The question of whether or not to eat oats comes up quite frequently when people begin a gluten free lifestyle. At first, it seems like getting the answer should be crystal clear – do oats contain gluten or not? After all, this is the sifting criteria right? However, even though oats, by nature, do not contain gluten, this fact alone doesn’t tell the whole story. And I am a sucker for “the whole story” - I just love information!
In order to decide if oats have a place in your diet, it is important to understand why they can be a tricky ingredient. Basically, there are two potential issues with oats that may remove it from a gluten free diet. The first is the issue of cross-contamination. Traditional oats are typically grown, harvested, stored and processed in close proximity and with the same equipment as gluten containing grains. This leads to a very high chance of cross-contamination. Depending on your level of sensitivity, this fact alone may mean that you will react to traditional oats. To resolve this issue, certified gluten free oats are now available on the market. Gluten free oats have been produced by a supplier that has taken extra measures to ensure there has been no cross-contamination during the growth and processing of the product.
At this point, you may be thinking the answer to our question of whether oats are safe would be a resounding yes, but the issue can still be murky. This brings us to our second issue. Oats are closely related to wheat, rye and barley and contain a similar protein called avenin. A portion of the people that react to gluten also react to avenin. It is estimated that 10-15% of people with celiac disease are also sensitive to oats. There is less data in the non-celiac gluten intolerant group, so the percentages of oat sensitivity are relatively unknown. Simply stated, if you are one of these individuals, you may react to certified gluten free oats similarly to the way you react to gluten.
To further complicate things, there is new evidence that suggests that certain strains of oats could be more reactive than others for people with gluten sensitivity. Research is still ongoing, and may in the future help to identify a less reaction-inducing oat, but at this point probably does not change the end consumer’s choices.
So how do you decide on whether to include oats in your diet? First, always talk to your doctor or health care provider. Second, it is typically recommended to wait to introduce oats until you are feeling good on your gluten free diet. Once you have established a good “baseline” then it may be time to slowly introduce oats and see how you feel. If you determine that you can eat oats, the Celiac Sprue Association recommends that you limit your consumption to ½ cup of dry oats per day (but that is plenty of cooked oats or cookies…).
How do we personally feel about oats? Luckily, Lexie and I do not react to gluten free oats. If you are also able to consume oats, we have listed a few of our favorite recipes, including our Raspberry Oat Bars (gluten free, egg free, and can be dairy free!) and our Oatmeal Cookies. My current favorite cookie (which changes weekly…) is our Oatmeal Cookie with the addition of tart dried cherries – delicious!