Oats are technically gluten-free so why are they on the forbidden list?

Are Oats Safe on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Different countries have different recommendations for oats in a gluten-free diet. Until recently, it has been recommended for someone with celiac disease to avoid oats as strictly as they would wheat, barley, and rye. Some confusion still lingers –  oats are on some lists of ingredients to avoid and not on others.  This discrepancy raises serious concerns.

The Problem With Oats

Oats do not contain the toxic gluten protein per se. Despite being scientifically gluten-free from a technical perspective, oats continue to be off-limits. This is due to of the issue of cross-contamination with wheat in both agriculture and manufacturing processes. Most oats on the market are not 100 percent gluten-free, and are therefore unsafe for a gluten-free diet. Oats are typically grown in crop-rotation with or near wheat, rye or barley crops. Volunteer sprouts of wheat, rye, or barley can pop up undetected in the oat fields from one year to the next. Additionally, harvesting and manufacturing equipment is often shared with all grains.

It’s extremely important to the avoid mainstream oat brands as well as products containing oats that do not designate them as pure, gluten-free oats because of the strong likelihood of cross-contamination.

Are Pure, Gluten-Free Oats Safe?

Pure oats tested to be gluten-free are available for consumer purchase. They are grown on dedicated fields that are far away from wheat fields. The oats are harvested and manufactured using equipment only for gluten-free grains. Finally, pure oats are batch tested to confirm their gluten-free status. But questions have been presented about their safety for the celiac, gluten-free diet.

When you research the oats debate you will find several national and international associations take different stances and positions on oats in a gluten-free diet. Currently the majority of celiac associations have come to the consensus that pure, gluten-free oats are safe for the celiac diet, if consumed in limited quantity.

It is advised that the small intestine be given adequate time to heal before introducing pure, gluten-free oats back into the diet. Research suggest that about 50 grams (dry weight) a day will not adversely affect individuals with celiac disease. In fact, a majority of organization support their inclusion in the diet in the interest of providing high-quality fiber, additional  iron, thiamin and zinc, and adding variety to the diet.

What You Need to Know

Before you make your decision, it is important to note that oats contain another type of protein AVENIN. Some researchers believe that it has characteristics similar to gluten.  Even though research suggests that the majority of people can tolerate oats in small quantities, a small number of individuals with celiac disease react negatively to pure, gluten-free oats.  As a result, some individuals and organizations remain cautious about including pure oats on the safe list until further long-term research provides more results.

Before You Start

Before deciding to try pure gluten-free oats, thoroughly researching the issue and speaking with your doctor.   Introduce oats carefully in small amounts and closely monitor how you react to them. Please consult with your physician if you have concerns or issues with oats.

While the debate about oats continues, it is nice to know that science reveals that oats are by nature gluten-free. When grown and processed in a 100 percent gluten-free environment oats can offer yet another ingredient to enjoy and utilize for those who can tolerate them.


Celiac UK: Oats and the gluten-free diet 

The role of avenin specific T cells in oats toxicity in coeliac disease

Beyond Celiac – Are oats gluten-free?

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