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I know a lot of people who are gluten free, by choice or necessity, so I’m pretty familiar with the ins and outs of gluten free grains. One that is always confusing though is oats. Are they naturally gluten free? If so, why are some labelled gluten free and some not?


After a bit of internet digging the answer is, well, yes and no.

Oats are naturally gluten free. They are also liable to gluten contamination at many stages between the field and your breakfast bowl. According to GFCF.com (a gluten-and-dairy free lifestyle page)

Farmers usually rotate growing oats in their fields with crops of wheat or barley. This means that during one summer the field will be filled with a crop of only oats. Then, the next summer the same field will be filled with a crop of wheat or barley. In the summer following that, oats will be planted again in the same field. Although only oats are in the field during this time, some kernels of the wheat or barley gets left behind from harvesting the previous year. This is where cross-contamination of the oats with the gluten-containing wheat or barley can occur.

Not only are crops of oats rotated with crops of wheat or barley, but they are also sometimes grown in fields right next to each other during the same season. This can cause cross-contamination because of weather conditions and harvesting methods. Wind can blow kernels of wheat or barley into the fields of oats while the crops are still growing. During harvest time, if the wheat or barley is harvested first, the machines can throw pieces and dust of the wheat or barley onto the oats.

As a result most commercial oats are contaminated with gluten from the get-go. During processing there are more chances of gluten getting into the mix. TheKitchn.com reports that, “Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye. The gluten in these ingredients can contaminate oats, and the nature of most gluten intolerance is that even a trace amount of gluten can cause severe discomfort.”

There you have it. Oats are gluten free, if you buy gluten free oats. The good news is they are a nutritious whole food and not too expensive compared other gluten free products.

overnight oats

Photo via VeganRunnerEats

One easy way to enjoy oats is to soak them overnight in a non-dairy milk or water, and add some ingredients to taste. The VeganRunnerEats blog has several recipes for gluten free overnight oats. Use it for inspiration and go from there!


  • 50-60g rolled oats
  • 240ml non-dairy milk of choice, or enough to cover the oats
  • 1/2 tsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted nuts/seeds (walnuts, pecans, almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
  • 2 Tbsp dried fruit of choice (raisins, cranberries, cherries, apricots, prunes, etc.)
  • 1/2 tsp coconut flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp light miso paste (optional, adds probiotics and enzymes)
  • 1 tsp maple or agave syrup (optional)
  • Pinch cinnamon

For the rest of the recipe and variations visit VeganRunnerEats.

Share your favourite oat recipes or tips in the comments!