Who to believe? Certainly, seeing “gluten-free” on any package of food makes someone with celiac disease or a gluten allergy reach for it with a reflex action reserved for those with a restrictive diet.
In this article, we will look at the case for and against eating oats by those with celiac disease or with a gluten allergy.
Gluten Allergy vs. Celiac Disease
A gluten allergy and celiac disease are very different conditions. The latter is caused by a genetic condition that makes affected individuals susceptible to serious diseases when they consume gluten.
Someone with celiac disease must be particularly careful about gluten contamination, since the effects may not appear for years (e.g. certain types of cancer, problems with internal organs etc.).
For someone with a gluten allergy, the risks are different. More than likely you can decide on what you can and can not eat based on how you feel.
The problem is that tests for celiac disease can have accuracy problems. Older tests have proved inadequate. Newer tests are much better, but invalid if you have not consumed gluten for some time.
Unless you know for a fact that you have a gluten allergy and not celiac disease, you are best to assume celiac and act accordingly (100% gluten avoidance, 100% of the time).
Gluten Free Oats are Safe Position
There is a lot of weight behind the position that certified gluten free oats are safe for celiacs.
The Canadian Celiac Association changed their position in August 2007. They cite studies showing that small amounts of oats are safe for most celiacs.
They cautiously endorse the consumption of oats by celiacs.
Gluten Free Oats are Dangerous Position
While studies appear to show that oats are safe for celiacs, there are caveats, and the caveats alone make me suspicions.
The Celiac Sprue Association is definitely more cautious about recommending oats.
The conclusion of these studies is that 50 to 70 grams per day (1/2 – 3/4 cup dry rolled oats) by adults and 20 to 25 grams per day (1/4 cup dry rolled oats) by children is safe for celiacs.
The above amounts are conveniently as much or more than most people would eat for breakfast.
The studies followed a relatively small number of subjects, and did not follow them for a very long time.
While oat gluten may have no obvious and immediate effect on the gut of a celiac, studies proving that no damage is caused to the internal organs of celiacs would require a new set of studies. Those studies would have to last years, probably decades.
Personally, I don’t want to be part of that study, do you? Do you want to risk your long-term health on some preliminary studies?
Then there is the fact that the study concludes that “most celiacs” can tolerate oats. It seems to me that those who obviously can not tolerate oat gluten may be the early warning system that the more tolerant celiacs should head.
Oat Gluten: Should Celiacs Eat It?
If you are celiac, you are probably looking for a definitive answer on whether oat gluten is safe for you or not.
There is no such answer at this time, in my opinion.
I advise you to avoid oats if you have celiac disease, to protect your long-term health. There are plenty of other foods you can eat.
I know the gluten-free diet is a chore to follow at first, but your health depends on it. Oats are probably too risky to include in your diet.