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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs