Are Oats Gluten-Free?
Yes, pure, uncontaminated oats are gluten-free.
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration considers oats a gluten-free grain under its gluten-free labeling regulations and only requires that packaged products with oats as an ingredient contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten overall.
Oats and Cross-Contact
Most of the concern about oats stems from the fact that mills that process oats also handle gluten-containing grains, creating a substantial risk for cross-contact. Oats without a gluten-free label are not considered safe for those who have celiac disease.
Specialty gluten-free oats are grown, harvested and processed in a way that keeps them away from other grains and the high risk of gluten contact, and are widely accepted as safe for those with celiac disease.
However, since the FDA gluten-free labeling rules were approved, a number of companies that include oats in their products labeled gluten-free have begun to use oats that are mechanically cleaned and separated to eliminate gluten, a practice that is allowed by the FDA. There is debate about whether these kinds of oats and the products in which they are used are safe for those who have celiac disease.
Even though oats are naturally gluten-free, a small portion of people with celiac disease still react to them. Research suggests that a protein in oats called avenin can trigger a similar response to gluten, though it is thought to be a separate sensitivity. The symptoms can be similar to those in patients celiac disease, but there is no damage to the intestines.
If you have an avenin sensitivity, avoid all oat products.
Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?
Oatmeal is prepared by boiling oats in water or milk, and sometimes fruits and spices are added. Whether or not oatmeal is gluten-free depends on the oats used to make the oatmeal. Read the food label to ensure it’s labeled gluten-free before eating the oatmeal.
However, if you have an avenin sensitivity, you should not eat any oats; avoid oatmeal, too.
Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free?
Oat milks are a popular alternative to traditional dairy milks. They are made by soaking oats in water, blending them, and then straining the liquid. Whether or not oat milk is gluten-free depends on the oats used to make it. Read the food label to ensure it’s marked gluten-free before drinking oat milk.
However, if you have an avenin sensitivity, you should not eat any oats; avoid oat milk, too.
Should I Eat Oats?
For now, the best advice Beyond Celiac can offer is to be careful when introducing gluten-free oats into your diet—if possible, speak with your healthcare provider prior to making this dietary change. Proceed with caution when trying a new brand of oats, and always use oats that are “pure, uncontaminated,” “gluten-free,” or “certified gluten-free.”
Experts believe that up to 50g of dry gluten-free oats a day are considered safe. Check nutrition labels for portion size. People who develop any new symptoms after adding gluten-free oats to their diet should talk to their dietitian or doctor.
The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease released a statement on oats in the gluten-free diet that provides some guidance and AOAC International, an independent association that develops science-based analytical standards, has started work on standards for measuring gluten in oats.