The Oat Controversy…Yeah, Still.

Whether or not patients with Celiac Disease and/or gluten sensitivity can safely eat oat products is a debate that has been raging for years and a clear answer still seems nowhere in sight. Some studies show that oats can be safely consumed and others show that they cannot. As with many nutrition-related concepts, actual “facts” can be hard to tease out because unless numerous studies done with varied methodologies and populations all conclusively point to one finding, something cannot be taken as fact. When some studies confirm a finding and other studies refute that same finding, it is easy for one to throw his or her hands up and not know what to take as medical fact.

Oats themselves do not contain gluten, so it is tempting to conclude that they are safe for consumption by those with Celiac Disease. However, many and in fact probably the vast majority of oats are cross-contaminated either during processing, packaging, or shipping. Even oats and other products labeled as “gluten-free” may contain trace amounts of gluten. These trace amounts may be enough to lead to a reaction in some. As a quick aside on a similar note, many products labeled as “trans fat free” may actually contain partially hydrogenated oils/trans fats. The law states that if there is less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving it can be labeled as free of trans fats when in fact it is not. Because of this, it is important with all food not to trust labeling, and always look at the ingredients of any product in question. But let’s get back to oats. As stated above, pure oats are technically gluten-free, but they do contain a protein molecule called avenin that is similar to gluten and may induce an inflammatory reaction in some Celiac patients. Additionally, to make the entire topic even more ambiguous, different varieties (or “cultivars”) of oats may be more or less toxic than others.

Given the uncertainty and controversy over whether oats are an acceptable dietary component for those with Celiac Disease or leading a gluten-free lifestyle, one may be tempted to simply exclude oats from the diet completely. If we were talking about a food like cheese, butter, or margarine, foods generally accepted to be “unhealthy,” it would be fine to exclude them from the diet without a second thought. But oats are a fantastically healthy food source, and to exclude them from the diet would be to miss out on the many wonderful health benefits that they provide. Oats are high in soluble fiber, the kind that binds cholesterol in the gut and excretes it. This leads to a lowering of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. This is why Cheerios, for instance, which contain oat bran can claim that eating the cereal can help fight against heart disease. Oats are also a good source of iron and protein and because of the aforementioned soluble fiber, give one the feeling of being full for longer. Because of these many health benefits, it may be worthwhile to try and incorporate oats into your gluten-free diet. As with many things in life, and especially nutrition, and especially gluten intolerance, there is a high level of individual variability. What works for one person may not work for another. Many Celiac patients tolerate oats just fine, and if all oats were free of cross-contamination, most gluten-sensitive patients could probably include oats as a significant part of their diet.

Hopefully, future research and a higher standard against cross-contamination may help to end the controversy on whether or not oats can be part of a gluten-free diet. But for now, because of their high health value and how varied tolerance can be from one individual to another, it may be beneficial to try and incorporate oats into a gluten-free lifestyle slowly, check for tolerance, and proceed from there.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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