Why Are Some Oats Gluten-Free And Some Aren’t?

Last Update: May 16, 2023

It’s time to stop relegating oats to crunchy granola or oatmeal raisin cookies. This versatile cereal grain is actually incredible for the heart, helps maintain a healthy weight, and steady blood pressure. Plus, they’re naturally gluten-free… but there’s a catch.

Turns out, all oats aren’t safe for those with Celiac disease? Oats are not considered gluten-free, even though they naturally do not contain gluten, which is really confusing.

Oats and Gluten Intolerance

Here’s the thing: some with gluten intolerance seem to have issues digesting oats. In fact, as many as 10 percent of gluten intolerant people have an inflammatory reaction to oats. This could be for a number of reasons, especially because oats are a unique type of grain and contain different antioxidants than most, but the most likely answer is contamination. If oats are grown in a field near wheat, they can easily become contaminated. Yep, contamination doesn’t just happen in packaging facilities, it can happen even before oats are harvested in the field.

Oats and Cross Contamination

For those with Celiac disease, gluten-free oats are a guaranteed option that won’t contain cross contamination. If gluten is an issue, remain on the safe side and go with gluten-free grains. They taste exactly the same, and for those with a gluten protein sensitivity it’s a no brainer. Plus, gluten-free oats can be a perfect substitute in many recipes with gluten for ingredients that help baked goods retain shape and texture, like white flour, just like in this Carrot Cake Oatmeal or our Jam Oat Crumble Bars.

Oats and Heart Health

And their gluten-free nature isn’t the only reason to seek out oats. They have a few unique compounds that contribute to heart health, hence the seal of approval from The American Heart Association. Beta-glucan is a type of fiber that can only be found in oats, and studies show that this super special fiber has a beneficial effect on cholesterol. In studies beta-glucan fiber has lowered cholesterol by up to 23 percent, so for those worried about heart disease and cholesterol oats can have a real impact on the numbers that your cardiologist tests for.

But beta-glucan fiber isn’t the only one-of-a-kind compound found in oats. The antioxidant avenanthramide can keep free radicals from eroding LDL cholesterol, and this heart-friendly antioxidant can only be found in–you guessed it–oats. Not only will oats lower bad cholesterol, but they’ll protect the integrity of good cholesterol. It’s a win-win.

Oats and Weight Loss

Oats are also great for maintaining a healthy weight; with their high fiber to calorie ratio, they keep you fuller longer and balance blood sugar. The average bowl of oats contains about four grams of fiber, which is nearly 20 percent of the daily intake recommended by the FDA. Fiber is necessary for a healthy gut and digestive tract, but also keeps you fuller for longer after eating. By eating oats you can increase the fiber intake, and decrease the caloric intake–the perfect combination for those trying to slim down.

Plus, eating more fiber in whole wheat form can balance and maintain blood sugar. Instead of delivering carbohydrates and sugar to your system instantly and–whoosh–spiking blood sugar immediately, carbohydrates with more fiber will slowly release sugar into the blood stream, preventing a major blood sugar spike from occurring.

Their taste is a little nutty when cooked and they become more fragrant when toasted, but these versatile grains will work in savory and sweet incarnations. (Haven’t tried a salted bowl of oats with a fried egg on top? You haven’t lived!) Due to their sturdiness, oats hold up well under boiling and baking, so they make the perfect base ingredient in granolas, cereal bars, and can even mimic a flour-like consistency in cakes if you simply run them through a food processor, which can come in handy for those who don’t eat white flour—or gluten.

Photo credit: Stocksy

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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