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Oats don’t contain gluten, so why are “gluten-free oats” a thing?


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When you follow a gluten-free diet, you know to avoid the usual culprits of wheat, barley, and rye—but oats are always a safe haven, right? Well, not necessarily. And that’s exactly why so many products containing the surprisingly Instagrammable breakfast-staple grain are starting to sport labels just like the rest of your gluten-free go-tos.

Oats themselves are naturally gluten-free, but the gluten-free label comes into play because of cross-contamination issues, which can seriously impact the health of folks who have celiac disease. “Commercial oats are often grown in fields that have previously grown wheat, transported by methods of transport where other grains are transported, and frequently milled in facilities that mill other grains,” Peter Green, MD, told The New York Times.

“Commercial oats are often grown in fields that have previously grown wheat, transported by methods of transport where other grains are transported, and frequently milled in facilities that mill other grains.” —Peter Green, MD

Because of this grain-production melting pot that sometimes takes place, if you have an actual allergy or intolerance, the gluten-free label can be crucial: It signifies that the product’s gluten level is “below the regulated threshold of 20 parts per million,” a number the Food and Drug Administration defined back in 2013. With the label on your side, you can rest assured that your oats won’t have significant cross-contamination from storage silos, shared harvesting devices, or production equipment.

The next time you’re buying oats, look out for the label: Experts say chowing down on the celiac-safe variety will give you plenty of antioxidants, lots of fiber, and keep your blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check. Plus, you know, you won’t have to worry about your body having a major freak-out if some of the pesky substance sneaks its way into your breakfast. Consider it a win-win.

Here’s how to enjoy a classic cheesy Italian dish the gluten-free way. Or, try some delicious lemon bars that are also totally free of gluten.

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