Vitamins and Food Stamps: Your Simple Guide to Saving with SNAP

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    SNAP benefits cover some food options and not others. But what about vitamins? Read on to learn more.

    The SNAP program has been around since the 1970s and is designed to help low-income individuals and families meet their food needs. Participants in the program get an EBT card, once known as “food stamps,” which can be used like a debit card for buying food.

    Still, there are restrictions on what SNAP recipients can and cannot buy. Are vitamin supplements covered? In this article, we’ll answer this question and more.

    EBT and SNAP Program

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded program that helps low-income families with their food needs. It’s operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is available to those below a certain income threshold, which is determined on a state-by-state basis.

    If you’re on this program, SNAP will provide a monthly dollar amount on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Each month, your benefits get deposited right into your EBT account, and you can use your EBT card to buy food from authorized stores. When people refer to “food stamps,” they’re typically referring to EBT cards.

    Which foods are eligible through EBT?

    You can use an EBT card for purchasing food for the household, including:

    • Meat, poultry, and fish
    • Dairy products
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Breads and cereals
    • Snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages
    • Seeds and plants that produce food for the household

    Are vitamins covered by SNAP?

    No, vitamins aren’t covered by SNAP; you can’t buy vitamins with an EBT card. If the item you’re looking at has a Supplement Facts label, it’s a supplement, and is therefore ineligible. Some other items you can’t purchase with SNAP benefits include:

    • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, or tobacco
    • Live animals, with the exception of shellfish, fish removed from water, and animals slaughtered before being picked up from the store
    • Foods that are hot when you buy them
    • Any nonfood items, such as pet foods, cleaning supplies, household supplies, and hygiene items

    SNAP isn’t the only food and nutrition program available, though. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), for example, gives federal grants to states for the provision of supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum but not breastfeeding, as well as infants and children up to 5 years old. The WIC program does offer nutritional supplement formulas as needed, including nutritional shakes, to address nutrient gaps and deficiencies.

    Moreover, some retailers accept EBT cards as a form of payment, in which case you could use your cash EBT benefits to purchase vitamins. Unfortunately this is not an option available for food EBT benefits.

    What does the future hold for vitamins and SNAP?

    While the SNAP program has undoubtedly supported a great many families, there are still too many Americans, particularly those on lower-income levels, who experience nutritional deficiencies. Vitamin supplements, while no substitute for a nutrient-rich diet, can play a big role in bridging these nutrient gaps. So, shouldn’t SNAP help Americans get access to them?

    Multivitamin-mineral and SNAP

    For Americans on SNAP who could benefit from multivitamin-mineral supplements, there may well be some hope on the horizon.

    The Council for Responsible Nutrition – the leading trade association for dietary supplement and functional food industry – has been advocating for expanded access to vitamins and supplements through the SNAP program. Other advocates, including health care professionals, have also been pushing for this change. This could be a game-changing reform for the millions of low-income Americans who struggle with nutrient deficiencies. Multivitamin-minerals are a great tool to fill gaps of what’s missing in the average diet.

    Final takeaways

    When people refer to “food stamps,” they are generally talking about the SNAP program and EBT cards.

    SNAP is a federally funded program administered by the states, and it helps low-income families purchase food through benefits loaded onto EBT cards. SNAP benefits don’t cover everything, though; there are restrictions on what people can and cannot buy. As of now, vitamins aren’t eligible for purchase with food benefits on an EBT card. Some advocates are working to change this, considering the usefulness of vitamins in addressing nutrient gaps.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
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