Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people choosing to avoid gluten for medical or lifestyle reasons. For those following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to be aware of which foods and ingredients contain gluten. One common breakfast food that often raises questions is Quaker steel cut oats.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. It acts as a glue that helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a structural component. For most people, consuming gluten doesn’t cause any issues. However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten can trigger an abnormal immune response and cause damage to the small intestine. This is why following a strict gluten-free diet is medically necessary for these individuals.
Are oats gluten-free?
Oats are naturally gluten-free, as they do not contain the same proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. However, oats are frequently cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains during growing, harvesting, transport or processing. For this reason, whether oats can be considered gluten-free depends on the level of contamination.
Many oat products on the market are labeled “gluten-free” and specially processed to avoid cross-contamination with gluten. To qualify for this label in the United States, oat-based foods must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Are Quaker steel cut oats gluten-free?
According to Quaker, their steel cut oats are considered gluten-free to a level of 20 parts per million. On their website, they state:
“Quaker has a strict testing protocol to confirm Our Oats are gluten free. Our farmers, millers and manufacturing facilities adhere to these strict guidelines to ensure Quaker Oats are gluten free.”
So although they are not 100% gluten-free, Quaker steel cut oats fall below the threshold to be considered gluten-free for those following a gluten-free diet in the United States and many other countries. Quaker also states that any oat containers labeled as “gluten-free” have been tested to ensure they meet the standard.
How are Quaker steel cut oats processed?
To qualify as gluten-free, Quaker steel cut oats undergo special processing:
- Quaker sources its oats from farms growing oat varieties that have inherently lower levels of gluten than other varieties.
- The oats are transported in dedicated gluten-free trucks and storage facilities.
- The oats are milled in separate designated gluten-free facilities.
- Regular testing is conducted during processing to ensure gluten levels remain below 20 ppm.
- The final product is again tested to confirm it qualifies as gluten-free.
This strict control from farm to finished product minimizes the risk of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains.
What if I have celiac disease?
For those with celiac disease, it’s generally recommended to avoid all foods containing any detectable levels of gluten. Even tiny amounts can trigger symptoms and intestinal damage. While Quaker steel cut oats are considered gluten-free by US standards, the <20 ppm level may still be too high for some with celiac disease.
If you have celiac disease, it’s best to discuss oat consumption with your healthcare provider to determine if Quaker steel cut oats are appropriate for your individual needs and sensitivity level. Some with celiac disease are able to tolerate oats, while others need to steer clear.
While Quaker steel cut oats are labeled gluten-free and processed to minimize gluten levels, there is still a small risk of cross-contamination, especially if they are handled improperly after opening. Here are some points to consider:
- Make sure to thoroughly wash any bowls, utensils, pots and pans used to prepare Quaker oats if they’ve previously been in contact with gluten-containing foods.
- If you have a very gluten-sensitive household member, consider designating a separate oat-only toaster or cooking equipment to prevent cross-contamination.
- Store opened packages of Quaker oats in a sealed container to prevent accidental gluten exposure from other foods.
- Check labels to ensure any added ingredients mixed into the oats, like spices or dried fruit, are also gluten-free.
Practicing careful kitchen habits minimizes any risk of gluten cross-contamination after opening.
When evaluating if Quaker steel cut oats will work for your gluten-free diet, here are some other points to consider:
- Label reading: Be sure to check the label for any indication of “gluten-free” wording. Avoid containers without a gluten-free guarantee.
- Flavor variants: Some flavored Quaker oats like apple or cinnamon may have additional ingredients that contain gluten, so check labels carefully.
- Look for purity seals: Opt for Quaker oat products that display certification seals like GFCO (Gluten-Free Certification Organization) to provide extra assurance.
- Assess your own tolerance: The only way to know if Quaker oats work for you is to try them! Start with a small serving and monitor symptoms to assess your personal tolerance.
Is oatmeal gluten-free?
Oatmeal refers to oat groats (the whole oat kernel) or steel cut oats that have been further processed, softened and rolled or ground into flakes. Many brands of oatmeal, including store brands, are likely to contain traces of gluten due to cross-contamination. Only oatmeal that is specifically labeled gluten-free, like Quaker plain rolled oats, have been processed to maintain purity and qualify as gluten-free.
Comparison to other oat types
Steel cut oats are simply oat groats that have been cut into smaller pieces rather than rolled. This results in a chewier, heartier texture when cooked. Other common oat types like old fashioned rolled oats or quick oats differ in their processing but come from similar gluten-free oat sources. As long as they are specifically labeled gluten-free, other Quaker oat products like quick oats and instant oatmeal packets are safe alternatives to steel cut oats for gluten-free diets.
What about oat-based cereals?
In addition to Quaker oatmeal products, Quaker also produces various oat-based cold cereals. While the oats in these cereals come from gluten-free sources, they often contain additional ingredients like wheat starch that are not safe for gluten-free diets. Always thoroughly check the label on each individual cereal variety; do not assume they are gluten-free even if they contain oats.
- Quaker steel cut oats are considered gluten-free to a threshold of <20ppm.
- They undergo specialized processing to prevent gluten cross-contamination.
- Individual sensitivity varies – oats may not be tolerated by those highly sensitive.
- Proper handling and label reading are important to maintain gluten-free purity.
- Other Quaker gluten-free labeled oats are also considered gluten-free options.
Overall, Quaker steel cut oats provide a well-tolerated gluten-free whole grain option for most following a gluten-free diet, as long as proper processing protocols and precautions are followed.
What do experts say?
Many trusted experts in the gluten-free and celiac disease fields have deemed oats meeting the GFCO standard to be safe for most gluten-free diets. Here are some quotes:
“The safety of gluten-free labeled oats like Quaker is supported by the available scientific literature to date. Oats from GFCO certified suppliers are regularly tested to ensure purity standards are met, so you can feel confident choosing plain Quaker oats marked gluten-free if you follow a gluten-free diet.” – Dr. Rania Habal, MD, gastroenterologist
“In my experience counseling celiac disease patients, the majority are able to add back in Quaker gluten-free oats without issue. However, I always recommend reintroducing them slowly while monitoring symptoms to gauge individual tolerance.” – Jill Hancock, RDN, celiac disease specialist
“Quaker gluten-free steel cut oats make quick, filling and nutritious breakfasts that I regularly recommend to my gluten-free clients. With proper handling and labeling verification, Quaker oats provide a budget-friendly whole grain to add variety to the gluten-free diet.” – Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, gluten-free dietitian
Leading gluten-free and celiac disease associations around the world generally accept oats as gluten-free when following proper purity protocols. Always work with your healthcare team to determine if oats are appropriate for your individual needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Quaker oats processed on shared equipment with gluten-containing grains?
No, Quaker labels their gluten-free oats as such because they are processed on dedicated gluten-free equipment and thoroughly tested during every stage of production. This minimizes any risk of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains.
Are Quaker oats safe for people with wheat allergies?
Yes, Quaker oats labeled gluten-free are safe for those with wheat allergies, as they are processed without any wheat or gluten exposure. Individuals with wheat allergy should still carefully check all Quaker oat labeling to verify the gluten-free status.
Do Quaker oats contain barley or malt?
No, Quaker oats do not contain any gluten-containing ingredients like barley or malt. Only plain Quaker oats with a gluten-free label should be consumed as part of a gluten-free diet.
Can celiac disease develop later in life?
Yes, although celiac disease often appears in childhood after gluten is introduced to the diet, it can develop at any age. Celiac symptoms may emerge later in adulthood or even seniors. It’s important to get tested for celiac disease if you develop digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies or concerning symptoms.
What blood tests help diagnose celiac disease?
Common celiac disease blood tests check for levels of antibodies such as:
- Tissue transglutaminase (tTG)
- Deamidated gliadin peptide (DGP)
- Endomysial antibody (EMA)
Elevated levels indicate your immune system is reacting to gluten. If blood tests are positive, your doctor will likely recommend a small intestine biopsy to confirm celiac diagnosis.
How long does it take to feel better on a gluten-free diet?
Most people with celiac disease report symptom improvement within weeks to months of strict gluten elimination. However, healing of existing intestinal damage caused by gluten exposure can take 6 months to 2 years for adults. Children often heal faster. Strict gluten avoidance for life is required to manage celiac disease.
What grains are gluten-free?
Grains and starchy foods naturally gluten-free include:
- Oats (gluten-free)
Always check labels to confirm gluten-free status, as cross-contamination is possible during processing.
What are the most common symptoms of celiac disease?
Common celiac disease symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Tingling numbness
- Cognitive issues (“brain fog”)
Symptoms vary widely and can come and go. Some with celiac disease have no noticeable symptoms.
Are most people with celiac disease diagnosed?
No, it is estimated that about 83% of Americans living with celiac disease remain undiagnosed. Increased awareness of varied symptoms and screening of at-risk groups is needed to improve rates of diagnosis.
How is celiac disease treated?
The only current treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, avoiding all foods and medications containing wheat, barley, rye and contaminated oats. Most can successfully manage the condition by avoiding gluten. In rare cases non-responsive celiac disease requires immunosuppressant medications.
What is gluten ataxia?
Gluten ataxia is a condition characterized by damage to the cerebellum part of the brain caused by exposure to gluten. It results in problems with balance, coordination and muscle control. Removing gluten from the diet can halt progression of symptoms.
Do I need to see a gastroenterologist for celiac disease?
A gastroenterologist is considered the best specialist for diagnosis and management of celiac disease, as they specialize in conditions of the gastrointestinal tract. A gastroenterologist can confirm diagnosis through biopsies obtained during an upper endoscopy procedure.
Is a gluten-free diet healthy?
Yes, a well-planned gluten-free diet can be very healthy and nutritionally balanced. Focus on naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy, beans, nuts and gluten-free whole grains like quinoa. Limit processed gluten-free products high in sugar, fat or calories.
Do I have to buy special pans and cookware for a gluten-free kitchen?
No, in most cases thoroughly washing cookware to remove traces of gluten is sufficient. Designating certain high-use items like toasters or colanders as gluten-free can minimize cross-contact risk.
Can traces of gluten hurt you?
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, even small traces of gluten can trigger immune reactions and symptoms. How much is tolerated varies between individuals. The less gluten consumed, the better chance of healing for those with celiac disease.
Will I always have celiac disease?
Yes, celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder that is managed but not cured. Lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet is necessary after diagnosis. The immune system reaction and intestinal damage will return if gluten is reintroduced.
Are gluten-free oats healthier?
Gluten-free oats like Quaker are processed specially to avoid cross-contamination with gluten sources. They do not inherently have different nutritional value. Choosing gluten-free oats simply allows those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to enjoy the nutrition of whole oats.
The Bottom Line
Quaker steel cut oats offer a well-tolerated gluten-free whole grain option when following proper processing protocols to avoid contamination. For most people on a gluten-free diet, Quaker oats labeled gluten-free provide a budget-friendly way to enjoy the nutritional benefits of oats. However, it is important to verify individual tolerance, read labels carefully and take precautions to prevent cross-contact with gluten. When in doubt, discuss your individual case with a healthcare professional.