This is an area where I see many, many people get confused. They are tested positive for celiac or gluten-sensitivity, do a quick google search and find out certified gluten-free oats are okay to eat. But are they really?
I remember when I was first diagnosed, oats seemed like the perfect choice for breakfast now that bread was out of the picture. After making the mistake of eating regular oats, I went out and bought certified gluten-free oats. Luckily my body had a severe reaction to them so I knew not to eat them, despite what the internet was telling me. I say luckily because sometimes you don’t have a full-fledged reaction but it’s still doing damage. I got a clear sign that it was a no-no.
The funny thing about auto-immune related sensitivities is the cross reaction. This happens when something is ingested that looks similar to the thing that causes you a reaction – gluten in this case. The anti bodies that react to gluten also react to some other foods too. And it’s really important to know which foods these are, otherwise removing just wheat, rye and barley will not allow you to fully regain your health. See the end of the article for other foods that cross react.
The first point to deal with is that most oats are grown in the same areas as wheat, rye and barley. They processed in the same facilities as wheat, they are transported in the same trucks and kept in the same silos. So regular oats are extremely cross-contaminated with wheat and should never be eaten by anyone with gluten-sensitivity. (1)
What about certified gluten-free oats?
There are some brands that offer certified gluten-free oats, which means they are grown and stored away from wheat and tested for cross-contamination. They are tested using the R5 Elisa test for gluten content less than 20ppm. This, in my opinion, relies on trusting the manufacturer and also trusting that less than 20ppm is low enough.
But do oats contain gluten?
No. BUT, and this is a really big but they contain a protein called avenin, which is a problem for gluten-sensitive people because it causes an anti body cross-reaction. To make it even more confusing, not all oats contain this protein – but it’s almost impossible to find out which oats contain it and which don’t.
A position statement from Coeliac Australia sums up the complicated and confusing matter:
“Limited clinical studies have shown that as many as 4 in 5 with coeliac disease can tolerate uncontaminated oats in small quantities without causing symptoms or damage to the small intestine, but this statistic does translate into 1 in 5 (20%) will still react to uncontaminated oats. Since there is no simple test to determine who falls within this 20% of reactivity, it has been recommended by leading researchers and gastroenterologists that oats should not be included within the gluten free diet.
It is recommended that should an individual wish to consume oats as part of the gluten free diet, a biopsy prior to and 3 months during regular oat consumption be done to determine its safety on the individual.”
Ah, an invasive biopsy every 3 months to eat a small amount of oats? Doesn’t really seem worth it, does it.
Why cross reaction is so important to understand
With gluten sensitivity, the body creates anti bodies to gluten. When something comes along that looks very close to gluten, the body will have the same immune system reaction and those anti bodies will stick to that substance. (2)
This is when eating just “gluten-free” isn’t enough to fix the problems and why some people don’t improve on a GF diet alone (like me), because your body still thinks theres gluten being ingested. This is all fairly new research published in the last 2 years that I only recently discovered, and it explains so much of my experience and why I wasn’t able to get better. Not enough people are talking about these new discoveries, so people are still making the mistake of eating these cross reacting foods not knowing any better. Make sure you share this article with anyone you know who is gluten-sensitive.
What other foods cross-react?
The short answer: dairy products (yes, including cheese), corn, millet, oats, instant coffee, rice, yeast (bakers, brewers, and sadly nutritional yeast), kefir. (2)
I know this is a sucky list of things to give up and you probably want to throw rice at my face right now, but I’m right there with you! It also makes eating out almost impossible. I’ll be going over all of these issues and sharing some recipes to make life a little bit easier in the coming months (make sure you’re on the mailing list to get those :)).