Oats are a cereal grain that can be used in many ways. They can be made into porridge or breakfast cereal, or used as an ingredient in a variety of baked goods. Oats are a wonderful source of dietary fiber, which the body needs to maintain digestive health and prevent disease. Some of the health benefits associated with eating oats include:
Besides fiber, oats also contain plenty of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals, such as:
Whole oats are the only source of avenanthramides, which are polyphenolic plant compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-itching, and anti-hypertensive properties.
Oats in their natural form are gluten-free. As long as they don't come into contact with other grains or foods that contain gluten, they should be safe for people with celiac disease. However, not every oat product sold on the market qualifies as gluten-free. (Related: 8 Ways to Build a Gluten-Free Pantry.)
During manufacturing, oats can be contaminated when they are processed in facilities where gluten-containing foods like wheat and wheat products are also processed. The use of the same equipment can also result in contamination with gluten, which is why manufacturers sometimes put a warning on some food labels that says, "Manufactured on shared equipment." A list of common food allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, or milk, usually follows this warning.
Because of this manufacturing practice and the high possibility of gluten contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations when it comes to food labeling. According to the FDA's food labeling rule, products with the label "gluten-free," "no gluten," "free of gluten," or "without gluten" should contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. They also shouldn't contain any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains; any derivative of these grains that still contains gluten; or any derivative whose processing results in contamination with more than 20 ppm of gluten.
So if you have celiac disease and are wondering if you can eat oats, the quick answer is yes. However, you need to look for oats with a certified gluten-free label to ensure that they are safe for you to consume. While some celiac patients may still show sensitivity even toward uncontaminated oats, most have no problems eating certified gluten-free oats. Alternatively, you can purchase organic oats from local producers, which is a far better and healthier option, as these oats are grown without pesticides or fertilizers and are thus generally safer to consume.