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There are cheap ways to go gluten free

Gluten-free foods have benefits for some, but consumers need not pay more.

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Gluten-free foods are everywhere. But what is gluten?

“Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley and rye. And it's a binding agent that holds dough together as it bakes,” said Sue Perry, of Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports took a closer look to see if people should buy into the hot gluten-free food trend.

“There's a greater awareness about gluten now because there's better recognition of celiac disease, which damages the small intestine. That damage prevents people with celiac disease from absorbing the nutrients in food,” Consumer Reports’ Dr. Orly Avitzur said.

Gluten can show up in unlikely places, like hot dogs, tea, deli meats and lip gloss.

“There are people that don't have celiac who say they feel better eliminating gluten from their diets. But gluten-free products do have nutritional deficiencies, and they can cost two to three times more,” Perry said.

Consumer Reports said people should consider cheaper alternatives that offer good nutrition – grains like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. Corn is gluten-free too. So people shouldn’t bother paying more for gluten-free tortillas.

“Get naturally gluten-free Rice-Chex or, better yet, a generic rice cereal and save even more,” Perry said.

Other money-saving ideas for naturally gluten-free snacks are vegetables, nuts and popcorn.

Some Web sites, like Amazon.com, have listings of gluten-free foods. Super Target and Costco are also worth checking, although they offer fewer products.

More restaurants are also offering gluten-free entrees.