The high cost of food allergies and no, there is no tax break for that

November 18, 2009

I was recently reading online about a tax break allegedly offered to those with celiac disease. According to said sources on the internet, it seemed that if one was willing to save all of their food receipts they would be able to deduct the difference between the cost of gluten free food from the “regular” stuff.  How cool, I thought, I pay $4.99 for 4 hamburger buns at Whole Foods while my neighbor across the hall spends $1.99 for a pack of 8. That could really add up. Well if the celiacs can do that for gluten free food, I thought, perhaps someone like me who must buy alternative foods for milk, corn, AND soy in addition to wheat and gluten would be able to take advantage of this deduction.

I thought it would be a really interesting exercise to both see what I spend to eat (I suspect my monthly food costs approach that of a “regular” family of 4) and also to see how much I might be able to deduct from my taxes (who wouldn’t be interested in filling up that pesky Schedule A?). I’ll admit to having a little bit of an obsessive streak and this was something super productive to obsess about. I’ll also admit to being a bit of a skeptic so before embarking on the “save every receipt” challenge, I wanted to confirm this deduction in the tax code.

I began at the IRS website in Publication 502 Medical Expenses. The only medical exemption for the cost of food I could find was for food that is prescribed by a doctor for the purpose of weight loss. I thought, surely there must be some mistake. I read at least 5 different sources who talked about the ability of Celiacs to take deductions for food costs. Where were they getting this from? I looked at some of the IRS citations they used and found that these too did not cover regular groceries but instead would allow you to take a deduction for the cost to attend a medical related conference or to receive reimbursement for meals as part of a  hospital stay. Maybe I was missing something. Not one to back away, I phoned the IRS yesterday to find out where this hidden regulation might be. I mean surely it had to be somewhere. People were talking about it on the web! 45 minutes and two representatives later my suspicions were confirmed. There are NO tax breaks for people who need alternative food for anything other than prescribed weight loss. The IRS does NOT permit you to take a deduction for food that is part of your regular nutritional needs.

Those of us who have changed what we eat due to food allergies, food intolerance, or celiac disease pay a tremendous cost. The financial one is obvious as MUCH of what we NEED to buy costs more than the unsafe alternative. I suppose I could never eat a sandwich again and save the $6 I spend on a loaf of bread every couple of weeks but I shouldn’t have to. In a world that places food at the center of just about everything we also pay an emotional cost as we figure out how to fit in when we can’t just pick it up off the shelf and throw it in the cart.

I was disappointed to find out the gluten free tax break doesn’t exist but it was a good reminder that we have to be judicious about investigating claims we read online.  Just because it’s posted or tweeted or re-tweeted doesn’t make it so.

Of course, if you are a tax accountant and have some additional information, I’d love to hear it.

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4 Responses to “The high cost of food allergies and no, there is no tax break for that”

  1. miss_stripes Says:

    Thank you for mentioning you spend as much on food as a family of four! I actually spend more money per month on food (I several allergies including wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, and anything from the sea) than I do on rent….granted I am a college student so I only pay for a room in an apartment. When I saw this on my online budger I was astonished! It is so lame, especially as a poor college student, that I spend as much as my family of 4 back home on food every month just so I can stay well.


  2. Rules have changed. As of 2011, Foods are again deductible. This won’t help most people since I’m writing it on the 15 of April. For further reference, check out this post, http://ahouseupontherock.com/lifewithfoodallergies/living-with-food-allergies/tax-deductable-allergy-free-food/.

  3. Megan Says:

    Thank you for sharing your allergy experiences. I find this blog to be very helpful as I have just found out that I am allergic to milk, soy, wheat, yeast and corn. I can’t believe how many foods contain at least one of these ingredients. This is going to be extremely hard for me to adjust, but after seeing others with the same allergies, I know there is food out there for me 🙂

    • Liz Says:

      Nice to hear from you Megan. I need to get back into blogging. You’ll find ways to adapt and eventually you won’t see what people see in those foods anyways. When I was first diagnosed my allergist said the day might come that I could eat some of my allergy foods again one day. I didn’t believe him but earlier this year I was able to reintroduce milk and soy. Still don’t eat a lot of either but appreciate them much more than I ever did. Let me know if you have any questions and if you’re not on twitter—get on there. There are tons of people like us out there.


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