Gluten-free oatmeal is packaged oatmeal or oats that contain no gluten or traces of gluten. Gluten, which is found mainly in wheat and other gluten-based grains, such as rye and barley, is a common cause of food sensitivity. People with celiac disease, or with a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity must often adhere to a complete or partially gluten-free diet. Whether oats trigger gluten-sensitivities has been controversial, but specifically labeled gluten-free oatmeal can be tolerated by most people on a gluten-free diet.
Oatmeal is usually eaten as a breakfast dish, and is made by cooking a mixture of oats and either water or milk. Oats do not contain gluten, but they are frequently contaminated with gluten because oats are often grown and processed near other gluten-containing cereal grains. For people with extreme gluten-sensitivity, or celiac disease, even a relatively low contamination level can trigger a flare up.
Gluten-free oatmeal is grown and processed in an environment that limits or completely eliminates cross-contamination of the oats with other cereal grains. For many people with gluten-sensitivities or celiac disease, gluten-free oats can thus be included in a healthy diet. Oats, and therefore gluten-free oatmeal, are both an excellent source of soluble fiber, as well as iron, zinc, and B vitamins. In most cases, oats are thought to improve intestinal health and help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
The connection between oats, which are naturally gluten-free, and celiac disease is complicated. For many years it was believed that oats were the cause of celiac disease. The fact that oats are so commonly contaminated with other gluten-containing cereal grains clouded the issue for many decades. It is now widely accepted that oats do not contain gluten and do not trigger the same biological response that troubles those with gluten-intolerance.
Further complicating the issue, some researchers have reported that not all cultivars of oats affect gluten-sensitive individuals in the same way. This varying response is due to different sets of relevant proteins within different strains of oats. It may be that although oats do not contain the same sets of gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye, some cultivars of oats may contain proteins that trigger a similar intolerant response.
Research has also demonstrated that some people may be specifically oat-sensitive. It is possible that some celiacs and gluten-sensitive people are both gluten and oat-intolerant. The decision of whether to include oats in a gluten-free diet must therefore be made on an individual basis. For those who can tolerate it, gluten-free oatmeal is a healthy addition to the breakfast menu.