Whether you have been dealing with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you are familiar with how quickly your body detects foods with gluten and reacts in unpleasant ways to the foreign invader. Oats is a breakfast staple for many us. It has a variety of health benefits. But is oatmeal gluten free?
Sufferers of gluten sensitivity may have to cut out certain grains that contain the protein gluten to avoid symptoms that are not limited to fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, moodiness, muscle and joint pain, nutritional deficiencies and skin problems.
Many people are ditching the wheat for gluten-free grains like quinoa, amaranth and rice. Some are also turning to oats. However, there’s confusion about whether oats actually contain gluten or not.
What Exactly Is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein naturally occurring in the rye, barley and wheat. Appropriately named, gluten is a glue-like protein that gives certain grains their elasticity and thickness. A National Institute of Health article entitled “What is Gluten?” by JR Biesiekierski states that the compound actually contains hundreds of proteins, gliadin and glutenin being the major ones.
Most types of bread, pasta, and cereal contain glutenous grains. Foods that contain gluten have become a staple of cooking for their texture and taste. Biesiekierski goes on to state that gluten can withstand heat. Therefore, its commonly used in processing foods to bind ingredients and improve texture, flavor and moisture retention.
However, with new discoveries that point to gluten’s harm to our health, many are searching for other alternatives. As mentioned by Biesiekierski, “gliadin contains peptide sequences that are highly resistant to gastric, pancreatic, and intestinal proteolytic digestion in the gastrointestinal tract.” This basically means that the body’s attempt to break down gluten often is to no avail. This may be an ideal quality for cooking, but not for the body’s digestive system.
Is Oatmeal Gluten Free?
Oats are grains that are known to be high in both protein and soluble and insoluble fiber . For these reasons, they are also popular grains and are used to make cereals, certain breads, infant formulas and healthy snacks.
But oats stand out in comparison to its fellow glutenous grains and has been deemed acceptable for use with a gluten-free diet.
Some may decide to just eliminate all foods containing oats, such as oatmeal, from their diet to avoid gluten consumption. However, according to a few studies, oats can be safely consumed by both those with celiac disease and those who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Coeliac UK mentions that oats contain a protein called avenin, which is similar to gluten.
However, it is known that this protein does not have the same effect as gluten and is therefore safe for gluten sensitive people.
Authors C Klose and EK Arendt provide some additional reasons for oats being safer to consume. While glutenous grains contain high amounts of prolamins for protein storage, oats, on the other hand, have a higher quantity of globulin and little prolamins. Therefore, their structures are more similar to dicots like legumes. They also have a higher amino acid composition and better nutritional value overall.
Studies in patients with celiac disease show that oats are safe to consume. K Garsed and BB Scott conducted a study that has been published in the US National Library of Medicine. Among 165 patients with celiac disease, it was found that only 1 endured negative effects from consuming oats.
Another author, T Thompson, published a separate study in the US National Library of Medicine. The largest and most scientifically reputable study that had ever been carried out to test the safety of oats. It was found that oats are safe for adults ridden with celiac disease, the most serious form of gluten sensitivity.
Both authors mention that although oats are proven safe, the level of contamination with other gluten containing grains is often unknown but a considering factor.
How Can Oats Become Contaminated With Gluten?
Oats don’t naturally contain gluten, but we often don’t consider how careless the cultivation and production processes can be. By the time oatmeal and other oat products reach the grocer’s aisle, they may not be in their original state.
One study that assesses the contamination of oats, entitled “Gluten Contamination In The Canadian Commercial Oat Supply,” discovered that around 88% of the oats tested had some level of contamination, and the source of contamination is usually difficult to find. Possible ways oats can become mixed with glutenous grains include the following:
- During packaging
- Field cross-contamination
- During milling
- During transport
Are All Oats Contaminated?
We know that oats naturally do not contain gluten and are generally safe to consume on a gluten-free diet. Anyone who consumes oats is bound to have no or significantly fewer symptoms of gluten sensitivity upon consuming them.
However, to be perfectly safe, it’s wise to choose oats that are labeled as gluten-free. This means the oats have been grown, tested and packaged scrupulously to ensure that they do not contain gluten.
Although gluten is ideal for creating delicious foods, it wreaks havoc on some of the population’s digestive systems and can lead to life-altering side-effects. Those who are sensitive to gluten can rest assured that oats are safe to consume. However, it’s important to look for those that are labeled as gluten-free.
Staying gluten-free isn’t always easy to do. So it’s also a good idea to explore other gluten-free foods to help you avoid reliance on gluten-containing grains.