Gluten free oats should be a staple of your gluten-free lifestyle, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about oats and whether there really are gluten free oats safe for celiacs and others with gluten sensitivity.
While there are some people who truly cannot tolerate oats, the majority of folks can add oats to their diets safely, so long as the oats are truly gluten free. So what does it mean for oats to be truly “gluten free?”
To be truly gluten free, oats need to be grown and harvested and packaged in dedicated areas. Oat groats are so similarly sized to wheat and barley, in particular, that farmers often maximize efficiencies by using the same equipment and rotate crops through the same fields — leading to rampant cross-contamination.
Until recently this wasn’t such a big problem, as buying “gluten free oats” usually meant that you were buying certified gluten-free, and “Purity Protocol” oats, meaning:
However, large companies have recently gotten into the mix, offering mass-produced foods to gluten free consumers by using cheaper, regular contaminated oats, and attempting to optically or mechanically sort out most of the gluten grains in order to represent to consumers that their oats contain less than 20 ppm gluten (the FDA standard for gluten free labeling).
Unfortunately, we’ve seen many instances already where consumers have been made sick by these products because they are not gluten free enough. These large companies are not opening their doors to independent auditing, inspection, testing and certification, so there is no way to really know how safe the oats are, except that we know they’re making people sick.
For more on which companies to trust and which are using regular oats that they attempt to separate, hop to Gluten Free Watchdog’s list of vetted companies which source and sell only purity protocol oats.
There should be a very black and white line between purity protocol oats = gluten free and sorted oats not being gluten free enough for those who need to trust that their food is gluten free every time. But right now, there is not. It is very much buyer beware.
As disappointing and even as shocking as it is, some gluten free certifiers are certifying products containing oats that are mechanically and optically sorted despite what we know about how risky these products are and how much like roulette it is to incorporate them into gluten free labeled products.
We should be able to enjoy oats since they are a naturally gluten free grain, but because oats are so often contaminated with gluten containing grains in fields, harvesting, milling, processing and packaging, they are considered an inherently risky gluten free product. Thus, they merit an extra layer of scrutiny and require an extra layer of safety. Which is where purity protocol — as opposed to simply sorting — comes in.
Oats are not just in breads and cereals — you need to check every label every time for every ingredient. Oat milk, creamers and ice creams are some of the newest products containing oats on the market, but most of these products are NOT made with purity protocol oats, even if they are certified gluten free.
Let me repeat that. EVEN IF THEY ARE CERTIFIED GLUTEN FREE, most oat products on the market are NOT made with purity protocol oats. It makes for a very confusing situation as a gluten free shopper.
If you are concerned, simply reach out to a manufacturer yourself to find out if they are using purity protocol oats. This was the response I received when I contacted Elmhurst 1925 directly and they confirmed that their oat supplier is using purity protocol:
Thank you so much for reaching out to us. Our oat supplier has taken a strong stance against the use of glyphosate and has banned the growers from using it. The supplier tests the harvest samples from every grower for any residues. The certified gluten free oats offered by our supplier are produced under a gluten-free purity protocol, which eliminates the risk of cross contamination.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Thanks for your time and have a good day!
All the Best,
The Elmhurst Team
Celiac and the Beast also maintains a current list of companies making products with sorted versus companies with purity protocol oats. This distinction is being applied across the spectrum of products as manufacturers turn to oats as an ingredient for products like oat milks, oat yogurts, oat frozen treats, oat creamers and more.
Fortunately for those of us who follow a gluten free diet for medical reasons, there are still Purity Protocol Oats available, so we can enjoy oats safely. But the future of these oats remains unclear because the demand for these oats is drying up as companies realize they can buy contaminated oats, attempt to separate most of the gluten out of them, and sell them as “gluten free” for a profit. If you want to continue to have a choice — continue to be able to buy truly gluten free oats — there is something you can do to help.
As a reader, you probably already know that Gluten Free Harvest are the oats I trust and the oats that I offer here on my site. Ever since I met the family farmers who literally walk the fields during the harvest to stop the combine so they can pull out any undesirable plants that could contaminate their crop, I knew that I could trust them to provide the safest, highest quality oats to me and to my customers.
To learn more about these certified gluten free oats and how they are grown and processed, as well as why I chose GF Harvest Oats to sell through my site, listen to Jules’ Gluten Free Voice podcast interview with Seaton Smith from GF Harvest.
In addition, Gluten Free Harvest does not allow glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide) on any of its oats, conventional or organic. (For more on some companies whose oats contain unsafe levels of glyphosate, go here.)
Pure gluten free oats — whether from Gluten Free Harvest or another trusted company — belong in your diet as much as they do in everyone else’s. Actually, people following a gluten free diet have added reason to want certified gluten free oats in their diets. For one, the beta glucans found in oats reduce bad LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, and they lessen both glycemic and insulin response. But those same beta glucans bolster immune system defenses against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Know anyone in the gluten free community who could use a little extra immune system strength?
The fiber in gluten free oats also works on your body’s behalf, long after your yummy breakfast (or oat-rich dessert like cobblers or cookies!). Oats’ fiber gives you a fuller feeling, longer, so you’re less likely to feel hungry and snack. Also, one study showed 59% of elderly test subjects had discontinued their use of laxatives after just 6 weeks of daily oat bran consumption.
Early oat consumption by young children has even been statistically linked to a reduction in the likelihood of the development of persistent asthma. To read more about whether gluten free oats are safe in your diet, hop to my article here.
Forrest Smith, co-owner and marketing manager of GF Harvest, in a Gluten Free & More interview with Erica Dermer (Celiac and the Beast), urges us all to ask our favorite brands to use purity protocol oats, “Call every company that makes a gluten free oat product and ask them if they are only using purity protocol oats in it. They might not tell who you the company they are buying from, but they should be able to answer this question…Tell them that you are not willing to take the risk of eating sorted oats so you will not be buying this product anymore.”