News / USA

Eating Without Wheat: Farmers See Market in Celiac Disease Patients

Teff, other grains could gain as awareness of autoimmune disorder grows

Teff, a staple grain of the Horn of Africa, does not contain gluten.
Teff, a staple grain of the Horn of Africa, does not contain gluten.

Multimedia

Audio

Growing awareness of a digestive disorder triggered by a protein found in wheat and other grains is creating a market in the United States for non-traditional grains— including teff, a staple of the Horn of Africa.

Bread can be a hazardous substance for a little under one percent of the world's population. These people have a genetic disorder called celiac disease, in which gluten— a protein found in wheat, barley and rye— triggers a reaction that causes their immune systems to attack the small intestine. It can result in malnutrition and other problems.

'Who's allergic to bread?'

Anna Quigg was diagnosed with the disorder about seven years ago. As a teenager, she suffered from stomach problems and occasional constipation.

Sometimes she would have the opposite problem. "I couldn't eat anything and not have to rush to the bathroom," she says.

She also suffered from joint pain and anemia. She didn't know what caused her symptoms and never suspected wheat was the problem.

"Who thinks they're allergic to bread?" Quigg says.

Celiac disease is actually more than an allergy. It's an autoimmune disease. The body's defenses mistakenly attack the lining of the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, which leads to malnutrition.

Symptoms and severity vary. Quigg's stomach problems, joint pains and anemia are common. Serious cases cause stunted growth in children, and can lead to liver disease, seizures and miscarriages in adults.

Not a rare disorder

According to Alessio Fasano, director of the Celiac Research Center at the University of Maryland, celiac disease used to be considered a rare disorder, found mostly among Europeans.

"Now, with large epidemiological studies done everywhere including here, we can say with a great level of confidence that the disease affects roughly the same percentage of the general population worldwide. That is, roughly one percent," says Fasano. "So, it's not rare at all."

And if it's not rare, that means there are a lot of potential customers looking for gluten-free products. Food manufacturers have caught on. Quigg says it was a lot harder to find gluten-free foods when she was first diagnosed seven years ago.

"I do remember the first time I went grocery shopping it took me about three hours, and I kind-of wanted to cry when I came home because it was just overwhelming."

Gluten-free fad

Today, she can find products without gluten almost anywhere. The gluten-free market is now worth more than a billion-and-a-half dollars a year.

That's partly because of the growing awareness about celiac disease. But it's also partly because gluten-free has become a new fad diet. Some people without celiac disease say they feel better when they avoid gluten, but many scientists are skeptical.

Whatever the reason, the demand for gluten-free products creates an opportunity for farmers like David Eckert. About eight years ago, he says, he saw a strange sight on a farm near his home in Nevada.

"I just [saw] a crop growing that I'd never seen before," he says, "And I looked at it for a long time. Finally, I [saw] somebody up there in that field one day, and I normally don't do that, but my curiosity got the best of me."

Eckert went up to the farmer and asked what he was growing. It was teff, a staple grain of the Horn of Africa. It does not contain gluten. A couple years went by before Eckert decided to try growing teff himself, replacing some of his alfalfa and maize.

Profitable crop

"What comes along to most of us is the almighty dollar," he says. "That's what kind-of impressed me about it was it looked to me like I could do better with this than I could with [maize]."

Eckert says the teff business has been strong. Nevada now grows about half of the teff produced in the United States, worth about a million dollars to the state's farmers.— not a huge segment of the market, but Eckert expects it will grow.

"The non-gluten market, I think is going to be a big market. I think it's just getting there and knowing the right people, getting into the larger companies that are going to really use the product."

Nutritious and delicious?

Companies making gluten-free products use teff partly because it is more nutritious than some of their other main ingredients such as rice flour and potato starch. But teff also has some competition in that role from other grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth.

Celiac disease patient Quigg sometimes buys bread made with teff and other whole grains. She gives it a tepid endorsement.

"It's O.K.," she says. "It's not as soft. But I think that's expected with a whole-grain bread. But, you know, it's fine."

That could be an obstacle for teff: most Americans— even those with celiac disease— like their bread white and soft.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid