Can Patients with Celiac Disease Eat Oats?

A bowl of oatmeal with apples
(Image credit: Oatmeal photo via Shutterstock)

CHICAGO — For people with celiac disease, the rule is clear: no gluten. That means avoiding all foods made with wheat, barley and rye. But what about oats?

Although oats are not thought to cause an immune reaction in patients with celiac disease, they're often contaminated with gluten from other grains, such as wheat, said Dr. María Inés Pinto-Sanchez, a gastroenterology research fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

And even though gluten-free oats — which have been tested and shown to not be contaminated — are available, some controversy remains about whether they're OK for people with celiac disease to eat, Pinto-Sanchez told Live Science, because of earlier research that suggested gluten-free oats caused a reaction in celiac disease patients. [5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health]

To get to the bottom of the oat controversy, Pinto-Sanchez and her team did a meta-analysis of earlier studies of patients with celiac disease who ate gluten-free oats. She presented her findings here yesterday (May 7) at Digestive Disease Week, a scientific meeting focused on digestive diseases. The findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

In the meta-analysis, the researchers looked at six randomized controlled trials that included, in total, more than 600 patients with celiac disease. The researchers analyzed whether the people who consumed gluten-free oats had reacted negatively to the oats, including whether they experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating or diarrhea, showed an uptick of antibodies to gluten in their blood or had damage to the lining of the gut. 

They found that there was no evidence that eating gluten-free oats had any negative impact on patients with celiac disease, Pinto-Sanchez said.

However, Pinto-Sanchez said, the quality of the studies in the meta-analysis was generally low, with most of the studies flawed or biased in some way. More high-quality studies are needed, she added. [7 Biggest Diet Myths]

The findings suggest that it "seems safe" for people with celiac to consume oats. However, Pinto-Sanchez said she would still follow the guidelines set by the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease, which say that oat consumption could be safe for people with celiac disease, but those who wish to eat oats should talk with a doctor. A doctor, for example, could take a blood sample before a person started eating gluten-free oats, and then again afterward, to confirm that the person had no reaction, she said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.