Last Updated: 10th October 2016
When following a gluten-free diet or trying to cut down on foods with gluten, you want to find foods that are delicious, filling and easy to use. Oats are one of those ingredients and can be used for lunches, breakfasts and even snacks. The question is whether they are gluten free.
The short answer is yes, but there are exceptions to the rule. Here is everything you need to know about oats to make sure they are gluten free.
Only Uncontaminated Oats
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On their own, when they have been packaged without contamination, oats are gluten free. The problem is that some companies will use additives or may include some ingredients that aren’t gluten free. They will usually be included on the packaging, so it is essential that you check.
The majority of oats are safe for people who have a gluten intolerance or allergy. This includes those with IBS and people suffering from celiac disease.
When oats are contaminated, or there is a risk of contamination, they will state that on the labels. This is usually for manufacturers that deal with rye, barley and wheat, too. They all contain gluten and sometimes trace amounts can end up in the oat mixtures. Those with gluten intolerances and allergies can end up with side effects due to the small amounts, depending on the severity of your condition.
When Can Oats Be Labelled Gluten Free?
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It is a legal requirement for products contaminated with gluten to have that stated on the packaging. This contamination may be minor, and one packet may not have any contamination at all. The products also need to have gluten stated as an ingredient when it has been purposely added to the food. This could be in a minor amount, but it is still purposelybeen placed and a danger to those with food intolerances.
What about when they are gluten free? You will likely see some packaging state “gluten free” on them, but this doesn’t mean there is no contamination at all. The oats will need to be contaminated by 20 parts per million or less to be allowed to use this label.This amount is about the size of a bread crumb. While it is small, those who have severe allergies to gluten will notice that it is there, by the way, their bodies feel afterwards.
It’s important to be aware of labels like “organic” or “100% oats.” It can seem like they are perfect for your gluten free diet, but that is not necessarily the case. Many of the terms added to oat packaging are not regulated, and it is possible that they still include contaminated products. With this in mind, it’s always important to check for any warnings and the ingredients list.
Over the last few years, there have been many companies offering gluten-free oats; and these are ones that have no contamination at all. More companies offer them because the demand for them is increasing. This helps to keep the cost down and ensure they are treated just as importantly as regular oats.
How Do Oats Taste Like Gluten Foods?
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Rye, wheat and barley all contain gluten. Oats can have a similar texture, feel and appearance to the others and it leaves many shocked that the ingredient is gluten free. How can they be so similar, yet have no gluten at all?
The oats have avenin instead, which is very similar to gluten. It is another protein and one that those with celiac disease and other gluten problems can eat without side effects. However, there are some people with celiac disease who do suffer from side effects due to the severity and nature of their condition. The only way that you can find this out is by trying oats, unfortunately.
Scientists have found that the avenin is made up in a different—albeit similar—way to gluten. So, they can determine that oats naturally do not contain any gluten at all, but they still may during the manufacturing process.
Have Oats Always Been Allowed?
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There was a time that you would have been told no oats at all on a gluten free diet. At one time, scientists didn’t know if they contained gluten or not, and it was better to be safe than sorry. The food was made up similar to wheat and barley, so there was a high risk that it would cause intolerance and allergy sufferers discomfort and symptoms.
This is why some dietitians will recommend avoiding them anyway. While they have now been proven not to contain gluten, there is still an old-fashioned view that they are bad for you. Why to run the risk, especially when cross contamination is a risk with many manufacturers.
They are certainly not right for everyone, even now. There are currently plenty of people who still refuse to touch them.
Why Don’t Celiac Disease Sufferers Eat Oats?
There are some people who suffer from celiac disease, IBS and other intolerances that avoid oats completely. This is more of a personal choice than anything else. If you are following a gluten-free diet, you don’t need to cut out oats completely but find some that are suitable for your lifestyle.
The avenin is similar to gluten, and this can contain the same side effects for those with a dietary condition. If the intolerance or allergy is so severe, people may avoid them completely out of fear that they will suffer from side effects and symptoms. Others will know that it causes a problem from the past and need to avoid it at all times.
There is also a personal choice for some to avoid oats, even though they don’t need to for their gluten free lifestyle. They will focus on other foods that offer the fibre that oats have.
Gluten free oats can be cut out of the diet at first. However, they can also be added in at a later date if you decide that you need to include them. There’s nothing wrong with including them later, but do look out for symptoms and side effects to see if you’re one of the sufferers who can’t eat the gluten free ingredients at all.
If you have caused damage to your intestines due to gluten, you may want to cut oats out completely at first. This is due to your intestines being raw already, and even the slightest bit of cross-contamination in manufacturing could lead to symptoms and side effects. You should find that a few months will give your body time to heal, so you can see if gluten free oats are suitable for your diet.
When reintroducing a food that you have cut out, do it gradually. This will give you time to see if there are any mild symptoms and let your body get used to digesting and eating them again. Even if you don’t have symptoms of your condition, a sudden change in your diet can lead to similar side effects while your body gets used to the food again.
If you’ve cut out gluten and oats because celiac disease, you will likely be under the care of a health physician and dietician. It is worth discussing your oats with them to make the best choice for your body and health.
Why Include Oats in Your Gluten-Free Diet
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You may wonder if you really need to include oats in your diet. Could you avoid them for the rest of your life and not have to worry about the dreaded “cross contamination?”
The truth is there isn’t need to add oats in at all. You can get all the benefits of oats from other foods available for your lifestyle. Soluble fibre is found in plenty of fruit and vegetables, so you don’t have to worry about your digestive system suffering. However, oats do have the soluble fibre in large amounts.
One of the benefits of oats is that you get some variety. Having the same things to eat over and over again gets boring, and you start looking at other foods around. You may consider coming off your gluten-free diet, even though you know it can cause some problems with your health. Boredom leads to overeating, too, so you’re also putting your weight at risk.
Oats can be eaten with water or milk for breakfast, or you can use them to make desserts. There are oatcakes available, offering biscuits that were once disallowed on the gluten free lifestyle. You could even have them as part of a smoothie if you want to bulk it out or include them as a topping for food.
As well as getting the variety, you’ll also benefit in other ways for your health. They help to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels down. These are highly beneficial for those who need to focus on preventing certain health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Oats are also useful because they make people feel fuller for longer. Not only do you stop the boredom from making you gain weight, but the extra calorie intake. You won’t feel the need to snack all the time, and if you do there are plenty of oat snacks that you can enjoy so you feel fuller from them. By not snacking, you’re not taking in as many calories, and you will find it easier to create a calorie deficit.
Should You Include Oats in Your Gluten-Free Diet?
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Now it comes to your decision. Will oats be something that you will add to your gluten-free diet? The truth is that this is completely up to you, and only you (with the help of your doctor or dietician) can really make this decision.
Oats are—on their own—gluten free and they can be included in your diet, as long as you follow a few rules:
· Always check that they are not manufactured where rye, barley or wheat are manufactured to avoid cross-contamination risks
· Remember that “gluten free” doesn’t necessarily mean completely gluten free, so think about the severity of your condition
· Cut them out completely at first and reintroduce them slowly, especially as a celiac disease sufferer
· A small number of celiac disease patients do struggle with oats
It’s worth nothing that symptoms don’t happen suddenly when it comes to celiac disease or gluten intolerances. It can take months—and sometimes years—to see the symptoms or side effects. This can mean problems from oats will take thetime to manifest within the body if it is going to be a problem.
Before testing if you can add oats to your diet, give yourself six months or so to really give your body time to heal from the damage the gluten has caused. You can then start afresh to test if you’re also intolerant to oats.
There are certainly benefits to oats, so that is something to consider if you’re in two minds about adding them to your diet. You need to decide whether the risk of gluten contamination is worth the other benefits; benefits that you can get from other foods.
Food advice is also always changing. Scientists find out new things, and they will offer different recommendations based on those new findings. This is why you should discuss your dietary plans with your doctor to make sure you will be suitable for oats and other similar foods.
In Conclusion: Be Wary of Contamination
The term “gluten free oats” does have some truth to it. Oats don’t technically include gluten, but it will depend on where they are manufactured and packaged. Cross contamination is one of the biggest issues with adding oats to a gluten-free diet.
When packaging states oats are natural and 100% oats, this is often a marketing ploy. You need to look at the warning labels on the back. Oats being “gluten free” is a protected term, but it doesn’t mean completely free from the ingredient that causes some of the biggest stomach issues.
Whether you add oats to your gluten, free diet is up to you. They don’t contain any gluten, but they may be contaminated.
What you need to do is to be mindful in choosing which brands of oats to add to your gluten-free diet. Sometimes, it really helps to check the label to be able to determine the best way to go.
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