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. This brings the question, are oats celiac-safe?
DISCLAIMER: this post was written with the United States and their labeling laws in mind, always make sure to do your own research.
How oats are processed
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of the safety of oats for celiac disease, let’s first take a quick lesson in how oats fit in our food system. It’s important to build this understanding because it helps depict why oats can be risky.
Oat Processing steps
- Oats are typically grown along side gluten-containing grains or are grown in fields in rotation with them. For example, oats are often planted in fields that have previously grown wheat. This puts them at risk for cross-contact during growing.
- Oats are often processed on the same equipment as wheat which leaves for more room for cross-contact, especially since sorting is always a 100%.
- Oats are often not tested to ensure that they’re gluten-free despite their high-risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains.
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.
celiac-safe forms of oats
So 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 the one of the (rare) cases where a gluten-free claim doesn’t cut it.
Purity Protocol oats
Perhaps, the gold standard of celiac-safe oats are those processed via a “purity protocol”.
Purity protocol oats are oats that generally meat the following criteria:
- they have not been grown in fields that have previously or recently grown wheat (this differs per grower)
- they are processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility
- they are tested to make sure they are gluten-free
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).
Certified gluten-free oats
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).
Oats in Certified gluten-free products
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.
When to consider avoiding oats
Despite the safe options of people with celiac have for oats, some people find they still react.
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:
- Oat intolerance or food sensitivity
- Celiac response to oats (but note this is found in a SMALL subset of the celiac population, we’re talking <1%)
- Wide-spectrum of needs when it comes to staying gluten-free (some people find they are more sensitive to gluten than others).
- MAYBE gluten cross-reactivity (learn more about it here).
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.
In summary on the safety of oats for celiac:
Oats are generally celiac-safe when:
- they are purity protocol
- certified gluten-free
- are in a certified gluten-free product (this applies to everything from oatmeal to oat milk)
- you don’t have an allergy or intolerance
Oats may NOT be celiac-safe when:
- your health-care provider tells you to avoid them
- you have an intolerance or sensitivity to them
- they aren’t certified gluten-free or purity protocol
- they only have a gluten-free claim
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 through my coaching services!