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 Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More