Are oats celiac-safe? Oats are a highly controversial subject when it comes to celiac disease. With varying celiac associations coming out with varying degrees of certainty around their safety, and with countries like Australia out-right calling them unsafe, it’s easy to see how people might be confused about their safety.
In this post I will talk about why oats are controversial and if/when they are safe for celiac.
DISCLAIMER: this post was written with the United States and their labeling laws in mind, always make sure to do your own research. As always, the information presented in this post any other resource is for educational purposes only. Always consult your celiac dietitian before making any changes to your gluten-free precautions to make sure they are suitable to your needs.
Celiac-safe oats can be an excellent nourishing addition to a gluten-free diet. First, oats when celiac-safe, are a gluten-free whole grain.
This means they have many nutrition benefits to the body. From soluble fiber to help with meal satisfaction and satiety, to blood pressure and blood sugar stability, oats can be a great part of a balanced gluten-free diet.
They also can help nourish the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. This is because they have prebiotic activity from nutrients like beta-glucan that nourish the gut microbiome. Thus, supporting microbiome health with celiac disease.
Overall, if tolerated and sourced correctly, oats can be a healthy part of a celiac-safe diet. And I’m not the only one saying this. In the 2023 American College of Gastroenterology Guidelines for Diagnosing and Managing Celiac Disease, they strongly recommend that those with celiac consume oats while being monitored for tolerance (more on that in a moment).
To understand if oats are celiac-safe, it’s helpful to understand how they are processed. Here’s a quick lesson in how oats fit into our food system.
Because the oat supply is so heavily intertwined with our supply of gluten-containing grains, the safety of oats has been questioned. However, the good news is that Oats are naturally gluten-free and researchers caught on to their high-risk for cross-contact and so protocols were made and research on their safety was done.
Are oats celiac-safe? We know that oats are at high-risk for cross-contact with gluten due to their growing, processing and manufacturing steps.
So what oats are safe for celiac? In order for oats to be considered celiac-safe, they must be purity protocol or certified gluten-free. This is one of the (rare) cases where a gluten-free claim doesn’t cut it.
Perhaps, the gold standard of oats safe for celiacs are those processed via a “purity protocol”.
Purity protocol oats are oats that generally must:
Oats made following this protocol are generally considered the least triggering for people with celiac.
The Gluten-Free Watchdog has a list of verified purity protocol oats if you’re looking for them.
I like these ones from Amazon (note this is an affiliate link).
Unlike purity protocol oats, certified gluten-free oats are not required to meet as stringent criteria. They are however subjected to the 3rd party certifier’s ppm qualifiers.
For example, if oats are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GFCO), then they must test to below 10ppm of gluten. This is far less than the FDA generally safe standard of <20ppm of gluten.
This 3rd party testing is what helps keep manufacturers accountable, so we don’t have another Cheerio’s incident (read my post about the safety of Oreos to learn more about that).
The last way oats are safe for celiac is if they are in a certfied gluten-free product.
So if you see oats on an ingredient list that aren’t specified to be certified gluten-free or purity protocol BUT the product is certfied gluten-free, then the product is safe.
IF however, the product has oats that are not designated to be purity protocol or certified gluten-free and there is no gluten-free certification on the label, the product is not considered safe. This goes for if there is a gluten-free claim too.
The product must be certified gluten-free if the oats in the ingredients are not certified gluten-free or purity protocol.
The exception to this is if the company has a statement about their oats on their website, or when contacting the company, their able to tell you if the oats they use are certified, purity protocol, or tested to specific levels. Like for example, Bob’s Red Mill.
Despite celiac-safe oats being available, some people find they still react to them.
There’s a wide-spectrum here, some people find they do fine with certified gluten-free oats, some people find they can only safely eat purity protocol oats.
So what’s going? Why do some people react and other’s don’t?
There are a lot of things that could be going on here like:
This variance in reaction is why oats are so controversial. There are lots of things that play into people’s tolerance and that’s why, ultimately, it’s up to you, and your health care team to determine what’s right for you.
As always, double check with your health care provider to see if they are right for you. This post is not meant to take the place of individualized health-care but simply to provide information. I’m curious though, out of all of my readers, where does your body stand with oats?
Were you confused about oats? Do you need help taking back your life from celiac? Go from overwhelmed to confident with the Celiac Crash Course. A self-paced dietitian-led course that simplifies how to make avoiding gluten and cross-contact routine.