This is a tricky one. Whenever I post something that mentions gluten free oats on The Coeliac Hub I seem to cause some confusion with followers from Australia and New Zealand. So I decided to write a post about this to clarify the issue.
In Europe we state that oats are naturally gluten free. They do however, contain a protein that is similar to gluten. This is avenin that some people with coeliac disease react to. Oats are often contaminated with other gluten containing grains during harvesting, transportation and storage. That is why we are advised that people with coeliac disease can only consume oats that are certified gluten free. This means that they have been tested and were found to contain 20 parts per million of gluten or less.
So what is the issue?
The issue lies within the fact that coeliac associations in different parts of the world offer contrasting advice. I will highlight the differences between the UK and Australia below.
According to Coeliac UK‘s website,
Research has shown that most people with coeliac disease can safely eat avenin….There are a very small number of people with coeliac disease who may still be sensitive to gluten-free, uncontaminated oat products…If you are newly diagnosed, your GP or dietitian may advise you to avoid oats to start with, usually for at least six months to allow your gut to heal. Then, if you want to, you can introduce gluten-free oats while your GP or dietitian monitors you.
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.
In fact, in Australia, oats are not defined or recognised as gluten free, irrespective of the laboratory results obtained. So even if the level of gluten is extremely low, and ”gluten free” by European standards, they still will not label it as free from gluten. The FSANZ defines wheat, rye, barley and oats as gluten containing grains.
For further reading about this issue, I suggest you read this article titled: Coeliac disease and oats: a systematic review.
So what should we do?
It is up to the individual whether to include uncontaminated oats in their diet. Oats can be a concentrated source of fibre and nutrients. But for those who choose not to try them, or are advised not to, there are alternative nutritious gluten free grains that can be consumed like uncontaminated millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/haaijk/12705248673/”>Raban Haaijk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>