The big oat debate.

oat

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.

However, Coeliac Australia‘s position statement from June 2012 states the following:

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.

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3 thoughts on “The big oat debate.

  1. Do you know what the reaction to avenin is? i.e. does it cause the same damage to the intestinal lining as gluten does? Or do the people who react to GF oats just have a physical reaction like diarrhoea, stomach pain, wind etc. etc. but no damage to the intestinal lining?

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    • Yes Prakash. It appears to cause the same damage as gluten in a small percentage of coeliacs. That is why in Australia they only recomend eating gluten free oats after an oats challenge and biopsy. I was never told to avoid oats myself when I was diagnosed. We tend to follow advice from coeliac UK here.

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  2. Hi Candie, interesting article, thank you. I’ve been diagnosed with Coeliac over 30 years and at that time, was always told ‘no wheat, rye, barley or oats’ At that time, there were no uncontaminated oats at that time as they are quite a recent addition to our shelves. About a year ago, I decided to try some ‘gluten free’ oats, along with Nairns Gluten free oat biscuits. Usually if I’m ‘glutened’ I find I react fairly quickly, within an hour with toilet visits and other vague symptoms and usually a mouth ulcer or two will follow. But I didn’t have any reaction like that to the GF oats. However I noticed that over a period of 2 or 3 weeks while eating them, I just didn’t feel very well, though couldn’t really pinpoint why. Just very fatigued and other vague symptoms. So I felt it was worth giving up the GF oats for a while and the symptoms seemed to go away. So no idea whether thats a reaction to avenin or just my body reacting to something different generally. Sadly it has put me off having GF oats again.

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