheap, but feeling your best self and the satisfaction of successfully managing your budget are worth it.