Not So Oat So Simple …

I recently wrote a long piece on oats in the gluten-free diet for Coeliacs Matter, in which I examined much of the available research on this subject. 

In summary, many of the studies supporting the safety of oats were conducted on small groups, for short periods. Some relied on blood test results in the absence of biopsies to determine intolerance or tolerance to oats, and there remains the possibility that some potential volunteers, believing themselves intolerant to oats, may have not put themselves forward for trials, skewing the results in favour of the ‘oats are OK’ school. There is an absence of long term studies too. 

I learned about two interesting new ideas. First, the relatively new concept of differing reactivity to different breeds of oats, and second, given that we already know that coeliacs have variable tolerance levels to gluten (be it 10mg, 50mg or more), and by extension, to the gluten grains, the possibility (probability?) that they have very variable tolerance to oats too – anything from 1g up to 100g or more.

This ‘sliding scale’ of tolerance to oats among coeliacs is an idea which appeals to me and which I warmed to while I wrote the piece, and there’s always a danger when that happens that it compromises your objectivity to a subject. So I shan’t say any more about it for now. But I do want to explore it more deeply at some point, so, instead, some questions… 

Because the reactivity of different breeds of oats appears potentially highly variable, would it be a help for coeliacs out there to know which breeds are less and more tolerable – and which breeds are used by the free-from producers who do use gluten-free oats? Is this worth looking at, do you think? These data may well not be readily accessible – I’d need to get hold of scientific papers, plus source information from the food manfuacturers themselves (or their suppliers), who may not know which breed they’re employing – but my hunch is it would be revealing. 

I’m also interested in your experiences – if any – with oats. Did you try reintroduction after a year on the GFD? Did you receive the support you needed from the professionals to do so? Did you have biopsies? Or did you self-diagnose oat sensitivity? 

Or have you decided to stay away from oats permanently? (Many do.) 

I’m also curious as to whether those who endured years of non-diagnosis or misdiagnosis, with truly bad symptoms, are more likely to avoid oats than those diagnosed almost incidentally / who were virtually asymptomatic? 

Keen to hear your experiences and thoughts …


  1. Amanda

    I had problems from childhood until well into my 50s with varying diagnoses over the years, until a homeopath suggested gluten intolerance. Unfortunately he didn't say that I could have a test, so by the time I discovered that there was a test for coeliac I'd been virtually symptom free for several months and there was no way I was going back on to gluten just to have a test to tell me what I already knew. I can live without a label. At first I ate oats, and still had some problems, but when I gave up oats as well it was as if a huge weight had lifted from me, I felt so much better. So now I only eat certified GF oats which seem to be okay.

  2. Sam/ The Happy Coeliac

    Oats always made me feel a bit dodgy (more noticeably so than wheat!) and I think I gave them up initially upon diagnosis. My dietician didn't tell me I should wait a year before reintroduction but the times I've had gf oats it's been a bit like "glutening-lite" – where I got the immune reactions but relatively few tummy problems. I just stay away from them now.

    So I for one am self-diagnosed – received very little CD aftercare anyway so would rather not go through further testing. They make me ill, so I stopped eating them.

    Tesco are particularly annoying as all their gluten-free biscuits contain gf oat flour.

  3. Alex G

    Thanks for commenting. Can't pretend to be a fan of homeopaths/y – the opposite, I'm afraid – and his failure to tell you about a coeliac test makes me annoyed on your behalf, as an orthodox diagnosis could have been very helpful to you in many ways. Very pleased you've got your health back though …

  4. Alex G

    Hi Sam – very interesting that the dietitian didn't tell you about the year wait – can't help wondering whether she didn't know or whether it's not 'official' enough advice from CUK and therefore not taken on board by professionals. And yes – Tesco do use oat flour in their GF biscuits – there's a lot of chat online at the moment about the Dec 14 allergy labelling and how this might effect oats … Thanks for commenting – Alex.

  5. Sam/ The Happy Coeliac

    Yeah, I'd be very interested to see what's done about oats as they aren't one of the 14 allergens are they?

    I did end up seeing two dieticians (I moved just after diagnosis) and the second one was much better than the first – but she actually runs a coeliac clinic. Still, neither told me much I didn't know already.

  6. Alex G

    Oats are considered a gluten grain for labelling purposes, so they are one of the 14 – presume that from Dec 14 they will bolded (or whatever) on ingredients lists, and if no 'gluten free' label on front of pack, have to presume that non-GF oats have been used – and if 'gluten free' label on pack, then the oats are GF. But still not sure whether this is the way it'll be. Have asked FSA and will update when I hear back …

  7. Marion

    After years of thinking oats were ok for me, I realised that an annoying post-nasal drip had cleared up when I didn't eat oats daily while on holiday. It returned when I resumed eating them, so I stopped and found my energy levels also increased. I also stopped reacting to the sulphur in wine after I stopped eating oats. Not worth going back to eating them.

  8. Pingback: Do Me A Favour | Allergy Insight

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. Please read our Privacy Policy and our Affiliates Disclosure in 'About' more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.