Oatmeal itself does not contain gluten, since it is not a wheat product, and an increasing number of experts are pronouncing it safe to eat for people trying to avoid gluten in their diets. However, not all oatmeal is gluten-free. It can be contaminated during processing, particularly in facilities that also process wheat, rye, and other gluten-containing grains. In fact, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, some of the major oat brands contain high levels of gluten.
Oatmeal and Gluten
People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, or those who are just trying to minimize gluten in their diets, are often confused about whether they can eat oats. The information available has been conflicting, but recently, more research has come out that confirms that oats are indeed safe for those avoiding gluten, with a few qualifiers.
Oats Do Not Cause Elevated Gluten Antibodies
A study that appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastrointerology showed that subjects that ate oats as part of a gluten-free diet showed no elevated levels of Immunoglobulin A (an antibody that is elevated when gluten intolerants eat wheat) compared to a test group that did not eat oats in their gluten-free diet. The researchers concluded that adults with celiac disease can tolerate oats. However, another study, which examined 9 different oat varieties, concluded that certain varieties of oats are indeed more toxic to celiacs than others, regardless of whether the oat has been processed in a pure facility.
Oats Are Okay in Limited Quantities
In 2003, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) gave celiacs the green light to eat oats. However, the organization recommended that celiacs limit their daily consumption to half a cup dry oats that are pure and uncontaminated.
Finding Gluten-Free Oatmeal
If you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, it is important to seek out oats, oat flour, and oatmeal that is pure and guaranteed to be free of any traces of gluten contamination. Oats can be contaminated during harvesting, storing, processing, or transportation. They can even be contaminated in the fields if the oats are grown next to a field of wheat. Fortunately, there are a number of manufacturers of pure, uncontaminated oats that offer products safe for people avoiding gluten. Here are some tips on seeking out gluten-free oats:
Gluten-Free Oat Brands
While many big brands of oatmeal are likely processed on the same equipment as wheat and other gluten-containing grains, there are some growers and manufacturers that offer gluten-free options. Here are a few choices.
- GF Harvest offers a number of gluten-free oat products, including whole-grain oat flour, oat groats (whole-kernel oats), granola, and rolled oats. Some products are available in organic versions.
- Bob's Red Mill offers more than 50 gluten-free products, including oat bran, thick rolled oats, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and quick-cook oats.
- Holly's Oatmeal offers regular and cranberry versions of gluten-free oatmeal, and you can also build a custom blend of gluten-free flavored oatmeal.
- Cream Hill Estates guarantees the oats it produces and sells are pure oats, without any cross contamination from gluten. It sells rolled oats, groats, and oat flour.
- A Bountiful Harvest offers gluten-free rolled oats.
When you're shopping for gluten-free oats, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid bulk bins. There is no way for a retailer to completely eliminate cross-contamination of bulk foods, whether it's someone using the same scoop to scoop out wheat flour and oatmeal or a worker not changing gloves while restocking the bins.
- Look for the "Gluten Free" label.
- Don't order oats or oatmeal in a restaurant, as you cannot be certain that they are pure or that they weren't contaminated during cooking.
Eat Oats Thoughtfully
If you have celiac diseas or a gluten sensitivity, oats are a nutritious and versatile ingredient to use for breakfast and baking or in place of breadcrumbs in recipes like meatloaf. But it's wise to check with your doctor before incorporating oats into your diet, limit your consumption, and monitor your body carefully for any changes in your health.