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Are Cheerios Gluten Free? Gluten Free Cheerios Recalled for Contamination of Wheat

Gluten-Free Cheerios?

Gluten free cheerios recallAre Cheerios Gluten Free? General Mills issued a voluntary recall of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios this week. The following was taken directly from’s website after their “gluten-free” factory was contaminated with wheat.

“We are embarrassed & sorry to share an incident that occurred at our production facility in Lodi, California, that allowed wheat flour to enter our gluten-free oat-based system. As a result, original and Honey Nut Cheerios produced on several dates may contain wheat and were wrongly labeled gluten-free.

We are voluntarily recalling the products made on those dates at our Lodi facility and we ask you to check the “better if used by” code dates on your packages.

We want to reassure you that this was an isolated incident and we have implemented a solution to ensure that this will not happen again. The Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced at our other facilities are, and will continue to be, FDA-compliant and gluten-free. We’ll also continue to test products and our oat flour supply extensively to ensure our products meet the gluten-free standard. We care about what you and your family eat and we are truly sorry for this mistake. We will work extremely hard to earn back your trust.”

So far a few people have reported becoming ill after consuming the products. In this case, wheat contaminated the oats. This begged the question “Are Cheerios gluten-free?” Aside from the issue of cross-contamination, the bigger question that needs to be asked is – Are Oats Safe for Those With Gluten Sensitivity

oats - are they safe on a gluten free diet

Oats are commonly recommended for those going on a gluten-free diet as a safe substitute food. The classic or traditional definition of gluten includes only wheat, barley, rye (sometimes oats, sometimes not). So the big question is – Should you eat oats if you have problems with gluten?

Why All the Confusion?

The common response I hear back from people is – “Dr. Osborne, I don’t feel bad when I eat oatmeal.” or “My other doctor says that oatmeal is safe.” or “The package of oatmeal claims to be gluten-free.”

Keep in mind the following: It is not how bad you feel after consumption that tells you whether or not you are having an inflammatory immune reaction. This type of damage can take years to manifest into symptoms. That is one of the primary reasons that most people diagnosed with gluten problems don’t get their diagnosis until later in life. The inflammatory damage builds over time, and is typically not an immediate response. The food labeling laws don’t include oatmeal because there is not a firm scientific consensus. Many claim that celiac patients react to oats only because they are cross contaminated with wheat. And although it is true that many packaged grain products are cross contaminated, non cross contaminated oats have also been shown to cause an inflammatory reaction in patients diagnosed with gluten intolerance. The bigger problem here is that doctors and the gluten free food industry completely ignore the research on this topic, and continue to claim that oats are a safe substitute food. But before you make a decision to include oat cereal products into your diet, consider the research studies below:

Current Research on Oats

There have been a number of research studies performed to evaluate the safety of oat consumption. Many of them report that components in oat proteins cause inflammation and elicit damage in patients with gluten sensitivity. Most recently, a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that some forms of oat protein triggered and antibody reaction. Another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found two varieties of oat proteins were responsible for increased intraepithelial T-cell density and IFN-γ production (both of these are signs of increased inflammation).

In 2012 a research study was published identifying a…

direct correlation of the immunogenicity of the different oat varieties with the toxicity of peptides present in their avenin sequences.

In plain English please – Proteins in oat cereal stimulated an immune response similar to what is seen from wheat.

The studies above were all published after Jan. of 2011. In medicine, it can take 20-30 years for new information to become common knowledge among doctors. So I don’t expect that many physicians will be talking about the potential for oat to be a problem for those with gluten sensitivity. That being said, let’s take a look at a comprehensive review of the medical literature that was published in 2011 compiling 75 studies published on the topic since 1953. The summary from the authors are quoted below:

Oats in a gluten-free diet increase the diet’s nutritional value, but their use remains controversial. Contamination with prolamins of other cereals is frequent, and some clinical and experimental studies support the view that a subgroup of celiac patients may be intolerant to pure oats. Thus, this issue is more complex than previously suggested. In order to produce oats that are safe for all celiac patients, the following topics should be addressed: selection of oat cultivars with low avenin content, research on such recombinant varieties of oats, development of assay methods to detect avenins in oat products, guidelines for the agricultural processing of oats and the manufacture of oat products, as well as guidelines for following up with celiac patients who consume oats.


  1. Silano M, et al. Diversity of oat varieties in eliciting the early inflammatory events in celiac disease. Eur J Nutr
  2. Maglio M, Mazzarella G, Barone MV, et al. Immunogenicity of two oat varieties, in relation to their safety for celiac patients.Scand J Gastroenterol. 2011 Oct;46(10):1194-205.
  3. Real A, Comino I, de Lorenzo L, et al. Molecular and immunological characterization of gluten proteins isolated from oat cultivars that differ in toxicity for celiac disease. PLoS One. 2012;7(12).
  4. Fric P, Gabrovska D, Nevoral J. Celiac disease, gluten-free diet, and oats. Nutr Rev. 2011 Feb;69(2):107-15.

Oat Safety Summary

Oats contain a form of gluten often times referred to as avenin, and this protein represents 12-16% of the total protein found in oats. This in and of itself makes it virtually impossible for oats to be gluten-free. This number is low compared to the 69% gluten protein composition of wheat, and it may in part account for the fact that people report less negative reactions when consuming oats. It is well established the 20 ppm (parts per million) – roughly the size of a bread crumb is enough gluten to create and inflammatory reaction in patients with gluten sensitivity. It has also been shown that many patient embarking on a traditional gluten-free diet (avoiding wheat, barley, and rye, but not other grains) continue to remain ill. The diagram below compares the gluten protein content of different grains:

Gluten composition of grains

The bulk of scientific literature investigating oat safety is in agreement that more research is needed before making a blanket statement that oats are safe for everyone. Some laboratories now offer limited testing for oat allergies. These labs are not accurate enough and do not investigate the inflammatory response to oats in a comprehensive manner, and therefore should not be the basis to include oats in the diet. Because it is currently not possible to extract the forms of oat gluten known to cause damage from the cereal, avoidance of oats as a substitute food for a gluten-free diet is strongly recommended.

Key Points:

  • There is no such thing as a “gluten-free” oat.
  • As many as 41% of processed packaged foods labeled gluten-free contain enough gluten to cause damage (oats included)
  • 20 ppm exposure can allow for persistent damage
  • Several types of gluten protein in oats have been shown to cause inflammation
  • Although often times labeled gluten-free, oats contain gluten.

Have you ever reacted to oats? Chime in below…

Always looking out for you,

Dr. Osborne- The Gluten Free Warrior

8 Responses

  1. I was told by my chiropractor never to eat grains because I have Graves’ disease .a thyroid condition,which is autoimmune.
    It was hard to adapt at first but now I do not miss them at all.There are so many good foods out there and with the help of the Internet
    it has made it easier to live with.Grains can destroy you has I have learnt.When are doctors going to be educated about all this!

  2. I am interested in your findings on oats not being gluten free I have been eating gluten free oat biscuits and for two days running I have had quite severe headaches lasting all day

  3. After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and subsequent sensitivity to wheat (and other foods) I turned to oats. After an over-reliance on oats over several months, I began to break out into a rash that started on my neck that eventally moved all down my rib cage and back. It took a few weeks before I figured it out, but when I stopped eating so called “gluten free” oats, the rash went away. I thought oats were ok, but I’ve since learned they, too, contain glutnen. I Can’t eat them anymore or the rash comes back.

  4. I seem to tolerate oats just fine. When I am exposed to gluten in something like traditionally crafted Roquefort cheese (made with ground up, moldy rye bread) or am not really careful about a sauce, etc., I will experience symptoms. I have never experienced any symptoms with oats.

    I do appreciate General Mills. Their gluten-free Betty Crocker baking mixes are amazing. Someone at that company is on the ball. Of course, I mostly just eat naturally gluten free fresh, unprocessed foods. It’s just fun to have a treat once in awhile

  5. After going gluten free, some years ago, I tried eating oats processed in a GF facillity. I had no noticeable reaction. I was really happy, so I started baking with oat flour-tastes great, and you can substitute one for one instead of reg. flour. But as soon as I ate the baked goods, in this case biscuits, I reacted badly with stomach cramps and diarrhea. Then I read you must be totally GF for one year, so your stomach has time to heal; then try the oats. So I waited one year, tried the oats in cookies, and again seamed fine. But when I tried biscuits again, same reaction as before. I can’t figure out the difference, except that maybe the whole oats were too big to digest? And then when I tried the finely ground flour, I reacted? Can’t figure any other reason to react to one, but not the other. I eventually learned about the elimination diet, and found out that ALL grains bother me, even quinoa.

  6. Always made our own meals at home, rarely eating out when two young adult daughters developed autoimmune disease. One with IBS had gut issues since birth (which did clear (? not) during childhood) and began ‘passing out’ in high school. People who witnessed the events said it was more seizure like. After much research and a long wait for a rheumatologist appt, she began a gluten/grain free diet on her own and immediately the severe symptoms were gone. Today she fixes all of her own meals and is only experiencing IBS symptoms seldomly and never has any more seizures. The physician did not recommend any particular diet (negative celiac biopsies) but just felt that whatever worked is best. Anyone with inflammation should never consume polysaccharides.

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