Are Oats Gluten Free? I get asked this question a lot and the answer isn’t as straight forward as one might think…
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
The term ‘Gluten’ is used to describe a group of complex proteins that are toxic to people with coeliac disease. These include the following:
- Wheat contains Gliadin (Gluten Protein)
- Rye contains Secalin (Gluten Protein)
- Barley contains Hordein (Gluten Protein)
- Oats contains Avenins (Gluten Protein)
In those with coeliac disease, ingesting the above proteins (Italics) is believed to cause an immune reaction1.
THE PROBLEM WITH GLUTEN TESTING
The current tests for gluten in food can measure gliadin (wheat), hordein (barley), and secalin (rye) but not avenin (oats). Because avenin is considered a ‘gluten’ the Australian Food Standards Code prohibits the use of a ‘gluten free’ claim on oat containing products (& technically they’re correct)2.
WHY ARE SOME OATS LABELLED GLUTEN FREE?
Regulations in the US and Europe differ from those here in Australia and therefore, imported oats are causing some confusion.
In the United States, because there is no test for avenin, oats can be labelled gluten free IF:
- There is no risk of farm or factory cross contamination with other gluten containing grains.
- Each batch is tested for less than 20ppm of gluten. In Australia, each batch has to be less than 3ppm (AKA No Gluten Detected).
As such, Quaker oats and other American/European brands available on our shelves can be labelled as gluten free.
BUT WHY DON’T SOME COELIACS REACT TO OATS?
The research states that the structure of the avenin protein, whilst it’s still considered a gluten, is less likely to cause a reaction in coealics2. This research from the University of Chicago is quoted ALL OVER the internet however, it’s not the only study. Others show a varied response, which is why I believe Coeliacs Australia and other regulatory bodies advise against coeliacs eating oats altogether.
TO SUM IT UP…
Oats aren’t gluten free. if you’re buying gluten free oats here in Australia know that they’re most likely from the United States or Europe and they may contain a form of gluten. Whether or not you react to this as a coeliac or someone with a gluten sensitivity is dependant on the individual. .
I hope that clears things up 🙂