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October 2021

J Am Diet Assoc. 1997 Dec; 97(12): 1413-6.

Do oats belong in a gluten-free diet?

Thompson T.

Celiac disease is an intolerance to protein fractions in wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats. When these grains are consumed by a person with celiac disease, they damage the mucosa of the small intestine, which eventually leads to malabsorption of nutrients. Patients are therefore advised to remove these grains from their diet, with lifelong adherence generally suggested. Although many dietitians and physicians consider this dietary prescription to be standard protocol, it is actually quite controversial. Whether oats can safely be consumed by persons with celiac disease has been debated since the gluten-free diet was first advocated more than 40 years ago. Historically, there have been several reasons for this debate, including the difficulty in identifying the precise amino acid sequence in gliadin that is responsible for toxicity; the differences in cereal chemistry between wheat and oats; and the lack of well-designed studies to assess the toxicity of oats. A growing body of evidence now suggests that moderate amounts of oats may be safely consumed by most adults with celiac disease. If further research continues to find no adverse effects from oat consumption, a consensus may emerge on the place of oats in the gluten-free diet. In the meantime, individual dietary prescriptions, routinely assessed for appropriateness using histologic and/or serologic studies, may be warranted to prevent unnecessary dietary restrictiveness and undesirable medical complications.

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