The number one question I’m asked by people who are GF-curious is, “I don’t get it—why are some oats gluten-free and others gluten-full??” And after having said, “Gee, I don’t know, I should look into that,” a couple dozen times, it apparently got through my thick skull and I finally looked into it.
And the answer’s a two-parter.
First, (ha! just as I expected!) on its own, oats do not contain gluten, however, during harvest, processing, and packaging, it usually ends up containing gluten, and often a LOT of gluten, through cross-contamination. Think about it: it only makes sense that wheat, oats, barley, corn, etc., would be harvested with the same equipment, from neighboring fields, processed on the same machinery, etc.
And to clarify, the term “gluten,” as we use it here, more specifically refers to gliadin, the troublesome little protein found in wheat that is the bane of those with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance.
Some lovely people have caught on and have started harvesting, processing, and packaging their oats so as to avoid any cross-contamination, and to these lovely souls I am tremendously grateful. I am a big fan of my homemade granola in the morning…
BUT, here’s the kicker: oats do contain a protein called avenin that sometimes can cause Celiac-like symptoms. Many people, such as myself, that have gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease tolerate moderate portions of gluten-free oats just fine, but others do have difficulty with it.
As in most things, there is no cut-and-dry universal answer except this: listen to your body.