Historically, the use of oats in gluten-free diets has been very controversial. This controversy has died down substantially in recent years thanks to numerous studies that have found the daily intake of moderate amounts of gluten-free oats to be safe for the vast majority of persons with celiac disease.

So what exactly are “gluten-free oats?”

The Food and Drug Administration states in their proposed rule for the labeling of food as gluten-free that oats and oat products may be labeled gluten free as long as the final food product contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

It is important to understand that oats themselves do not contain gluten but may become contaminated with gluten anywhere along the line from field to market. For example, oats are frequently grown in rotation with or next to gluten-containing grains. As a consequence, there may be the occasional wheat or barley plant growing among the oat plants. When the oats are harvested, wheat and barley will be harvested too.

Are oats on store shelves gluten free?

Typically the oats you find on the grocery store shelf are not gluten free. A few years ago I tested three brands of commercially available oat products for gluten. Not one of the brands consistently tested gluten free and some batches contained very high levels of gluten.

As a result, it is highly recommended that you eat only those oats that are gluten free. While the FDA rule on gluten-free labeling has not been finalized, there are a handful of companies in the United States and Canada who are producing oats that are gluten free based on testing. These companies are accomplishing this through very careful growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing procedures.

There also are an increasing number of manufacturers of gluten-free foods incorporating oats into their products. It is important to make sure the oats they are using are gluten free.

You may be wondering what exactly companies do to ensure their oats are gluten free. The owners of Cream Hill Estates agreed to tell us.

“Cream Hill contracts directly with seed growers who are certified by the Canadian Seed Growers Association and who are steadfast in protecting the oats from cross-contamination with other grains during planting, growth, harvest, transport and storage. (Purity is the name of the game in the seed-growing industry.) Their fields have been wheat-, barley- and rye-free for at least three years before our oats are planted. Seed to be planted is checked for contaminating grains by a certified seed laboratory. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects the crop during growth for the possible presence of contaminating grains. Only dedicated or thoroughly-cleaned equipment is used. At harvest, the seed that will be used for rolled oats and oat flour is checked by the seed lab for the presence of contaminating grains.

“Our processor’s dedicated mill is certified gluten-free (as is Cream Hill’s packaging facility) by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) in Seattle. Finally, after milling into rolled oats and oat flour our products are tested for gluten using the state-of-the-art R5-ELISA method (the validated Ridascreen Gliadin R-7001 test kit not to be confused with the Ridascreen Fast Gliadin R-7002 test kit). All testing is done by outside independent laboratories. 91% of our 2008 test results have been below the limit of quantitation (less than 5 parts per million of gluten); the other 9% are below 10 parts per million of gluten.”

Thank you Cream Hill Estates!

Sources of gluten-free oats and gluten-free oat products
Cream Hill Estates (www.creamhillestates.com)
Gluten-Free Oats (www.glutenfreeoats.com)
Only Oats (www.onlyoats.com)
Bob’s Red Mill (www.bobsredmill.com)
Gift of Nature (www.giftsofnature.net)
Holly’s Au Natural Oatmeal (www.hollysoatmeal.com)
Tracey’s Treats (www.traceystreats.com)
Desire Tree International (www.wonderenergybar.com)

Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD

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Finding Gluten-Free Oats