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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs