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Big Firms Take a Slice of Gluten-Free Pie

Imagine a world where bread, beer and pizza were totally off the menu.

For people with celiac disease -- an intolerance to the gluten found in wheat and some other grains -- it's no stretch of the imagination, as their affliction makes the act of eating a daily nightmare.

And although the world of business hasn't necessarily been against celiacs, it wasn't necessarily for them either. But now things seem to be changing with even giant-sized companies like Anheuser-Busch (BUD), Whole Foods Market (WFMI) and owner of Chili's restaurant chain Brinker International (EAT) taking an interest and capturing more dollars from what is a hot niche market.

Celiac disease is a genetically transmitted disorder that gives those afflicted a toxic reaction to wheat, barley, rye and triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid; anything made using such ingredients, like flour-based cake or bread, cannot be eaten.

Incidence of the disease, which is generally accepted to affect about one in 133 people in the U.S. and Europe, is believed to have doubled over the last two decades according to some studies, although accurate measurement is tricky because it often goes undiagnosed.

Want more? Check out TheStreet.com TV video. TheStreet.com's Simon Constable serves Amy Quazza, who has celiac disease, her first beer in more than five years.

For Amy Quazza, chef instructor at New York City's Institute of Culinary Education, it meant she had to give up her 10-year career as a baker in 2003. And like many sufferers, she only found out the root cause of her gastrointestinal problems as an adult, after she was well into her chosen career.

"Inhaling flour [made from wheat] at work made me very sick," says Quazza. But even when she quit life as a baker she still wasn't free from the problem. Outside pastries, there is also a lot of gluten hidden where you wouldn't expect it -- for instance, it's in soy sauce as modified food starch, she adds.

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