Oats in a Gluten Free Diet
One of the longest and most hotly debated issues in the gluten free community: Are oats safe for people on a gluten free diet, including those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Research from leading research facilities in our country and studies abroad overwhelmingly conclude: “Yes!” Oats are well tolerated in moderation by adults and children with celiac disease and related gluten sensitivities. Oats not only do not cause gastrointestinal symptoms, but also do not prohibit the healing of the villi of the small intestine, which gluten damages in those with celiac disease and has been noted in other related diseases, as well.
In moderation for oats means up to one cup per day of uncontaminated oats. Oats must be marked gluten free to be uncontaminated. There are several companies in the United States and Canada that manufacture uncontaminated oats: Bobs Red Mills and Cream Hill Estates, for example. Regular, commercially produced oats are contaminated by wheat, barley, and rye in the field, in transport, and in processing. These oats can cause reactions due to the contamination.
Since all grains contain storage proteins, which is where gluten is found, how are some grains safe to consume and some not? Wheat is the only grain that contains the storage protein gluten, however, rye and barley are genetically related so closely, that they also produce the same reactions. Oats avenin (a storage protein) was considered to produce a similar reaction, however new research shows this is not true. Genetically, oats are very closely related to rice and have short chain molecules, which are easily digested and processed by the human body. And while they are in the same family of grasses, as wheat, rye, and barely, they are in a different species.
Wheat, rye, and barley, however, are long chain molecules, which our bodies do not as easily digest. Wheat, rye, and barley are domesticated grains that have come into the human diet only in the last 10,000 years, not enough time for adaptation of the human body. These grains are only partially digested and enter the gut irritating it. Thirty to forty percent of the population has a gene that could make them sensitive to it, but far less genes activate to do so.
It has also been suggested that oats first tested positive for gluten toxicity due to the lack of knowledge about gluten contamination of oats, which led to contaminated oats being tested and not gluten free oats.
How Much is Too Much?
How much contamination of gluten can there be in a grain and still make it safe to eat? How much gluten is okay in any food? It takes just 10 mg. of gluten to damage the villi of the small intestine of those with celiac disease and related illnesses. Ten mg fills the head of a pin. Obviously this is such a small amount that there is essentially zero tolerance for gluten in those affected by it.
What’s the Difference Between Food Allergy to gluten (Wheat), an Intolerance, and Celiac Disease?
In the presence of gluten, allergies and celiac disease produce an immune system reaction, but only celiac disease has permanent tissue damage. Allergies, intolerances, and celiac disease all carry genetic risks of being passed on, however.
Celiac Disease – An Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease or disorder happens when the immune system acts to destroy the body tissues. The body understands gluten, in this case, as a toxin to the villi of a section of the small intestine and damages it. The villi are responsible for nutrient absorption from foods. Damage to the villi leads to malabsorption of valuable nutrients. The lack of proper nutrients entering the system, may lead to other complications such other diseases and medical complications.
Development of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, is caused by the genes DQ2 and DQ8, along with environmental factors. Celiac disease is the only autoimmune disorder where the trigger is known – gluten, which is a huge plus for managing the disorder.
Eliminate the trigger and tissue damage ceases. That means that someone with celiac disease can follow a gluten-free diet and not suffer tissue damage or any other related risk factors. A person with celiac disease has the possibility of having as healthy an immune system as anyone else. It does not mean that celiac disease “goes away.” It means that the resulting damage of it stops – the person with the disease is in control, not the other way around. A gluten-free diet must be maintained lifelong.
When this is clearly understood, knowing which ingredients and foods contain zero gluten becomes even more important to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Eating gluten intentionally or by mistake all adds up to the same thing: a trigger of the autoimmune system that causes damage to tissues. Repeatedly consuming gluten causes long-term damage. It keeps the disease active and destructive, exposing the body to increased risk of other diseases, including damage to other tissues of the body.
The good news is that by adopting a healthy gluten free diet based on whole foods, including gluten free grains high in fiber, protein, and B vitamins, and elimination of gluten-free junk foods low in nutrition, but high in empty carbohydrates and calories, leads to regaining energy and vitality. And that healthy diet can now contain oats!
While healthy, whole gluten-free grains are not readily available in all communities, they are available online at numerous sites: Amazon.com, BobsRedMill.com, GlutenFree.com, and Food4celiacs.com, for example. Be sure to look at the nutrition information for each product before purchasing to make sure it is a whole food and not loaded with calories, fats and carbohydrates devoid of nutrients. Grains, including bread, should contain per serving: less than 3 grams of fat, more than 5 grams of fiber, less than 10 grams of sugar, and contain protein and calcium greater than four percent and 10 percent of daily values, respectively. Enjoy!