Why Consuming Oats is not an Option for Everyone on a Gluten Free Diet
Many questions exist about oats and if they are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet. Misleading information about this topic claims oats contain gluten. By nature, they do not. Let’s clear this up with some “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science” about oats. As I said, oats are inherently gluten free; however, there are two important points to consider when it comes to consuming oats on our gluten-free diet.
Consider this before Eating Oats if You are Gluten-Free
1. Oats contain a protein similar to gluten
Avenin, the protein component of oats that helps nourish the seed, has the same properties as gluten. While reactions to avenin that lead to small intestine damage (like gluten does in those with Celiac disease) are rare, they can occur. The condition is referred to as Avenin Sensitive Enteropathy (ASE).
Note: Enteropathy simply means an illness or condition related to the intestines.
Research indicates pure oats rarely cause small intestine damage in individuals with Celiac disease, which is why many professional organizations and physicians dealing with Celiac patients say it is typically fine for those with Celiac disease to consume up to a half cup of pure, certified gluten-free oats each day.
Because research about avenin and Celiac disease is relatively new, there are still many unanswered questions on this topic. Researchers do believe, though, that it is possible for some individuals to be sensitive to avenin without having intestinal damage. (Just like some individuals are gluten sensitive but do not suffer the small intestine damage of someone with Celiac disease.)
2. Cross-contamination is a major issue with oats.
Cross-contamination is a huge risk in “regular” oats (those not produced in a dedicated facility and certified gluten free) due to the processing of other grains like wheat, barley and rye on shared equipment in manufacturing facilities. For example, if you visit the Quaker Oats website, you will find a statement that the company is unable to guarantee their oats are gluten-free and safe for those with Celiac disease or other gluten-related health issues. In other words, their oats are likely coming into contact with some form of gluten during processing. (You can refresh yourself on gluten cross-contamination and how it can occur in food manufacturing facilities in this article I wrote on the subject.)
So, what is the bottom line on consuming oats on our gluten free diet. First, choose certified gluten-free oats, like Bob’s Red Mill. You can find several brands of gluten-free oats here in the Gluten-Free Resource Directory. Next, listen to your body. If you eat oats and feel fine, you are likely fine to consume oats occasionally as part of your gluten-free diet. If you feel ill (even if it is minimal bloating or minor gastrointestinal discomfort), you should probably eliminate oats from your diet and see how you feel after a few days. If your negative symptoms improve after removing oats from your diet, oats are likely the culprit and should be avoided. (Learn about how to use an Elimination Diet.) If you are able to consume certified gluten-free oats, you’ll find several delish gluten-free recipes in my recipe index like these Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cream Pies! You may also want to read this article about how oats can be a terrific addition to your gluten-free diet, even helping to reduce stress!
How’s that for food for thought?!
Do you enjoy gluten-free oats as part of your diet? If so, which brand is your favorite? I’d love to know in the comments below!