Oats have become a pantry staple in many households in the United States and across the world, used to make oatmeal, granola, cookies, overnight oats, and so much more!
Whether oats are gluten-free or not depends on a few factors. Pure oats are naturally gluten-free although these can also become unsafe to consume if in contact with gluten-containing foods and ingredients.
Why is this important to know? Those with extreme gluten sensitivities or celiac disease are at high risk of life-threatening symptoms if gluten is present in any foods or ingredients.
This article sets the record straight to answer a burning question within the gluten-free community: Are oats gluten-free? Is oat flour gluten-free? To answer this, I will go in-depth about a variety of oats available and how to navigate potential cross-contamination by knowing which brands are safest to purchase from.
The Different Types Of Oats
Oats come in various forms depending on the processes used to prepare them for consumption and specific uses. Here is a list of the different types of oats available:
Rolled oats are made from whole oat groats that have been dehusked, steamed, rolled flat, and then toasted. They are considered to be lightly processed.
Steel cut oats are made from whole oats that are chopped into 2-3 small pieces. They can be sold as is or further processed to be flattened.
Whole-grain oats are known as oat groats. They are simply grain kernels that have been cleaned with their inedible hulls removed.
Instant oats are also known as quick oats. They are pre-cooked, dried, rolled, and pressed. They are typically thinner than rolled oats and cook faster rolled oats or steel-cut oats.
Is Oat Flour Gluten Free?
Technically, yes. Since oat flour is a derivative of pure oats, it is gluten-free. This, however, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain other ingredients that may contain gluten. The product could also have been stored in a facility with other gluten-based products and ingredients.
Make your own oat flour from home or purchase a certified gluten-free oat flour from the grocery store.
Are Gluten Free Oats Safe For Celiac Disease?
I highly recommend purchasing from brands that specifically market their oats as “certified gluten-free”. While these brands will add a premium cost to their products, they do so because they have to ensure strict processes within their manufacturing and storage facilities to ensure zero cross-contamination. These companies are regulated by law and can be sued for any infringements.
According to FDA, certified gluten-free products must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten (parts per million).
How To Tell Which Brands Of Oats Are Gluten-Free?
Brands specifically marketing to gluten-free buyers will add this to their packaging. That said, it’s best to stick with those advertising “certified gluten-free” for complete peace of mind!
Always do your research and don’t blindly rely on blog post roundups. Reputable brands will provide their information on their websites for you to check, and if they don’t, skip them!
Cross-Contamination-What You Need To Know
Gluten contamination can occur during the processing of oats as well as the packaging and storing of the oats. Here are three main ways in which cross-contamination can occur, making oats potentially unsafe to consume for those with food allergies.
Storage And Manufacturing
Some facilities and warehouses that store regular oats also store other types of foods (including wheat products) and ingredients that contain gluten. While certain operating and storage protocols may be in place in a manufacturing facility, there’s always a risk of cross-contamination where oats can come into contact with gluten-containing grains and foods.
If in doubt, read up on the websites of brands to understand how they store their oats and only purchase from those who are certified gluten-free, especially if you or a loved one are celiac patients.
Boxed Breakfast Cereals
There are a variety of boxed breakfast cereals that contain a mixture of oats and other ingredients. While the oats themselves are gluten-free, they are in contact with other cereal ingredients which could include gluten-containing ingredients.
Never assume that a boxed breakfast cereal is gluten-free merely because it contains oats. Check the list of ingredients on the packaging. Even colorants and food additives can contain gluten or trigger allergies.
Added Recipe Ingredients To Avoid
When making treats or breakfast foods at home with oats and following recipes, scan the recipe for other ingredients called for to see whether these additional ingredients are gluten-based.
If any of the ingredients contain gluten, either omit them (if it won’t affect the final product) or use an appropriate substitute.
For example, if you make oat breakfast cookies and the recipe calls for all-purpose flour or wheat flour, use certified gluten-free flour instead, such as Bob's Red Mill or Schar. These small recipe adaptations will help you stay clear of unnecessary health complications from the presence of gluten.
While pure oats are gluten-free, you now know that there are various factors that can easily change this, largely as a result of cross-contamination and additional ingredients added to packaged food products.
Always read the food labels of packaged foods, select certified gluten-free oats where possible, and be mindful to store your oats in separate containers at home, away from other gluten-containing products and pantry ingredients that may contain gluten!
If you suspect that you have a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, be sure to contact a health professional who can administer a blood test to determine whether you have a celiac autoimmune disorder or gluten sensitivity.
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