A Guide to Gluten Free Oats

A Guide to Gluten Free Oats

A guide to gluten free oats

For those of us new to eating gluten free, it can be a bit of a challenge figuring out what carbs we now can or cannot eat. Some of them – like pasta – we often already know is on the blacklist. But others are a bit less obvious.

This comprehensive guide summarises clear answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about oats and their place in various different diets. 

Overnight oats in mason jars

Are GF oats healthy?

Oats are an often overlooked superfood. They are packed with fibre, high in protein and release energy over a sustained period of time, keeping you fuller for longer.

Not to mention, they make delicious flapjacks and energy balls – (recipes coming for these soon!) However, there’s a lot of confusion over whether oats are gluten free or not.

It’s easy to see why the matter is a bit bewildering – there are two different faces to the story that you need to bear in mind.

Oatmeal in a blue ceramic bowl

How are gluten free oats made?

First off, oats in themselves are a naturally gluten free grain. That is to say, they don’t biologically contain the prolamin protein that impacts people with a gluten intolerance.

If you were to grow and harvest your own oat plants in your back garden and turn them into a nice bowl of porridge, you would be pretty much guaranteed a zero-gluten meal.

However, things get a bit more complicated when it comes to commercially grown oats, which are often contaminated with gluten.

Why are commercial oats different?

Supermarket oats that don’t market themselves as GF are generally contaminated with gluten derived from other plants that get mixed up somewhere along the production line.

This can happen at any stage, whether it be:

  • Oats grown in the same field as wheat, barely or rye
  • The oat crop being shipped in containers that were previously used to transport gluten products
  • The factory facilities that process the oats being used for other products as well.
Fruit porridge bowl

Are gluten free oats suitable for coeliacs?

Yes – when you buy specifically certified GF oats (and swallow the price premium that gets slapped on as a happy addition), you are purchasing from a supplier that minimises this chance of cross contamination at each stage of production.

Therefore, these branded oats are suitable for most coeliacs.

However – avenin, the protein found in oats, technically does belong to the gluten protein family. The majority of coeliac sufferers will never react to avenin, however 1 in 5 may find themselves intolerant, so will never be able to eat oats at all.

Are oats wheat free?

Carefully grown oats are naturally wheat free, however non-GF brands may contain traces of wheat that have contaminated the product at some stage of the production cycle.

Oat energy balls

Are gluten free oats paleo?

While oats may be great for GF eaters, they are unfortunately not paleo friendly.

This is because they are a type of grain, and contain several anti-nutrients that go against what’s allowed as part of the Paleo diet – namely, phytic acid, lectins, and avenin.

  • Phytic acid is commonly found in plant seeds and can stop various nutrients from being absorbed properly.
  • Lectin is a protein that the plant develops to deter insects. When eaten, it can cause irritation to the gut.
  • Avenin is a protein found in oats. It can irritate the stomach lining in some people.

These anti-nutrients can contribute to a leaky gut, inflammation, and a weakened immune system.

How can you eat oats on a paleo diet?

For paleo eaters who can’t bear the idea of a flapjack-less eternity, there are ways of reducing the phytic acid and lectin content.

I’ve listed the main ways to do this in order from least-to-most effective (and unfortunately least-to-most effort and time):

  1. Soak in water for 24 hours (only slightly reduces the phytic content)
  2. Soak together with buckwheat (a GF grain that contains phytase, an enzyme that breaks down the phytic acid)
  3. Sprout the oats by soaking in water for about 5 days at 11 degrees (a kitchen cupboard should work), then for a further 15 hours in an oven at 49 degrees. This is the most effective method and removes most of the phytic acid. 
Porridge with blueberries

Are GF oats low fodmap?

The quick answer – yes, oats are low FODMAP, but only in small quantities.

The main issue is that the serving size varies slightly depending on the type of oats you have. This is because generally, the more processing that the oats have undergone, the higher or more concentrated the carbohydrate content is. As a result, instant oats have a much smaller recommended serving than rolled oats.

The Monash University is one of the principle guiding authorities on the FODMAP diet, and they frequently update their app with more researched information on this kind of thing.

A guide to low FODMAP serving sizes:

  • Steel cut oats: the recommended serving is 60g, or 1/2 cup uncooked.

Steel cut oats can also fall under a few other names: oat groats, Scottish oats or Irish oats.

  • Rolled oats: 6og or 1/2 cup uncooked
  • Instant oats: 23g, or 1/4 cup uncooked

For people starting low FODMAP diets, it’s a good plan to stick to these amounts initially, then increase them gradually (and not in conjunction with any other food) to see if your body can handle larger servings.

Having said that, 60g is actually a very reasonable serving size if you’re making some porridge or oatmeal with toppings on, so you probably won’t feel too worse off for sticking with the lower quantities.

Gluten free porridge with cinnamon and lemon tea on pretty wooden surface

The best part about gluten free oats is that they look and behave in exactly the same way as their gluten-contaminated counterparts.

This is a welcome relief for those of us tired of adapting the flours and other carb based ingredients in recipes and not ending up with the same products that we used to love before going gluten free.

For a delicious breakfast using gluten free oats, check out some of my breakfast recipes:

Cashew cranberry granola bars

Baked raspberry yoghurt oats

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