Are Oats Gluten Free?

If you’re wondering whether oats are gluten free, use this resource to learn everything you need to know about safely eating oats on a gluten free diet, cross-contamination and safety for people with celiac.

woman with glasses sitting on a countertop looking at a laptop

Oats Are Not Always Gluten Free

First things first, the answer to the question, “Are oats gluten free” is “it depends”. Some oats are gluten-free and safe for people with celiac, but not all. The only way to know for sure that your oats are compatible with a gluten-free diet is to carefully read the label. Gluten-free oats will always have a label that says so.

If you don’t see a gluten free label, it’s best to assume that the oats do contain gluten, as they may be contaminated with gluten-containing ingredients like wheat.

Different Kinds of Oats

There are several different kinds of oats that you’re likely to encounter in the supermarket. These include:

  • Whole groats. This is the least processed variety of oats. Whole oat grains that take the longest time to cook. They contain the full bran, germ and endosperm, so you’ll maximize fiber and nutrients.
  • Steel-cut oats. To make these, whole groats are sliced into smaller pieces. None of the bran or germ is removed, so these are highly nutritious but faster cooking than whole groats.
  • Rolled oats. Also called old-fashioned oats, these grains are gently steamed to soften them for cooking, then processed through heavy rollers that flatten them. The grains retain their outer bran and inner germ and cook faster than steel-cut oats. They also stay fresher longer because of the steaming.
  • Quick oats. Also called instant oats, this variety is more highly processed. the grains are cut into smaller, thnner pieces and steamed for longer. This makes them very quick cooking and slightly lower in nutrients.

You will also find oat bran, which is the isolated bran from the groats, and oat flour. This is a fine, powdery flour made from whole oats. If it’s gluten-free, it’s great for GF baking.

Oats and Cross Contact

While oats themselves do not contain gluten, cross-contamination during the production process can occur. In many cases, oats are grown, harvested and produced alongside gluten-containing products like wheat and other grains.

This cross-contamination, or cross-contact, can result in trace amounts of gluten in packaged oats.

Celiac Disease and Oats Consumption

Depending on the severity of your sensitivity to gluten, you may or may not have to worry about cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease, you need to avoid gluten at all costs, even trace amounts. In that case, always choose certified gluten-free oats.

On the other hand, if you have a mild gluten sensitivity, you may not experience any symptoms from eating regular oats. Of course, for added protection, it’s best to choose gluten-free or certified gluten free oats. They are generally easy to find at most grocery stores and online.

Round baking dish with Mixed Berry Baked Oatmeal

Labels to Look for

When shopping for oats, there are a few labels to look for to ensure that you’re getting the highest quality oats with the lowest risk for cross-contamination.

These labels are:

Pure, Uncontaminated

These words indicate that an oat producer is following the purity protocol used by growers in the US and Canada. While there’s no formal definition or governing body overlooking the use of these terms, in general, pure oats are grown in a gluten-free field and produced “under good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to minimize the presence of gluten”. They are considered safe for people with celiac disease.

Gluten Free

This label indicates that oats are grown and processed separately from gluten-containing products. Some oats labeled gluten-free have been mechanically cleaned and separated after harvesting to remove traces of gluten. This label is regulated by the FDA, though it’s a voluntary label by food manufacturers.

Foods with the label “gluten free” or “free from gluten” cannot contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Certified Gluten Free

This is a third-party certification. A product can meet the FDA’s gluten free standards and go a step further to engage a third-party certification body. These include the Gluten-Free Certification Program, which audits food manufacturers, transporters, and end-producers at every step along the supply chain to ensure proper handling to minimize gluten exposure. Oats with this label are safe for people with celiac disease.

Limit Your Consumption

At the end of the day, the supply chain is complex and spread out. It can be nearly impossible to remove all trace amounts of gluten from a product grown in a field. So to minimize your exposure to gluten, your best bet is to limit your consumption of oats and always choose gluten free.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Overnight Oats

Gluten Free Oat Recipes to Try

Hot Oatmeal Recipes:

Overnight Oats:

Recipes Using Oats: