Theoretically, oats are naturally gluten free. But they are one of the top cereals at risk of cross contamination. Plus, some people with celiac disease or who suffer from gluten sensitivity also react to avenin, a protein found in oats.
Oats are often contaminated with gluten since they're typically grown on the same fields as and/or processed in the same facility or on the same equipment as wheat, barley, and rye, which are the classic gluten-containing grains.
In a nutshell: Are oats gluten free?
Yes, pure, uncontaminated oats are gluten free, and a really useful gluten free ingredient to stock in your kitchen pantry. If you're gluten free, though, you must purchase only certified gluten free oats. That's because oats are frequently grown, harvested and processed alongside gluten, or with the same equipment or on the same production lines as gluten containing grains. These processes lead easily to contamination with gluten.
That's why many people with celiac disease or who follow a gluten free diet often seem to react badly to oats – because they're using regular oats contaminated with gluten.
Oats that are grown on dedicated fields and stored in dedicated gluten-free silos will be labeled “Certified Gluten Free” in the United States. Some celiacs are also sensitive to oats, but they are not a gluten-containing grain when in their pure form.
Are oats safe on a strict gluten free diet?
Only certain oats are deemed truly safe for people with celiac disease. This is why it's so crucial to only buy certified gluten free oat products that are reliably segregated (like so-called purity protocol oats) and/or tested for contamination (like mechanically-separated oats).
Some people, however, are sensitive to oats—or at least the protein in oats called avenin. But the majority of people on a gluten free diet can tolerate gluten-free certified oats very well. And even if you can't tolerate even strictly gluten free oats, that simply means you're also sensitive to oats, not that they're gluten-containing.
You may find that there are those who insist that oats are not gluten free because they have celiac disease and cannot tolerate oats. But that's just their personal experience, and it's often a secondary food intolerance or sensitivity.
Creating gluten free oats
In the United States, oats cannot contain gluten in a ration of more than 20 parts per million to be considered gluten free. To put this another away, there cannot be more than 20 fragments of gluten for every 1 million fragments of oats. Put it this way, it seems undeniable: “regular” oats are very often contaminated with gluten.
However, this may actually seem like an incredible standard —20 parts per million sounds like nothing! Unfortunately, if you suffer from celiac disease, that can be unacceptable.
So how is it that you see gluten free oats online and in stores? There are tons of products labeled gluten free. There are two methods manufacturers can use to qualify for this type of labeling — one, if followed perfectly, will result in 100% gluten free oats.
The Purity Protocol consists of many steps during the manufacturing process that must be followed to produce oats that are truly free of gluten. Because these oats don't come into contact with wheat during the entire manufacturing process, from growing and harvesting to storage and processing, they are the most likely to be truly gf and safe for people with celiac disease.
Mechanical separation is a process where manufacturers use machines to physically remove gluten grains from harvested and processed oats.
If a company commits to using mechanical sorting, that means it isn't required to grow its oats in fields where only oats are grown or store the finished product in an environment that's free of other gluten containing ingredients and products. The risk of cross-contact and gluten contamination is sizable.
So, to go back to the original question: Is there gluten in oats? The answer is once again, “technically”, and now you see why.
What brands of oats are gluten free?
This list of gluten free oat brands isn't exhaustive, and ingredients and practices change all the time, so it's crucial that you check for gluten free certification before you purchase. But here are some of the most popular gluten free oat brands:
- Quaker Oats (mechanical separation and testing methods used)
- GF Bob's Red Mill (combination of purity protocol and mechanical separation methods used)
- GF Harvest (purity protocol oats)
- Zego (purity protocol oats)
Are Quaker Oats gluten free?
Yes and no. Most of Quaker's products are not certified gluten free, as although the oats themselves are gf, they're processed alongside gluten containing grains. Quaker doesn't use purity protocol oats, and instead relies on mechanical separation, but does engage in vigorous testing.
They do sell a few products that are listed as gluten free, but they still use mechanical separation of their oats. These products include Quaker Oats Select Starts Gluten Free Quick 1-minute oatmeal and several varieties of gluten free instant oatmeal, including original and maple and brown sugar.
As mentioned, cross-contamination is a real threat with oats, because they're so commonly harvested and processed alongside gluten containing grains. Gluten contamination occurs when wheat, barley, rye, triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid).
In this scenario, there's a strong chance that an unacceptably high percentage of gluten grains will be present in the final oat product, rendering it unsafe for people with celiac disease or following a gluten free diet.
Only buy products from trusted brands that are labeled gluten free.
When are oats not gluten free?
Aside from products that have been cross contaminated, many brands add wheat ingredients in flavorings, to stop the product clumping, or to reduce costs and bulk out the products.
Always check the label and only buy certified gluten free products.
Are breakfast cereals containing oats gluten free?
If a cereal containing oats is labeled gluten free, you know it's safe as it's made from uncontaminated oats. But if there's no gf certification, then the cereal should not be considered gluten free, as there may be hidden gluten from cross contamination, even if the ingredient list appears clean. And remember, some cereals may use wheat or other gluten grains in their products.
Are whole grain oats gluten free?
Whole grain oats undergo minimal processing. They aren't chopped, ground, or otherwise refined, so you might think they have a better chance of being gluten free oats.
Unfortunately, if they are processed on the same equipment as wheat products and/or grown or stored in mixed fields and silos, they're contaminated and may contain gluten.
Do steel cut oats have gluten?
Steel cut oats are a type of whole grain oat because whole grain hasn't been rolled. Instead, it's been chopped for a chewy texture. And again, if it's been grown in wheat fields or processed in facilities that process wheat, there's the same chance for cross contamination.
Are rolled oats gluten free?
Rolled oats have been processed to remove the husk. They're also steamed and flattened so that they're softer and faster to cook. And unless they're produced using the Purity Protocol, there's a chance they've seen cross contact with gluten.
Are quick oats gluten free?
Quick oats are similar to rolled oats in that they're processed. The difference is that quick oats undergo even more chopping, steaming, and flattening so that they cook very quickly. Because of all this extra handling, if they're processed in a shared facility or on shared equipment with gluten-containing products, they may be cross contaminated with gluten—unless a manufacturer follows the Purity Protocol.
Are organic oats gluten free?
To be considered organic, oats must be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Being organic has nothing to do with be gf; it's not a requirement that these oats be grown on dedicated fields or be processed using dedicated equipment.
Gluten free Recipes Using Oats
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using gluten free oats. Are oats gluten free? These certainly are! And my family loves them all. Granola bars, energy bites, oatmeal cookies, no-flour muffins, all packed with whole grains. I hope you can enjoy them all!
I've finally cracked the code to appropriate substitutes for oats in gluten free baking, so you can enjoy all the recipes below, with the proper substitution, even if you can't have even strictly gluten free oats! Different types of oat-based recipes call for different substitutes, but I explain it all (plus an explanation of why in each instance).
Is oat flour gluten free?
Made from pure oats, oat flour is naturally gluten free. But as with all other oats, its gluten free status depends on the manufacturing facility and production process. Only products labeled gluten free are truly safe for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
Is oatmeal gluten free?
If made from pure oats and certified gluten free, oatmeal is suitable for gluten free diets. But, as with all oat products, it's important you buy from a trusted source of uncontaminated oats. Make sure the oatmeal you want to purchase has a gluten free label.
Is oat flour the same as gluten free flour?
Yes and no. If certified gluten free, oat flour is a whole-grain gluten free flour. But it doesn't behave like wheat flour. Instead, as you'll see for many of my recipes, I like to use an all purpose gluten free flour blend. Although oat flour is very useful for specific recipes, like these easy oat flour chocolate chip cookies. And I can even show you how to make your own oat flour.
Is oat milk gluten free?
Oat milk is naturally gluten free, but it could've faced cross contamination during production. So, even for oat milk, you'll want to check for a gluten free label. Find out more about oat milk and gluten free suitability here.