Oats are a popular dietary staple with a super impressive nutritional profile and a whole host of health benefits.
But are they gluten-free?
It’s a question that puzzles people and the answer isn’t as simple as you may have initially thought.
What is Gluten, Where Does it Come From and What Foods is it in?
Gluten isn’t a standalone product or ingredient as such, but rather a range of proteins that originate in wheat, rye, spelt and barley.
The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin, which are generally the troublemakers when it comes to gluten intolerance.
These strands, along with the rest of the gluten family of proteins, are most commonly found in cereals and in flour.
Gluten is what makes dough spongy and allows it to rise – which is why, when flour is mixed with water, it becomes spongy.
Wheat, and therefore gluten, is often found in bread and baked goods, soups, pasta, cereals, sauces and salad dressings.
Barley, which also contains gluten, can be found in soups, malt, beer and brewer’s yeast.
Rye can be found in various bread and beers. Yep, gluten is pretty darn hard to escape!
What is the Issue with Gluten?
For most people, gluten is consumed and tolerated in the body with no issues.
However, there are several medical conditions that result in the body rejecting it or reacting badly to the proteins.
Coeliac disease is the most severe type of gluten intolerance.
This is where the body is unable to recognise gluten as a foodstuff.
Instead of absorbing the nutrients in the usual way, the immune system attacks it as a foreign body to break it down and frequently damages the gut wall in the process.
It’s estimated that up to 1% of the population suffer from coeliac disease – and if you do, you’ll probably know about it, as it can make you feel extremely poorly.
Symptoms of coeliac disease include severe diarrhoea, bloating, malnutrition, abdominal pain and rapid weight loss.
It can even cause the stunt of growth in children.
Coeliac disease is not an allergy or normal food intolerance, but rather an autoimmune disease.
A wheat allergy will manifest as an immediate negative reaction to consuming gluten.
In the majority of cases, the reaction will be mild (which often makes such an allergy difficult to diagnose), but it can be as severe as any other allergy and result in anaphylaxis, vomiting or breathing issues.
Many people lay claim to non-coeliac gluten intolerance.
These are individuals without coeliac disease or a specific allergy, but who experience minor symptoms when they consume wheat or its by-products.
The validity of this condition is controversial medically, but there is no reason to doubt that anyone could suffer from a sensitivity to gluten.
Avoiding gluten has anecdotally been shown to reduce uncomfortable bloating, aid weight loss and relieve symptoms in those who experience discomfort after eating gluten.
It is unknown exactly how many people experience sensitivity to gluten, and for some, cutting back on its consumption wouldn’t be easily achievable.
However, if you suffer from any of the typical symptoms of coeliac disease (bloating, fatigue, diarrhoea), it may be down to a minor intolerance to gluten.
Experimenting with gluten-free foods can be a good way to identify such dietary issues.
Studies have shown that those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome may also benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet, as gluten-free products tend to be gentle on the digestive system.
Are Oats Gluten-Free?
The Simple Answer
Oats don’t contain gluten.
However, the way that oats are produced means that they are often easily contaminated with gluten, and so, only entirely non-contaminated grown-in-isolation oats are suitable for those who avoid consuming it.
Here’s Where it Gets Complicated
Oats can be contaminated with gluten in two ways: during their growth in the fields, and during processing.
Conventionally grown oats are often planted alongside fields of wheat, barley and other cereals which contain gluten.
This means that the oats are contaminated with gluten before they’re even harvested.
The level of contamination is difficult to measure and will vary even within batches of oats from the same field based on their proximity to other crops, wind direction and external interference.
When being processed, many commercially available oats and oat products are manufactured in the same production facilities as other cereals.
This too can result in contamination, rendering them unsafe for anyone with coeliac disease or reason to avoid gluten.
Oats specifically grown and processed separately to all other cereals are available and will be clearly labelled as gluten-free.
Even when uncontaminated and produced safely away from gluten, oats contain avenin: a protein that isn’t entirely dissimilar to gluten.
Avenin has a comparable amino acid structure to gluten, which means that some people with coeliac disease, wheat allergy or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity react it to in the same negative way they do gluten.
This isn’t the case for everyone, but a minority of those with existing gluten intolerance.
Can You Buy Gluten-Free Oats?
As people develop better understandings of their own health and dietary requirements, gluten-free food and drink options are increasingly available.
Specifically, non-contaminated gluten-free oats can now be bought from health food shops, specialist stores, and occasionally supermarkets’ ‘free-from’ ranges.
Here at Nutribuddy, we too offer gluten-free oats within our meal replacement and weight loss shakes to help you ensure that you’re able to still consume a well-rounded and balanced diet on the go; no matter your dietary requirements or allergen issues.
The Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake contains oats as its main ingredient, but these are certified gluten-free.
We continuously test the oats throughout the harvesting and manufacturing processes to verify their safety, while other ingredients and products within the factory are kept free from gluten at all times.
The other ingredients in the Nutribuddy products are naturally gluten-free (simply: they don’t and never have contained it, it’s not that it has been through any kind of removal process).
Nutribuddy keeps regular contact with customers who suffer from coeliac disease and other gluten intolerances, to check-in and see how their health journey progresses whilst they consume our products.
So far, the feedback has been all positive – so if you too are following a gluten-free lifestyle for any reason, please do chat to us about it and keep us updated!
What are the Benefits of Gluten-Free Oats?
If you suffer from coeliac disease or wheat allergy, the benefits of consuming gluten-free oats are clear.
Oats are amongst the healthiest whole grains in the world and provide a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, alongside a high dose of fibre.
The long-term consumption of oats and oatmeal has been proven to benefit healthy weight loss, strengthen the immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, mediate blood sugar levels and contribute to overall wellness.
Are Gluten-Free Oats Worth The Higher Price and Effort to Find?
As you’ll no doubt have noticed any time you find yourself in a ‘free-from’ aisle in a supermarket, food and drink products containing no allergens or irritants are frequently more expensive than their standard counterparts.
As they’re less widely available, they may also be more difficult to find and not commonly available in your local convenience store or produced by the brand you’d normally choose to consume.
Despite often being more expensive and a little harder to find, gluten-free oats are absolutely worth the effort and expense if you’re cutting back or cutting out your gluten consumption.
Oats are a fabulously healthy wholegrain and naturally much higher in fibre than most other cereals.
They taste great too, of course, and when mixed into a meal replacement shake are a great thickener that keeps a nice mouthfeel and texture without compromising on the health credentials of the overall drink.
Those who aren’t consuming a gluten-free diet needn’t necessarily seek out specifically ‘free from’ items in the same way as those who need to, but substitutes and allergen-free product versions won’t harm them.
It may even help identify an intolerance or sensitivity that previously had gone unnoticed!
The Bottom Line
Oats are great, but gluten often isn’t.
We’ve referred to oats before as the undisputed king and queen of breakfast time – and we know how frustrating it can be to read up on fantastic ingredients and health products when you full well know you’re unable to consume them!
That’s exactly why Nutribuddy chooses to use only non-contaminated pure gluten-free oats that have been grown in isolation from other crops and processed in a safe factory environment.
There’s no need to miss out on all of the great qualities of oats because you’re worried about cross-contamination or even another protein irritation.
There are many reasons why you may choose to avoid gluten, but even when not relying on a gluten-free diet, oats without it won’t do you any harm.
The Nutribuddy shakes containing oats are ideal for everyone and don’t discriminate between those without sensitivities and those with autoimmune disorders or allergies.
You may not even realise just how much gluten you consume during a day until you substitute it with a gluten-free substitute – particularly if you can see a tangible difference in your health, well-being or even specific symptoms once it’s been eliminated.
If you would like any specific allergen information, on any Nutribuddy product, the nutritionists and dietary experts within our team can help. Get in touch and let’s talk food – good, bad, and gluten-ous!