Are Oats Actually Gluten-Free?

One of my good friends has Celiac disease, and I have a minor freakout every time she comes over and food is involved. Why? Because once I literally almost killed her.

Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But I’m still scarred by the time I offered her a muffin I made with almond flour that I thought was gluten-free…until I realized that I had no idea if the oats I threw in for texture were GF, too. Cue me forcibly yanking back the muffin I offered to her and tossing it straight into the trash like the horrible, gluten-packed food it was. Or might have been? I actually don’t know.

That’s because when you go to buy oats at the grocery store, there are some packages of oats labeled “gluten-free” and others that aren’t.

Gluten is protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). And it’s very obviously present in bread and crackers. But oats aren’t any of those…so what’s up with that GF label?

It turns out that I was right-ish about oats. They’re inherently gluten-free, says Jessica Cording, a New York-based R.D. But—and this is a big but—cross-contamination with wheat is really common, she says. Say if your oats were processed and packaged in a factory that also deals with wheat products, odds are pretty high that there was some contamination.

Oat can even be contaminated in the field since they often grow side by side with wheat, says Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life with Real Food. 

So, if you grew and picked your oats yourself and rolled them out with no wheat around, you’re probably totally cool to serve them to someone with a gluten allergy or intolerance. But if you plan to buy them at the store like everyone else, it’s important to check the label for a “gluten-free” stamp to make sure it’s actually free of gluten, Warren says.

A few safe bets:

BOB’S RED MILL GLUTEN FREE OLD FASHIONED ORGANIC ROLLED OATS

Bob's Red Mill Organic Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats

Bob’s Red Mill is a gluten-free grain staple—and their rolled oats are organic, too.

QUAKER OATS GLUTEN FREE 1-MINUTE QUICK OATS

Quaker Gluten Free Quick 1-Minute Oatmeal

“Affordable” and “gluten-free” don’t always go together. These Quaker oats are the happy exception—and they cook in just a minute.

ARROWHEAD MILLS GLUTEN FREE STEEL CUT OATS

Arrowhead Mills Organic Steel Cut Oats Gluten Free

Yes, even steel-cut oats can be contaminated with gluten. Try this GF version from Arrowhead Mills, which comes in a resealable bag to make sure your oats stay fresh longer.

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