Pure, non-contaminated oats are in fact gluten-free and safe to eat for most people suffering from gluten intolerance. Pure oats does not contain gluten, however, most commercial oats are contaminated in facilities that also process wheat, barley and rye in the same environment. Cross contamination occurs when food producers and farmers grow and process oats in conjunction with other grains that contain gluten, making most commercially processed oatmeal brands unsafe for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.
Cross contamination does not only occur during the growing and harvesting stages as well as the transportation of oat grains, but mainly occurs in factories where other grain products are produced. Oat crops can also be contaminated by grains containing gluten if they are grown in adjoining fields. This is what places oats on the prohibited list for anyone with celiac disease as even a trace of gluten can cause a severe allergic reaction. What makes things more complicated is that a small percentage of celiac disease sufferers and gluten-sensitive people may also react to the protein avenin found in oats. However, studies have shown that only one percent of the celiac population seem to be adversely affected by avenin protein in oats.
Pure oats can be grown and certain companies now provide certified oat brands that are free from cross contamination and therefore gluten-free and safe for consumption by the majority of people with sensitivities to gluten. Some companies prominently label their gluten-free products, however ingredients should be carefully checked to ensure pure uncontaminated oats is what you get. Many manufacturers now also develop oatmeal in designated facilities that are gluten-free.
Some farmers grow and process their own oats and perform extensive tests to ensure that their fields remain free from cross contamination. Seeds are tested to maintain a ratio of 5 parts per million or less gluten. Some retailers of oatmeal work closely with farmers and manufacturers to ensure that the oats they sell are gluten free.
Although it is not clear how many individuals with celiac react to oats, some estimate that it is in the region of 10% – 15% with evidence that some types of oats prove to be more toxic than others. The only way to determine whether you will react to oats is to try it. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that people with a high sensitivity to gluten are likely to react more strongly to oats.
Oats is a good source of B vitamins and protein and has a cholesterol-lowering effect. It is therefore no wonder that people choose to include oats in their diet. A bowl of hot oatmeal has served as the perfect breakfast for most people for many years. Nowadays it is included in healthy smoothies and as an alternative to breadcrumbs, as a binding for meatballs or meatloaf and as a topping for many dishes. With so many popular uses for oatmeal it is only fitting that companies are working towards also making oats safe to eat for those with gluten intolerance. If celiac disease has not been diagnosed, pure oats that is certified gluten-free can be a healthy addition to any diet. If celiac has been diagnosed consult a physician before proceeding cautiously by adding pure gluten-free oats to your diet. If symptoms return it is best to rule it out completely.