Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?

Oats are gluten-free, but cross-contamination is a risk from farm to bowl

Oatmeal

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Oatmeal is gluten-free and safe for gluten-sensitive people. You just have to ensure your oats are pure and made in a gluten-free facility. Pure oats and pure oatmeal do not contain gluten. However, many oatmeal brands today are not pure—they contain oats that have been cross-contaminated with a tiny amount of wheat, barley, and/or rye.

Oats can contain gluten, depending on how they are processed. For someone with celiac disease, they are only safe if they are certified gluten-free due to the risk of cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should stick with brands that are certified "gluten-free."

In addition, you should know that some people with celiac or gluten sensitivity find they react to oats as well. Therefore, you should be careful not to overdo that oatmeal until you know precisely how you'll react, and if you have questions about your reactions, discuss them with your doctor.

Why Isn't All Oatmeal Gluten-Free?

Because pure oats and pure oatmeal are naturally gluten-free, you're probably wondering how gluten can get in. The problem is gluten cross-contamination that starts in farmers' fields and continues through processing.

Most farmers and food processors who grow and handle oats also grow and handle the gluten grains wheat, barley, and rye. Using the same equipment for oats and gluten grains means that a tiny amount of gluten winds up in your oatmeal.

Here's the statement from Quaker Oats regarding this problem: "Yes, oats are naturally gluten-free. However, during farming, transportation, and storage, gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, barley, and spelt may be unintentionally introduced."

It's possible to grow pure oats that are safe on the gluten-free diet, and companies selling certified gluten-free oatmeal are using oats that do not have any gluten cross-contamination. Those should be safe for most people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, some people will have reactions even with pure oats.

Which Brands of Oatmeal Are Gluten-Free?

Fortunately for those who can tolerate oats, there are a variety of different gluten-free-certified oatmeals on the market.

Bob's Red Mill

Bob's Red Mill produces a large variety of gluten-free oatmeal, including easy-to-prepare oatmeal cups in four flavors, quick-cooking oats, rolled oats, and steel-cut oats. Bob's tests for gluten down to 20 parts per million. Make sure you purchase only gluten-free labeled oatmeal—Bob's also has oat products that are not gluten-free.

GF Harvest

GF Harvest is a family-owned business in Wyoming. The company grows its own oats and performs extensive testing to make certain its fields remain uncontaminated, including testing the seeds it uses down to 10 parts per million. GF Harvest holds gluten-free certification along with organic and Kosher certifications.

Products include organic gluten-free rolled oats and regular gluten-free rolled oats, which you can use to make gluten-free oatmeal. The company also offers easy-to-prepare oatmeal cups.

Lilly B's

Glutenfreeda Foods and Lilly B's have joined together to offer four different types of gluten-free instant oatmeal. The flavors include Apple Cinnamon, Maple Raisin, Brown Sugar, and Natural. The first three flavors also contain flax meal in addition to gluten-free oatmeal. You can find Lilly B's oatmeal in many different supermarkets, including specialty stores like Sprouts and Wegmans.

Montana Gluten Free

Montana Gluten Free works directly with farmers to make certain the oats it sells are not cross-contaminated with gluten and certifies that its oats test to below 3 parts per million of gluten. The company offers cream of oats, "naked" oats, raw oatmeal, toasted oat flour, and oat-based baking supplies at the Montana Gluten Free website.

Quaker Oats 

Quaker sells gluten-free oatmeal in four varieties: old-fashioned oats, quick one-minute oats, instant plain oatmeal, and instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal. This brand is the one you're most likely to find in your local grocery store, right alongside Quaker's regular oatmeal (look for the words "Gluten Free" in bold).

However, you should note that Quaker Oats doesn't source oats that have been grown away from gluten grains. Instead, the company buys regular oats (which generally are quite cross-contaminated with gluten grains) and then uses a controversial sorting technique that it says discards the gluten grains but keeps the oats.

Quaker Oats tests its products to ensure they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten (the minimum Food and Drug Administration standard). However, if you're particularly sensitive to trace gluten, you may want to consider a brand with more stringent testing standards.

Note that other companies that sell gluten-free products also produce oatmeal that's not certified gluten-free—be very careful to double-check labels, and assume a product isn't safe unless it's specifically marked as gluten-free oatmeal.

Can You Eat Oatmeal If You Have Celiac Disease?

So can someone with celiac disease eat oats? In most cases, you can eat oats if you have celiac disease. But to make things even more complicated, a small percentage of people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity also react to avenin, a protein found in oats, which means they may need to add oats to their list of prohibited grains.

It's not clear how many people with celiac disease also react to oats. One small 2015 study estimates found 8% of celiac patients reacted to oat ingestion. However, the same study found that avenin proteins in barley were much more likely to cause an immune response. The authors said low-level oat consumption is unlikely to cause a relapse of celiac symptoms.

Here's what the experts have to say about oats.

The National Celiac Association says people with celiac disease should be cautious. They recommend anyone newly diagnosed with celiac disease avoid oats until they have their celiac disease completely controlled. Then, under the guidance of a physician, they can gradually add oats labeled gluten-free. Start with 50 grams per day, which is a bit more than 1/2 cup of dry rolled oats.

The Celiac Disease Foundation says, pure uncontaminated oats eaten up to 1/2 cup (dry rolled oats) per day are well tolerated by most people with celiac disease, but to choose oats labeled gluten-free for all products like granola and granola bars.

Beyond Celiac urges taking "a great deal of care" with this possible addition to your diet and to discuss it with your physician. They state that determining how you will react or if you will react at all is impossible, so be very cautious and choose gluten-free oats only. Stick to 50 grams of dry oats each day and if you develop symptoms, talk to your dietician or doctor.

Can People with Celiac Disease Eat All Oats?

There's some evidence that certain types of oats may be less toxic to people with celiac disease than others. A Spanish study looked at how components of the immune system reacted to the different oat varieties in people with celiac disease. That study found some types of oats provoked less of an immune system response than others.

And an Italian study used cell samples from people with celiac disease to see how those cells reacted to different oat varieties in test tubes. The study concluded that two oat varieties—Avena genziana and Avena potenza—didn't provoke major celiac-specific immune system reactions, at least in the test tube.

But the researchers cautioned that both oat varieties did seem to cause some low-level immune system changes in the cell samples. Research on all of this is ongoing, but it's too early to single out particular oat varieties as safer or less safe for us to eat.

A Word From Verywell

If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the only way for you to determine if you react to oatmeal is to try some (start with just a couple of spoonfuls) in its pure, gluten-free form. There is some anecdotal evidence that people who are more sensitive to gluten also react more frequently to oats, but there's no research to prove it.

Therefore, if you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, you should consult your physician first and then proceed very cautiously when adding gluten-free oatmeal to your diet. If your celiac disease symptoms return, stop eating the gluten-free oatmeal immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When are oats not gluten-free?

    Oats are not gluten-free when they've been processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing grains. They also are not gluten-free when they contain additives that contain gluten.

  • What can I have for breakfast that's gluten-free?

    Certified gluten-free oats are a great option for gluten-free breakfast. Eggs, gluten-free toast, and a vegetable like asparagus or spinach is a well rounded, nutrient dense choice for breakfast. Other gluten-free grains cooked like oats will also work, such as amaranth and millet.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Celiac Foundation. NASSCD releases summary statement on oats. Published April 25, 2016.

  2. Comino I, Moreno Mde L, Sousa C. Role of oats in celiac diseaseWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(41):11825-11831. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i41.11825

  3. Silano M, Di Benedetto R, Maialetti F, et al. Avenins from different cultivars of oats elicit response by coeliac peripheral lymphocytesScand J Gastroenterol. 2007;42(11):1302-1305. doi:10.1080/00365520701420750

  4. Hardy MY, Tye-Din JA, Steward JA, et al. Ingestion of oats and barley in patients with celiac disease mobilizes cross-reactive T cells activated by avenin peptides and immuno-dominant hordein peptides. J Autoimmun. 2015;56:56-65. doi:10.1016/j.jaut.2014.10.003

  5. National Celiac Association. NCA stance on gluten-free oats.

  6. Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten-free foods.

  7. Beyond Celiac. The gluten-free diet.

  8. Comino I, Real A, de lorenzo L, et al. Diversity in oat potential immunogenicity: basis for the selection of oat varieties with no toxicity in coeliac disease. Gut. 2011;60(7):915-22. doi:10.1136/gut.2010.225268

  9. Maglio M, Mazzarella G, Barone MV, et al. Immunogenicity of two oat varieties, in relation to their safety for celiac patients. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2011;46(10):1194-205. doi:10.3109/00365521.2011.603159

Additional Reading
  • North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease Statement on Oats. April 2016.

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.