Oats are great sources of protein, fiber and offer wonderful health benefits. According to Cure Celiac Disease, 15-years worth of scientific research has proven that oats are safe for most celiac patients. Instead of gluten, oats have proteins called avenins that are non-toxic and tolerated by a majority of celiacs. Naturally, there is no gluten in oats.
However, they are not necessarily safe for those with celiac or gluten intolerances. Depending on how they are processed, oats can be contaminated with gluten.
Sowing oats + contamination
Wheat, rye and barley are often grown on the same land as oats or are in rotation with these crops, meaning grains with gluten can grow within the oat crops leading to contamination.
Even if oats are a solo crop, they can also face contamination in processing if there are gluten containing grains processed at the same facility. Rye, barley and wheat grains can be mixed in during during cleaning or packaging because they are all using the same machinery.
Methods of processing gluten-free oats
There are two processing methods used to demonstrate oats are gluten-free: mechanically or optically sorted and purity protocol.
Mechanically or optically sorted
According to Healthy Way, mechanically/optically sorted oats are defined as “regular” oats that have undergone sorting by a machine to separate oats by length, density and color from wheat, barley and rye grain. This method costs growers and processors roughly half of what it would cost them to follow purity protocol. However, this method of sorting oats from gluten isn’t foolproof. Test results have shown gluten in oats that have been mechanically sorted at levels that exceed the 20 ppm guideline and have caused illness and class action lawsuits.
As per Glutenfreeda, purity protocol is a much more rigid method for ensuring oats’ gluten-free status. This method specifies to farmers how oats must be grown and handled to prevent cross contamination. Growers are required to have a three-year gluten-free crop rotation, and annual field inspections are conducted annually to ensure fields are free of gluten grains. A pre-cleaned sample of the crop is sent to a laboratory for analysis. Post-cleaning, another sample is sent to a lab for testing. After this test, the oats are transported in a truck and processed on equipment that’s been cleaned of any grains. These oats are declared “certified gluten-free.”
Of the two methods, purity protocol offers a more thorough and complete system for ensuring oats remain gluten free. This method costs growers twice as much as mechanically or optically sorted, which is why some oats manufacturers opt for the less thorough approach. There are quite a few brands that use the purity protocol.
When it comes to gluten in oats, it’s important to be sure you feel safe with the brands you eat. Mechanical and optical sorting may not provide the fail-safe certainty you need, but the good news is that purity protocol does.