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Can Food, Diet Foods, or Weight Loss Programs Be Tax Deductible?


Updated October 27, 2007

Question: Can Food, Diet Foods, or Weight Loss Programs Be Tax Deductible?
Scenario #1: Being overweight, even just moderately, greatly impacts arthritic joints. To help your arthritis, your rheumatologist recommends that you control your weight.
Question: When, if ever, can weight loss programs and diet foods be tax deductible?

Scenario #2: Low purine diets may help control gout. Your doctor recommends you follow a low purine diet to treat your gout.
Question: When, if ever, can the costs of a doctor recommended special diet be tax deductible?

Answer: According to IRS Publication 502, medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. These include the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. However, medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. They do not include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health.

Weight Loss Programs

You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay to lose weight if it is a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity, hypertension, or heart disease). This includes fees you pay for membership in a weight reduction group and attendance at periodic meetings. You cannot include in medical expenses the cost of a weight-loss program if the purpose of the weight loss is the improvement of appearance, general health, or sense of well-being. You cannot include membership dues in a gym, health club, or spa as medical expenses, but you can include separate fees charged there for weight loss activities.

  • Arthritis & Weight Loss Quiz
  • Extra Pounds Increase Pain
  • What Makes People With Arthritis Overweight?
  • Diet Foods Or Beverages

    According to IRS Revenue Ruling 02-19, allowable deductions for diet foods are now greatly restricted. You cannot include the cost of diet foods or beverages in medical expenses because the diet foods and beverages substitute for what is normally consumed to satisfy nutritional needs. All forms of reduced-calorie foods are excluded.

    Deducting Food As A Medical Expense

    As a general rule, food is considered a non-deductible personal expense. You cannot include the cost of special foods in medical expenses unless all three of the following requirements are met:

  • The foods do not satisfy normal nutritional needs.

  • The foods alleviate or treat an illness.

  • The need for the special foods is substantiated by a physician.
  • If you do meet all three requirements for deducting special diet foods, the amount you can include in medical expenses is still limited to the amount by which the cost of the special diet foods exceed the cost of a normal diet.

    Are Special Diets Deductible?

    It is unlikely that most special diets, even if recommended by a doctor, such as a low purine gout diet, a low-salt diet, or a heart smart diet would meet the strict qualifications for deduction as a medical expense. These most likely would be considered a substitiute for a normal diet, besides, little if any extra cost is incurred over a regular diet.

  • The Gout Diet Quiz
  • Gout Diet: Foods To Avoid
  • Gout Diet: Foods To Eat
  • Food Expenses That May Count As Medical Expenses

    What type of expenses are deductible if you meet the qualifications? Expenses such as:

  • The cost difference between a special baby formula over a regular baby formula, if you have a prescription or a certification from the baby's doctor noting the medical need.

  • The extra expenses for treatment of some diseases such as cystic fibrosis or celiac disease.
  • For instance, for those with celiac disease, a condition sometimes associated with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, doctor recommended treatment requires life-long adherance to strict gluten-free guidelines. Gluten is not only found in food items but also in items such as medications, cosmetics and even the glue on the back of envelopes. The "extra" costs to get gluten-free products might be deductible. In addition, the amounts actually spent may be worth the time and trouble to fiqure and document.

    How do you document and determine the medical portion? It should be noted, both proper documentation and determining the actual medical portion of these costs can be a true paperwork nightmare. For help, read these articles from Celiac.com that explain the possible pitfalls and process for proper recordkeeping.

  • Celiac Disease & Gluten-Free Food Tax Deduction Info
  • Tax Deduction for Gluten-Free Foods as a Medical Expense for Diagnosed Celiacs Only
  • Please see IRS Publication 502 for a complete list of medical expenses which may and may not be deducted.

    This article is not a substitute for professional accounting services. Please consult a competent tax professional for answers to your specific questions.

    Related Resources - Taxes and Arthritis

  • Arthritis and Taxes
  • Arthritis and Money Matters
  • Deducting Arthritis on Your Income Taxes
  • When Are Pools, Spas and Other Home Improvements Tax Deductible?
  • Can You Deduct Nonprescription Drugs or Supplements on Your Taxes?
  • Income Taxes At About.com (About.com guide William Perez is a tax professional with a special interest in helping people get out of tax trouble.)
  • By Richard Eustice, former tax professional for over 15 years, retired early due to disability from rheumatoid arthritis.

    Sources: IRS Publication 502, IRS Revenue Ruling 02-19

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