Are oats gluten-free? This is a question I’m often asked by someone new to the gluten-free diet.
The short answer is, yes, oatmeal and oats are gluten-free. The long answer is, no, you can’t eat oatmeal unless it’s made with certified gluten-free oats.
Let me explain.
Oats are naturally gluten-free. They do not contain any gluten.
Are Oats Gluten-Free? Processing
However, the way oats are grown and processed in the U.S., they are notoriously cross contaminated with wheat, making many of us celiacs asking, “Are oats gluten-free?” Oats are grown on shared fields with wheat, often in rotation with the wheat, barley or rye crops. The same machinery used to harvest wheat is often used to harvest oats, and the machinery is not cleaned between uses. The same grain holding bins are used to store wheat and oats, and the same transport trucks are used for both too.
Thus, when you eat oats, it’s likely you’re eating wheat too.
Are Oats Gluten-Free? Labeling
The labeling of oats makes everything so confusing too.
If a product says it uses “certified gluten-free oats,” then the product contains less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten (if the product is manufactured in the U.S.). Products labeled “gluten-free” – but are not “certified” by a third party agency, simply have to meet FDA requirements of less than 20 ppm of gluten. These companies are self-regulated and make these claims on their own accords (in other words, the FDA doesn’t test the food to ensure the claims are accurate. The FDA would only get involved if customers file complaints).
However, some manufacturers’ labeling of oats and gluten-free oats is so darn confusing!
For example, if a product has no gluten (or gluten containing) ingredients in it, but it contains oats that aren’t labeled as “certified gluten-free,” then it’s likely that product uses gluten-contaminated oats and should not be consumed by anyone on a gluten-free diet. The Gluten-Free Watchdog tested products containing non-certified gluten-free oats and two of the products tested above 20 ppm gluten.
So the answer to the questions, “Are oats gluten-free?” is: No, just because an ingredient label lists oats as an ingredient doesn’t mean the oats are gluten-free nor safe for you to eat!
The Gluten Free Watchdog is an authority on this topic and has a lot to say about whether or not oats are gluten-free.
The Watchdog says if you want to eat oatmeal and oats, eat only single-ingredient oat products that are labeled with a gluten-free certification. If you want to eat a product with multiple ingredients that contain oats, look for those that contain only certified gluten-free oats and avoid those that just say “oats.”
(Ed. Note: Ingredient lists cannot contain extraneous words, so the words “gluten-free” may not be in the ingredient listing, but instead may be listed somewhere on the package to alert you that certified gluten-free oats were used. You must only eat oats that are made with manufacturers who adhere to such purity protocols and standards.)
What about Oats that are Optically Sorted?
Mainstream brands like Cheerios (General Mills), Chex and Quaker are using oats that are “optically sorted” – meaning they have special technology that sorts regular oats from gluten contaminants like wheat, rye and barley. While optical sorting seems to be working, and the companies are proudly marketing their food as “gluten-free,” without a certification from a third-party testing agency, the customer is left to guess if the oats they are consuming are truly safe to eat.
We know that when companies use optical sorting they test the products in batches for gluten contamination. That means only some of the oats are tested while others are not and then the average of all the batches tested needs to contain less than 20 ppm. Some batches may be higher, some may be lower – how is a consumer to know?
The Gluten Free Watchdog has a list of safe gluten-free oatmeal and oat products that you can consult to see if the brand you use (or want to use) uses methods you are comfortable with. By definition, “safe” means companies using gluten-free oats that are not optically or mechanically sorted and are grown in dedicated gluten-free fields using dedicated gluten-free equipment, etc. The list includes products from Avena Foods, GF Harvest, Marshall Gluten-Free Milling (now working with Avena Foods), Montana Gluten-Free Processors, GF Jules, Glutenfreeda, Gluten-Free Prairie, and Libre Naturals.
The Gluten Free Watchdog also notes that Nature’s Path, Bob’s Red Mill, Cream Hill Estates and Bakery on Main all use mechanically/optically sorted oats even though they are certified gluten-free. She includes statements from each of these companies in the comments section of this post, which I highly encourage you to read if you are concerned about eating only gluten-free oatmeal and gluten-free oats in your diet. I’ve also included additional information about these company’s positions on gluten-free oats and gluten-free oatmeal below.
Are Bob’s Red Mill Oats Gluten-Free?
I personally use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free oats in many of my gluten-free baked goods recipes. I feel completely fine after eating them. The company has been making gluten-free products for 30+ years, but it does use optical sorting. Here is a statement from the company about its gluten-free processes:
“To assure the integrity of all of our gluten free products, we adhere to a standard of no more than 19 parts per million of gluten. We’ve even built a separate gluten free facility with specialized machinery to make sure that our products maintain their purity—just as nature intended. By going to these lengths, we’re able to ensure that folks with wheat allergies, celiac disease and gluten intolerance can trust our products… our Gluten Free Oats are guaranteed pure and delicious. To ensure that they stay just as gluten free as the day their seedlings sprouted from the earth, we test each batch in our quality control laboratory when they arrive from the farm and once again after they are packaged in our dedicated gluten free facility.”
Are Nature’s Path Oats Gluten-Free?
“We are very proud of the 30 Gluten Free products that we have. So much so, we are busy adding more! In order to ensure that our products are safe for those following a Gluten Free diet, we adhere to the following:
- We manufacture our gluten-free cereals together isolating them from any products that contain gluten.
- All processing equipment is thoroughly cleaned before a run of gluten-free cereals.
- To further ensure that our lines are free of any gluten containing grains, a specified portion — at the beginning of the run — is not utilized in gluten-free cereals.
- Our equipment is inspected in order to maintain our cleaning standards.
To be certain that a product is Gluten Free, always look for the Certified Gluten Free logo. The Gluten Free logo stands for the independent verification of quality, integrity, and purity of products. Products carrying the Gluten Free logo represents unmatched reliability and for meeting strict gluten-free standards. The Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) is the leading gluten-free certification program in the world.”
Are Bakery on Main’s Oats Gluten-Free?
Bakery on Main’s gluten-free oatmeal and gluten-free oat products are also certified gluten-free by GFCO. Here is the statement from the company’s website:
“Bakery On Main prides itself in the safety and quality of all of its products. We make every effort to ensure that our products will be safe for those suffering from Celiac Disease while tasting great to everyone who enjoys them! Bakery On Main’s new facility is 100% dedicated gluten free and all of our products are certified gluten free (by GFCO), NON-GMO Project Verified, Kosher Parve, and Dairy & Casein free!”
Are Trader Joe’s Oats Gluten-Free?
Are you wondering if Trader Joe’s oatmeal is gluten-free? Trader Joe’s says its oats are grown in a dedicated gluten-free field and are gluten-free from harvest to packaging.)
So Are Oats Gluten-Free and Safe for those with Celiac Disease?
Yes, those with a celiac disease diagnosis can safely eat oats as long as they are certified gluten-free. I have celiac disease and eat oatmeal almost every morning for breakfast. I feel fine. Of course, everyone is different, so see how you feel after eating certified gluten-free oats and gluten-free oatmeal and go from there. Good luck!