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Are oats suitable for those on a gluten-free diet?
Most of us, at some point or another, have been told that oats are a gluten-free grain but, as they are often processed with grains that contain gluten, they cannot be considered suitable for a gluten-free diet. But that is not the whole story.
Before asking if oats are gluten-free, we first need to take a closer look at gluten…
What is gluten?
Gluten is the collective name we give to two types of protein that are found in wheat and other grains. These are prolamins and glutelins. Together, these proteins form a glue-like substance when flour and water are mixed.
It is the prolamins within the gluten that are most likely to cause sensitivity. The most common ones are gliadins in wheat, secalins in rye, and hordeins in barley. Oats also contain a prolamin protein. It is called avenin.
The structure of gluten varies amongst grains. It is why bread made with wheat flour is different to bread made only with rye, or barley. The structure of the prolamins also varies. This explains why some people may find wheat more inflammatory than other grains that contain gluten.
Are oats gluten-free?
So, do oats contain gluten? Strictly speaking, as they contain both glutelins and prolamins, yes they do. But the portion of the proteins that can cause allergy or sensitivity is far less than in wheat or other gluten containing grains, and their composition is somewhat different.
Are oats suitable for a gluten-free diet?
Avenin may, but not necessarily, cause a reaction in those with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. If you do experience sensitivity to oats it may be specific to avenin, it may be triggered by contamination from other grains, or it may be both.
Cross contamination of gluten proteins can occur when oats are grown, transported, or processed, with other gluten containing grains. Oats that are labelled gluten-free have been tested and are certified free of gluten contamination. The tests however only measure for gliadin, secalin, or hordein. They do not include avenin. Here in Australia there is no gluten-free labelling for oats but they can be packaged as certified wheat-free.
Oats are an excellent source of nutrition and should not be dismissed lightly. An intolerance to avenin alone is not particularly common, so most people are fine with certified wheat-free oats.
What grains are gluten-free?
Although not all true grains, sorghum, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, corn and rice are all gluten-free.
Because of our strict labelling laws, if you buy gluten-free granola in Australia it should not contain oats. Oats is not technically gluten free and products sold as gluten free oats in Australia are breaking the law. (Oats, which is very low in gluten, is allowed to be sold as “Gluten Free” in the USA for example, but that does not help Coeliacs.)
That doesn’t make it any less delicious though. A lot of gluten-free granola is made with puffed grains such as rice or buckwheat, and crunchy nuggets of quinoa.
Should you Eat Gluten Free Products.
For most people the answer is a definite no. “The reality is, for most people, there is no benefit to gluten free products and in fact it may be to their detriment. Health professionals don’t like people to consume gluten-free product unless it is necessary. Because 98 percent of people simply don’t have gluten issues.” [from an article by Opera Foods 2017. “Misconceptions about Gluten Free Products“]
Whole grains, including the gluten grains wheat, barley rye and especially oats are loaded with nutrition and fibre and are health promoting. They are linked to reduced risk of: cancer, diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, and other chronic diseases. The fact is, a gluten free diet could be harmful.
Grain-free breakfast cereal
There are times when you want go further than gluten-free and need a grain-free breakfast cereal. Also you probably want a low sugar cereal breakfast. It isn’t easy to satisfy the sweet, milky, crispy crunch that only cereal and milk can give but the right combo of fruit, nuts and seeds can hit the spot.
So, although oats may be off the menu for some of us, there are still plenty of options when it comes to gluten-free granola or even grain-free cereal.
Check out our article on ‘what is a healthy breakfast‘ and find out why wholegrain cereal is the heart of a healthy breakfast.