I frequently use oats in my recipes and have oatmeal for breakfast most mornings. Many people who suffer from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance are unsure if they can safely eat oats. My conclusion: it depends.
Oats are naturally gluten free
Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten but oats technically do not. However, because of cross contamination with other gluten containing grains, most normal oatmeal in the supermarket contains little amounts of gluten. Quaker Oats, one of the most famous oatmeal brands, says on their website:
Oats are naturally gluten free, but have been known to get a little too cozy with other gluten-containing grains like wheat or barley, in the field, during storage and even transportation. That’s why people with celiac disease and gluten allergies sometimes avoid oatmeal. (source: http://www.quakeroats.com/product/hot-cereals/gluten-free-oatmeal.aspx)
Most farmers who grow oats, also grow other grains such as wheat that do have gluten. This means that during the transport, processing and storage of the oats, particles of other grains might end up with the oats.
Buy gluten free oats
Many bigger brands of oatmeal, such as Bob’s Red Mill and Quaker, also sell gluten free oatmeal. This is oatmeal that has been grown, processed and transported away from any gluten containing grains. It is therefore guaranteed gluten free and contains only extremely small amounts of gluten which are not likely to cause any problems with your digestion or sensitivity.
Can I safely eat oats?
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity you might have to experiment a little bit and see how you react to oats. Many coeliacs and gluten intolerant people find that they have trouble digesting oats as well. Consider that this might not necessarily be because of cross contamination with gluten. You might instead suffer from another similar intolerance to the protein avenin which is found in oatmeal. You can simply experiment with leaving oatmeal of our diet diet altogether, use only the variety that is guaranteed to contain no gluten or try standard oats.