Contributed by Tiffany Torok, MA, RDN.
Are Oats Gluten-Free? Trying to figure out what foods are safe on a gluten-free diet can be confusing. In this article, authored by registered dietician Tiffany Torok, we dive into oats, safety, which ones to eat, and nutrition tips.
Navigating a Gluten-Free Diet
Navigating a strict gluten-free diet for people with celiac disease, IBS, or gluten sensitivity can be difficult.
There are new skills that you have to learn, such as:
- How to Cook
- How to Read an Ingredient List
- How to Avoid Cross-Contact
- What packaged foods can you trust?
- How to order in restaurants
I struggled for a long time after being diagnosed, and one question that plagued me for several years was: Are oats gluten-free, and can I eat oats? This was especially difficult over 15 years ago when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease because we didn’t have the Gluten-Free Labeling Act, which ensured that foods labeled as gluten-free had to maintain global standards of being 20 ppm of gluten (FDA.gov).
Are Oats Safe on a Gluten-Free Diet?
This question continues to be an issue with newly diagnosed celiacs and others following a gluten-free diet for GI issues. Uncontaminated oat products have been included in the gluten-free diet worldwide between 1997 and 2004 (Tapsas, et al., 2013). The inclusion of oats in the gluten-free diet has been controversial since the 1950’s with research showing both the safety and the toxicity of oats for specific individuals with celiac disease.
However, the consensus is that dedicated gluten-free oats are generally safe for people with celiac disease.
Pure Regular Oats vs. Gluten-Free Oats
How Oats are harvested and manufactured determines if they are Gluten-Free or Not.
Pure regular oats differ from gluten-free oats in their harvesting and manufacturing process. Regular oats are harvested and stored next to gluten-containing grains and grain products such as wheat.
Gluten-free oats, however, are grown in dedicated fields, stored in dedicated silos, and processed on dedicated gluten-free lines. The Gluten-Intolerance Group has a certification that, to qualify for, manufacturers have to adhere to strict protocols to ensure their product is 20ppm of gluten.
What is Gluten Cross-Contact?
According to Beyond Celiac, a celiac advocacy group in the United States, cross-contact is defined as when gluten-containing grains or other food products come in contact with gluten-free grains or food products. This results in tiny particles of gluten, making gluten-free food unsafe for people following a strict gluten-free diet due to celiac disease, IBS, or gluten sensitivity.
How do you know for sure which Oats are gluten-free?
The only way to ensure that the oat products you eat are gluten-free is to look for them to be labeled as Gluten-Free Oats. This is because there are potential sites for cross-contact everywhere, from the growing and harvesting to the storage and production lines at the food manufacturing facility.
Wheat is Often Grown near Oat Crops
According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, this happens because wheat is often grown near oat crops, gluten grains can also be stored in silos that are then used for oats, and gluten-containing products are made at the same factories.
This is why buying oats from companies like Bob’s Red Mill, committed to a high gluten-free standard, is essential.
Can Celiacs Have Oats?
Most people who have celiac disease can have oats. However, a few people with gluten intolerance may also have an oat sensitivity due to the avenin protein in oats.
Avenin is a protein in oats that makes up a much smaller percentage of the grain than gluten does in wheat. It provides the chewy texture in oat products. This protein can sometimes elicit an immune response in susceptible individuals, such as celiac patients.
Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?
Gluten-Free Oat Brands
Oatmeal that is labeled gluten-free can be trusted. Some examples of brands that label their oatmeal as gluten-free are:
TIP– Make sure the bag is labeled Gluten-Free
- Bob’s Red Mill GF
- Bakery on Main
- Nature’s Path
- Quaker Oats Gluten-Free
Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free?
As with all products made with oats, oat milk needs to be labeled gluten-free to be safe for a strict gluten-free diet. Oat milk is creamy and delicious and can be used in smoothies and other recipes. Just ensure the label says gluten-free, as some manufacturers do not use Gluten-Free Oats when making Oat Milk.
The same goes for Oat Flour. Additionally, to be considered safe for the gluten-free diet, oat flour must be made from oats free from cross-contact with wheat gluten products.
You can make homemade oat flour by grinding old-fashioned gluten-free oats in a high-speed blender. Blend for several minutes until the oats turn to flour.
What Kind of Oatmeal is the Healthiest?
As with all cereal grains, the healthiest oatmeal is made from the whole oat grain. Steel-cut oats and oat groats are considered the most nutritious and are the least processed form of oats.
Although most forms of oats available (except oat bran and refined oat flour) are considered whole grains because they contain the bran, germ, and endosperm, they cook faster and digest faster when cut into smaller pieces. This causes lightly processed oats, such as rolled oats and quick-cook, to have a higher glycemic index, causing a quicker rise in blood sugar after eating them. – Whole Grains Counsel
Health Benefits of Eating Oats
Celiac disease, IBS, and gluten sensitivity are difficult conditions to manage. A gluten-free diet can often be low in dietary fiber, thus causing additional gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, a diet low in dietary fiber may be missing out on the benefits of fiber, including reduced cancer risk and cholesterol reduction.
- Vitamins – Oats provide several b vitamins and antioxidants (Rasane, et al., 2013).
- Fiber – Patients following a gluten-free diet for life could benefit from adding fiber-rich foods, such as oats.
- Oats contain protein and other beneficial nutrients.
- Variety – Including oats in the gluten-free diet provides variety in the products available on the market, which could ultimately lead to higher satisfaction with the gluten-free diet and possibly lead to higher adherence to the gluten-free diet, thus improving the long-term health outcomes of individuals with celiac disease.
How Many Oats Are Safe Per Day for Celiac?
While there isn’t a consensus in the medical community about how much oats someone with celiac disease can have in one day, research has shown that a diet including up to 50-70 g/day of oats is safe for most adults following a gluten-free diet, and 20-25 g/day for children. This is equal to 1/2-2/3 cup of dry oats for adults and 1/4 cup of dry oats for children.
(Rashid, et al., 2007
Different Types of Oats
- Oat Groats are the unprocessed oat kernel, which takes the longest to cook.
- Steel-cut oats are made by cutting the oat groats into pieces with a sharp steel blade.
- Old-fashioned rolled Oats are oat groats that have been steamed and then rolled flat so that they are easier to cook and are shelf-stable longer.
- Quick Oats are rolled oats steamed longer and take less cooking time.
- Instant Oat Bran does not contain the whole oat grain and is just the bran portion, which has more fiber and protein but lacks the germ and endosperm.
Bob’s Red Mill Certified Gluten Free Oats
When I was diagnosed, Bob’s Red Mill was the only brand that labeled some of their oats as gluten-free. I still use their products because of their proactive approach to helping individuals with celiac disease manage their complicated diets.
Helpful Tips When Buying Gluten-Free Oats
1. Purchase oats and oat products that have a gluten-free label. Why take a risk?
2. An added assurance that the oats are safe is to look for a gluten-free certification label – this means that the manufacturer has added further safety protocols to avoid cross-contact and gluten contamination during the manufacturing process
3. A general tip for anyone who enjoys oats is to eat oats in their purest form, as whole grains, to get all of the health benefits from all parts of the oats
Closing Thoughts on Oats and the Gluten-Free Diet
Oats are a healthy whole grain that very few people with celiac disease and gluten disorders react to, making them safe to include in a gluten-free diet as long as they are labeled gluten-free.
Oats offer numerous health benefits, including cholesterol-lowering abilities and blood sugar control due to the fiber and protein, when eaten in whole grain form. Additionally, they offer several b vitamins and phytonutrients, which help keep the body healthy and have antioxidant properties. Oats can be enjoyed in countless recipes, such as overnight oats, oatmeal cookies, granola, and oat milk.
For most people with celiac disease or following a gluten-free diet for other health reasons, including gluten-free oats does not cause long-term adverse effects. Although some small studies link oats to poor GI tolerance in that population, numerous long-term studies point to the safety of oats in the gluten-free diet. Even though oat intolerance may exist in a small subset of individuals with celiac disease, it is generally safe to include in the gluten-free diet. Thankfully, there are a lot of oat-containing gluten-free products that are labeled as such!
Tiffany Torok, MA, RDN, has a private practice accepting new patients. You can reach Tiffany at [email protected].
Check Out These Delicious Gluten-Free Oat Recipes
Chewy Amazing Gluten-Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – Dunkable!
Ultimate Chunky Peanut Butter Granola – Kids love this recipe!
Simple BEST Gluten-Free Vanilla Granola – This is our favorite with yogurt.
To learn more about Celiac Disease:
To learn how to start a Gluten-Free Diet:
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