Are Oats Gluten Free?

January 17, 2018 at 4:41 PM

Oats: contaminated by gluten or just straight glutinous? We did the research so you don’t have to: here’s the low down on why your oats aren’t truly gluten free.

Image of muesli and fruit, and toast and peanut butter

Can your muesli & fruit be REALLY gluten free?

It’s impossible for oats to be genuinely gluten-free

Gluten is a name given to a protein found in barley, rye, oat and wheat (BROW for short). The proteins are hordein (barley), secalin (rye), avenin (oats) and gliadin (wheat).

According to Coeliac New Zealand, avenin is an essential part of oats. As avenin is gluten, oats can never really be gluten free.


So, why are some oats labelled ‘gluten free’?

Most regular oats have been contaminated by wheat in the production process. When oats are labelled ‘gluten-free’ this usually means they haven’t been contaminated by wheat.

Many people who are gluten-free can tolerate wheat-free oats, so it is helpful to have a label that points this out. 

‘Certified gluten free’ labelled oats are not legally allowed to be sold in Aotearoa New Zealand. Products that contain oats are usually labelled ‘wheat-free’, even if they’re labelled ‘gluten free’ elsewhere. 


Regardless of their status, can you eat oats if you’re gluten-free?

Research suggests that avenin may be a less aggravating form of gluten that can be tolerated by many people who are allergic to gluten. For people with coeliac disease, however, oats should be treated with caution as around 20% will still react badly to wheat-free oats.

According to Coeliac NZ, the only way you can tell if you react positively to oats is if you receive two gastroscopies/biopsies: 1) before you start eating oats, and 2) after you’ve been eating them for a while. 


Are oats gluten free? Short answer: no. People with gluten sensitivities may be able to eat oats with no bad effects, but coeliacs should still avoid them subject to the advice of their doctor.