Fear of celiac disease has made many people terribly ‘gluten paranoid’. Obviously, the oatmeal also has come under the needle of suspicion for the possible “sticky substance,” from L. gluten (gen. glutinis) “glue” in it.
‘Is oatmeal free of gluten’ is a commonly raised question in all health forums.
Oats are the most preferred breakfast around the world. However, many people are seriously worried about the pros and cons of this delicious meal on health, especially of the gluten factor.
Most cereal grains do contain gluten; as oats also belong to the cereal family of food, it is natural to suspect this as well. In this article, we shall explore the actual gluten facts on oats.
Does Oatmeal Have Gluten?- The Real Story
The answer to this question is both “YES” and “NO”.
A majority of the oatmeal packs sold by different brands today are NOT 100% pure. They are cross-contaminated with a small amount of wheat, rye or barley.
According to several research reports, barley, wheat, and rye are classified as gluten-rich foods. Persons with celiac disease are advised to shun them.
The oatmeal that contains a mixture of these grains is not gluten-free. Most popular brands of oatmeal available in the market today are not safe for celiac patients. Others who consume it regularly have the possible risk of developing celiac disease in the future.
Some popular brands like the Quaker Oats do have a separate pack of gluten-free oats.
However, the gluten-free status assigned to oats is highly controversial as some of the health scientists do not agree with it.
According to a few of the recent study reports, oat is not totally free of gluten, but the amount of gluten contained in it is very negligible. The little amount of gluten present in oat does not cause inflammatory reactions in the majority of the people consuming it.
Reason For Mistaking Oats As A Gluten Grain
Is there gluten in oatmeal? This is an often-heard question that frequently comes up for discussions because of the wrong classification of grains.
The Agricultural scientists of the past century had grouped oats along with wheat, barley, and rye because of their common similarity. Later on, this non-scientifically established group of four grain came to be called as ‘gluten grains’ traditionally (4).
However, the recent research studies aided by modern technology have unjustified the classification of oat as ‘gluten grain’.
Some of the healthcare practitioners are still unconvinced about the recent study reports on oats. They continue to consider oat to be a gluten grain like the other three.
A few other healthcare practitioners clamors for considering ‘gluten-free diet’ synonymous with ‘wheat free diet.’ In fact, barley and rye do contain only lesser amount of gluten in comparison to wheat.
The gluten in oat is highly subjected to conditions. “Oats are inherently gluten-free, but are frequently contaminated with wheat during growing or processing (5).”
Do Oats Contain Gluten? – From The Scientific Perspective
Recent scientific studies can give the best answer to your question, ‘Do oats contain gluten beyond permitted amount?’
In the last few decades, several studies have been done to evaluate the safety of oat consumption. Some of these studies are critical about the oat protein that can cause inflammation, especially in celiac patients. But these studies, in general, see oat as a gluten grain.
Here are the key findings of the 75 studies in general: –
- Oatmeal diet has high nutritional value, but it is totally NOT free of gluten
- Contamination with prolamins of cereals including oats is frequent
- Few of the clinical experiments suggest that a subgroup of celiac patients are also intolerant to the pure oats
- Oats with low avenin content are safe for celiac patients, but its reaction varies in all patients.
- Oats contain a form of protein known as avenin similar to the gluten, which adds up to 80% of the total protein found in oats – for this reason, it is impossible for oats to be gluten-free
- The presence of 12-16% of gluten in oats is very low compared to the 69% gluten protein composition of wheat; for this reason, reports of negative reactions in people consuming oats are very less.
- Gluten consumed as little as 20 ppm (parts per million) is enough to create an inflammatory reaction celiac patients
- Celiac patients continue to remain ill even after giving up the traditional gluten diet
- To make the oatmeal safe, development of assay methods to detect avenins in oat products with improved scientific methods is required
- Standard guidelines to be codified for the agricultural processing of oats and manufacturing of oat products
- Current methods of testing inflammatory response to oats by people with gluten sensitivity are inaccurate and more advanced methods to be invented
- Currently, there are no scientific methods to fully extract gluten protein from cereals
Are Whole Grain Oats Gluten-Free?
According to healthy diet practices, 2/3 of the daily intake of grains in our daily diet should be whole grains.
Are Whole Grain Oats Gluten-Free? I’m sure that all oatmeal lovers are eager to get an answer to this common query.
All uncontaminated whole grain oat is gluten-free. Oats are most nutritious and healthy when they are taken as whole grains.
According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, oat is technically gluten-free as it is a different type of grain in comparison to barley, wheat, and rye which contain the protein gluten. However, oat contains protein avenins which is a less harmful variant of gluten.
Are Steel Cut Oats Gluten-Free?
The word “Groat” refers to cereal made from whole, hull-less oats; it is a Scottish word in use for hundreds of years.
The steel-cut oats are the ‘whole oat groat’ split into pieces. It has a nutty and chewy flavor. This type of oats is diabetes-friendly as they do spike the blood sugar level, unlike the highly processed oats.
Are Steel Cut Oats Gluten-Free? Technically speaking, they are gluten-free if they are made of pure oats. However, it may not be good for all celiac patients as they might produce negative reactions in some.
Are Rolled Oats Gluten-Free?
The rolled oats are traditional oat groats that have been de-husked, steamed and then rolled into flakes under heavy rollers before being stabilized and lightly toasted.
Rolled oats get cooked faster than steel-cut oats because they absorb water very quickly.
If rolled oats are your favorite, the answer to the question ‘are rolled oats gluten-free?’ is worth knowing.
Rolled oats are gluten-free if they are made of non-contaminated pure oats. Pure rolled oats are healthy and safe for celiac patients. However, the rolled oats are being a highly processed product, the chances of cross gluten contamination higher with it.
Is ‘Oats Gluten’ Bad For Celiac Patients?
Oats’ gluten is different from wheat and barley, 80% of the protein present in oat is avenins which are similar to gluten.
However, oats are said to be safe for gluten sensitivity because it is easier to digest and less likely to cause negative reactions.
According to studies, only less than a percent of the celiac person is affected by the oats diet (10).
It is possible to grow oats that do not have any gluten cross-contamination. Pure oat is safe for the majority of the celiac patients, except a few who might experience negative reactions.
You need not give up eating oats if you choose to eat only pure oats. However, answer to the question ‘are oats gluten-free?’ highly dependent on how oats are grown and processed.
The oats usually become cross-contaminated with gluten when they are grown in the same field along with other gluten grains.
Are oats gluten-free when processed in a multi-grain processing factory? No. If the oats are processed in the same facility that also processes wheat, barley or rye, the oats get cross-contaminated with gluten.
In short, from cultivation to the final level for processing and packaging, oats should not come in contact with any other gluten grains.
How To Choose Healthy Oats?
As we have already addressed the question ‘is oatmeal gluten-free?’, now let us see how to choose the gluten-free oats.
If you have gluten sensitivity, you should buy only the gluten-free oats. A vast majority of the oats sold in the market have cross-contaminated gluten in them. Here are a few tips on how to choose healthy oats:
- Make sure to buy the pure oats (without cross gluten contamination)
- Look for the label “certified gluten-free” printed on the packets of oat you buy
- Look out for genuine customer feedbacks in online forum and reviews of the specific brand that you intend to buy
- Only buy the oats from a manufacturer who adheres to standard practices of producing pure oats (total elimination of cross gluten contamination in cultivation, harvesting, processing, and packaging)
- Look for Brands that have got quality inspections and certifications by third parties
- Check the ingredients label carefully to verify that no preservatives, flavoring, chemical sweeteners or coloring substances are included
- The sugar content should always be zero for pure oats; see that label has this detail too.
- All types of oats have the same nutritional value but ideally, buy the steel-cut or rolled oats
Which Oat’s Brands Are Safe?
For those who can tolerate oats, there is a good variety of gluten-free certified oat brands in the market.
The top brands in the market that sell pure oats are:
- Holly’s Oatmeal: – Known to sell the purest oatmeal in the market which contains less than 5 parts per million of gluten.
- GF Harvest: – The company grows its own pure oats by testing the seeds it uses down to 3 parts per million. It has both regular gluten-free rolled oats and organic, gluten-free rolled oats.
- Bob’s Red Mill: – Have three different types of gluten-free oats; quick-cooking oats, rolled oats, and steel-cut oats. Bob claims of its tests for gluten down to 20 parts per million.
- Arrowhead Mills: – Steel-cut oats gluten-free is its prominent product.
- Glutenfreeda Foods: – Sells certified gluten-free oatmeal
- Udi’s Gluten-Free: – It’s certified gluten-free, and its products contain less than 10 parts per million of gluten.
- Montana Gluten-Free: – Sells pure oats which are directly sourced from farmers who follow the proven methods to produce gluten-free oats.
You can also find several other companies that sell pure oats both certified and uncertified. You may choose any brand you prefer but make sure to check the details on the brand before you purchase it.
The Bottom Line
The question “is there too much gluten in oatmeal” is quite an instant reaction as oats also belong to the cereal family of foods.
Pure oats are healthy and safe for consumption including people with celiac disease. However, roughly about 10% of individuals with gluten resistance do experience a negative reaction from the pure oats too.
Technically speaking pure oat is a gluten-free cereal, but going by the scientific analysis, all types of oats contain a small amount of gluten. The negligible amount of gluten contained in oat will not cause gluten reaction in most people.