Erica Dermer is an award-winning gluten-free blogger and writer. Diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009, she continues to lead the gluten-free community with resources, reviews and lots of wit! Visit her at https://www.celiacandthebeast.com/
What’s up with Oats? Are they gluten free or not? Your questions about how to navigate the world of oats are answered here.
Are oats gluten free? Technically, yes, but there is a lot to the gluten-free oats story. It’s a tricky subject! Even as a gluten-free expert, I still find myself contacting manufacturers and brands asking about their oats and if they’re really safe for someone with celiac disease. If I’m struggling, I know that many celiac sufferers are confused too, especially those who are newly diagnosed!
Oats and Cross Contact
Oats are naturally gluten free as a grain, but that’s about where their gluten-free story stops. Oats are grown in fields alongside wheat and barley. They are also harvested and manufactured right alongside these gluten containing grains. Because of this, errant grains (grains that aren’t supposed to be in oatmeal but come along for the ride) can make someone with celiac disease very sick. This is called co-mingling. Because of this, regular oats and products made with regular oats (snack bars, oat milk, oat desserts) are unsafe for those with celiac disease. Gluten-free oats must be used in gluten-free products for those with celiac disease. However, getting gluten-free oats is a complicated process.
Mechanically Separated vs. Purity Protocol
There is a level of safety when it comes to oats and the gluten-free diet.
The safest oat-containing products are from:
- A company that uses gluten-free purity protocol oats in a certified GF product
- A company that uses gluten-free purity protocol oats in a labeled gluten-free product
The highest safety comes from those manufacturers and suppliers with gluten-free purity protocol oats. Although there is no checklist for following “purity protocol,” these are oats that are grown and manufactured away from any gluten containing grains – a clean supply chain. By selecting pedigreed seeds, placing isolation strips between fields, employing crop inspectors, conducting numerous tests throughout the manufacturing process, using dedicated facilities and more, purity protocol growers go above and beyond. With purity protocol, there is only the smallest of chances of errant gluten. Unfortunately, most gluten-free manufacturers don’t use this protocol, or not exclusively.
While at this point you might be asking yourself, “if purity protocol oats are so safe, why isn’t every company using them?” That’s a great question, and it really comes down to two reasons, quantity and price. Purity protocol oats are only grown by a handful of suppliers in North America, there’s only so many purity protocol oats to go around. Also, if all gluten-free products were made with purity protocol oats, they would be much more expensive to comply with supply and demand. So what’s the next level of safety?
Items containing oats that are most likely safe are:
- A product that is certified gluten-free, made with oats
- A product that is labeled gluten-free, made with oats and uses third party testing to assure safety
Since there are only so many affordable purity protocol oats, some brands have turned to using a mix of purity protocol oats and mechanically separated oats to keep things more affordable and attainable for gluten-free eaters. Mechanically separated oats are regular oats that are mechanically and optically sorted in a facility to remove as many errant grains as possible. When combined all together or in a product, these oats test under 20ppm. However, they could potentially contain “hot spots.” These hot spots of errant grains would be much more than 20ppm of gluten when analyzed on their own. It’s important that any brand that uses mechanically separated oats alone or in a finished product are diligent in their product testing throughout the manufacturing process!
If you see a product that is labeled gluten free but uses oats and there are no certifications or details about where the oats come from, contact the brand for clarity! If you see a product containing oats on the shelf and the product isn’t marked gluten free, chances are those are made with just plain old oats that are not celiac safe!
Oat Protein and Celiac
Even after all of this, you can still be celiac and sensitive to oats. There is a small percentage of all celiacs that are still sensitive to even the safest oats, due to a sensitivity to avenin.
So how can you tell if a brand uses purity protocol oats or mechanically separated gluten free oats? You just have to ask! Canyon Bakehouse proudly uses purity protocol oats in their products, and states it on their website. Look for brands that state how their oats are produced and how they test their products. To learn more about oats and testing, read more at GlutenFreeWatchdog.org.