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What’s the deal with oats?

Posted on July 6th, 2007 by Alison Read 18 Comments - Add Your Own »

oatmeal.jpgPeople are often asking me about oats and their gluten-free and wheat-free status. Here’s what I know:

Oats themselves are gluten-free. There was a question for a while about whether pure oats could cause damage to the gut, but that seems to have been put to rest with a study on oats published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. This study concluded: “Long-term use of oats included in the gluten-free diets of patients with coeliac disease does not stimulate an immunological response locally in the mucosa of the small intestine.”

So, are oats safe for people with wheat allergy or gluten intolerance or celiac disease? It depends on where the oats come from. The problems lies in the fact that most oats can become contaminated with wheat during transport and processing. According to a study on oats and contamination published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and summarized on, three brands of rolled or steel-cut oats (Quaker, Country Choice, and McCann’s) were tested for gluten contamination. All of them had at least one container of oats that tested above the safe gluten limit as defined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international organization that creates gluten-free standards.

I have many times heard that McCann’s Irish Oats are gluten-free, but according to this study, they are as susceptible to cross-contamination with wheat as any other brand. And, unfortunately, almost every commercial product made with oats, like granola bars, are using possibly-contaminated oats.

Here are the statements on the websites of these 3 companies regarding their gluten-free status:

McCann’s Irish Oats
Q. Are McCann’s Oat products gluten free?
A. All McCann’s oat products are processed in a dedicated oatmeal mill that handles only oatmeal. In the supply chain between farm and mill, there is a possible cross contamination with other grains, such as wheat and barley but we reckon that the level of non-oat grains to be less than 0.05%. Cleaning equipment within the milling process would remove the vast majority of these grains along with other elements such as stones, straw etc. But we cannot guarantee that McCann’s oats are totally gluten free and we recommend that consumers use their own judgement as to whether they wish to use our oatmeal or not. Many celiacs can tolerate our oatmeal products without any adverse effect but they may not suit those who are particularly sensitive.

Quaker Oats
Q. Do oats contain gluten?
A. Because oats are grown, stored, transported in bulk, they may contain trace amounts of wheat, rye and barley. USDA grain standards allow a certain percentage of other grains to be present in the oats. Therefore, gluten may be found in oats, even if very small amounts of these other grains are present.

Country Choice Oats
Q. Are your products wheat-free?
A. Some of our products do not contain wheat. However, all of our products are processed on shared equipment that uses wheat. Please read the ingredient list carefully before purchasing.

So, you are thinking, get to the point! Can we eat oats or not??

Yes, you can eat uncontaminated oats! There are two companies that I know of that are producing guaranteed gluten-free oats. One is Gluten Free Oats and the other is Gifts of Nature. I received a bag of oats as a present from my sister last year (that sounds kind of funny, but I was thrilled!) – I have since eaten oatmeal for breakfast and made oatmeal cookies and granola bars. (update 2/25/08: 2 more companies selling gluten-free oats are Creamhill Estates and Bob’s Red Mill).

There is also a company in Canada that is making granola bars, granola clusters and trail mix from uncontaminated oats – it is called Nonuttin’ Foods.

So, there you have it. That’s the deal with oats.

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  1. It’s so wonderful to see so many products that are actually good, becoming available for those who suffer from celiac disease!

  2. Thanks for sorting that all out. Ive been eating oats but was hesitant to give it to my kids who just went gluten free

  3. JR,
    Yes, the list is growing!

    So glad this helped you – let me know if there is any other information you would like to see on this site.

  4. Hi Karina

    Your peach crisp recipe looks great – just saw it today. Cream Hill Estates also have Lara’s gluten-free oats which are “toasted” so have a nutty flavour.


  5. Beth,
    Thanks for telling me about your oats. But I think you may have me confused with Karina the Gluten Free Goddess – I’ll take that as a compliment!

  6. There is a company in Montana that sells oatmeal, grown in fields that are dedicated to not having raised gluten-ed grains for at least 3 years, and their facility is GF. Please take a look at “Montana Gluten Free Processors”. I think their prices look good, but I’m really new to this (a week). Thanks to all of you out there who have make this road a little less lonesome! Melisa

  7. Boy, this is all new to me. Actually, my husband is the one with issues here. We are trying a Gluten free diet for him to see if this will help his symptoms. Doctor seemed to think he was ok because his initial blood tests came back just fine. (WE LIVE IN A SMALL TOWN)…I know he is not. I am hoping that the GF diet will help him. If not, back to square one. No one in this town makes GF bread for starters. Drives me nuts. Anything that I find in the store that is GF free is so DARN EXPENSIVE. I really am not that hep on reading labels as far as what he can have and not have…..That will take time. Anyone have any suggestions for a newbie here??? Thanks ahead…

  8. Christine,
    Order from Amazon to get great deals on GF foods and free shipping! Also, you might try making your own bread from a mix if you can’t find ready to eat bread in your town.

  9. I eat Bob’s Red Mill gluten free oats. They are a little more expensive than Quaker or other brands I used to eat, but it feels good to know I am giving myself something good that won’t make me sick. I buy them at my grocery store in the health food aisle, but I have also seen them at a health food store in a nearby town.

  10. Do you practice food combining principles? Do most celiacs use food combining or sequential eating or raw food/paleo diets as far as your experience goes? My doc has suggested this and it is very difficult to do this in addition to being gluten free.


  11. There is another company I have found that has gluten-free rolled oats, steel cut oats, oat flour, and 4 baking mixes – oatmeal cookies, pancakes, cinnamon muffins, chocolate muffins. My son loves the chocolate muffins and cookies! Their website is

  12. I have been eating Quakeroats 5days a week for about 2years, my chorlestrol is great but I always seem to have a mouthful of canker sores Im thinking I need to go or at least try Gluten free porridge, input please?

  13. Just read Wikipedia – it says that many oats do have gluten. Further research may be in order. TW

  14. As stated in the article, the oats themselves do not have gluten… But they are processed with machinery that handles other grains, such as wheat. So they are contaminated with gluten. Gluten sensitivity can be triggered by this small amount of gluten. Testing was done and all of the oat companies tested had some amount of gluten in them.

    Lesson… Do not trust research by Wikipedia @ tw.

  15. ALL Oats do contain a different type of gluten, I believe it’s called Alenin? It’s different from gluten that usually affects Celiacs, but a study in Australia found that it does affect about 1 in 5 with this disease. I can eat them without a problem, but I would talk to your doctor first!

  16. Just learned through testing that I cannot eat wheat, dairy, eggs, oranges, mangos, carrots, all fish it goes on and on. Does a wheat allergy equal glutiein allergy? Yikes! I am so confused….. Thx

  17. Jan, wow, that is a lot of allergies. I hope you have been able to figure it out! Have you found a good wheat-free substitute for oats? Am trying to bake cookies without any wheat. Thanks!