How to Deduct Gluten-Free Diet Expenses on Your Taxes

If you're following the gluten-free diet, you almost certainly cringe almost daily at the cost of your food. Basic bread can ring up at $5 or $6 a loaf, and those yummy gluten-free muffins? They'll run you $7 or $8 for a tray of four (or around $2 each, if you're keeping track). "That's okay," you might think. "The diet is a medical expense—I can deduct the costs on my taxes, and get some of this money back!" Not so fast.

While you're correct that it is possible in some cases to deduct part of the cost of those muffins as a medical expense, there are some significant, fairly complicated, time-intensive hurdles you'll have to clear before actually doing so. Note that Congress made some significant changes to the tax code.

woman sitting on floor surrounded by receipts and paperwork
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Rules for Deducting Gluten-Free Diet Expenses

Here's what you'll need to deduct gluten-free diet expenses on your taxes:

  1. You must have an official doctor-issued diagnosis of celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, plus a doctor-written prescription stating that your gluten-free diet is necessary to treat your condition. The Internal Revenue Service is not flexible about this. It doesn't matter how good you feel when you eat gluten-free—to consider deducting the cost of some of your food, you must have the officially sanctioned paperwork to prove a doctor says you need it. 
  2. You need to itemize your taxes. Medically-ordered diet deductions (and any other medical expense deductions) are listed on Form 1040, Schedule A. If you don't have many deductions (for example, if you don't have a mortgage with its associated tax deduction) and you instead take the standard tax deduction, you can forget about a gluten-free tax break—you (unfortunately) don't qualify. You can't claim medical deductions on Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ.
  3. You must accumulate expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income as reported on line 37 of your Form 1040. That means, for example, if your adjusted gross income is $40,000, you only can deduct medical expenses that exceed $4,000. If the gluten-free diet represents your only source of medical expenses, this may be a fairly major hurdle.
  4. You can only deduct the difference between the cost of the gluten-free items and conventional, gluten-filled items. As the IRS details, "Where an item purchased in a special form primarily for the alleviation of an illness or disease is one that is ordinarily used for personal, living, and family purposes, the excess of the cost of the special form over the normal cost of the item is an expense for medical care." So if a loaf of regular bread costs $2 and a loaf of gluten-free bread costs $5, you can deduct $3 for each loaf of bread you purchase above 10% of your adjusted gross income. Therefore, if your adjusted gross income is $40,000, you'd have to buy 1,334 loaves of gluten-free bread before you could start deducting (assuming you have no other medical expenses).
  5. You can deduct the full cost of weird food items that are pretty specific to the gluten-free diet, such as xanthan gum and guar gum. Since there really aren't any conventional counterparts to these necessary gluten-free ingredients, the IRS has said they are fully deductible.
  6. You have to keep detailed, meticulous records and save all your receipts. That means for every gluten-free food expense, you'll need the receipt, plus some evidence of how much a comparable conventional food item would cost. It also means you'll need to decide at the beginning of the year whether to try for the deduction. If you tend to be somewhat careless about grocery receipts (as I am), this could turn into a bit of a headache.

Is It Worth It to Track Your Gluten-Free Diet Expenses?

Only you can decide whether to try deducting the excess expenses associated with following the gluten-free diet. It may be worth it if you already have multiple medical expenses that easily put you over the 10% threshold.

Otherwise, you might want to seek out more effective ways of lowering your tax bill. Regardless, I urge you to check in with a tax adviser on any of these issues, as they can be complicated.

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  1. Internal Revenue Service. About form 1040, U.S. individual income tax return. Updated May 21, 2020.