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Celiac Disease

Canada to Recognize “Gluten-Free” Oats

oatsminadezhda via Thinkstock

“Gluten-free” oats and oat products are coming to Canadian grocery shelves, according to government health officials.

In a statement released on November 14, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to allow oat products containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten to carry a “gluten free” label – an identification that was previously banned from all oat products in Canada.

“Canadians with celiac disease rely on accurate food labels that clearly state if a product contains gluten,” said MP Kelly Block, who announced the intent on behalf of the minister. “Allowing manufacturers to label their products as ‘gluten-free’ when they use these specially produced oats will make it easier for Canadians to identify products that they can safely eat and broaden the range of food choices that will provide a nutritional benefit.”

In the U.S. and Europe, oats that test in the range of what is considered “pure and uncontaminated” oats (i.e. those with less than 20 ppm of gluten) are allowed to be labeled as “gluten-free” products. However, in Canada, this type of labeling is not yet been approved.

When it comes to the safety of pure oats, there is one crucial caveat: a small subset of people with celiac disease have been found to react to a protein in oats, known as avenin, just as if they were reacting to gluten. The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center finds that it is a small group, however, “perhaps less than 1 percent of celiac patients show a reaction to a large amount of oats in their diets.”

The Canadian Celiac Association released a position in 2007 stating that research shows the majority of adults with the celiac disease can safely consume half to three-quarters of a cup (50 to 70 grams) of “pure, uncontaminated” dry rolled oats per day. For children, it’s one-quarter of a cup (20 to 25 grams) a day. The CCA has since been working with Health Canada to improve pure oats labelling.

“We are pleased that Health Canada is taking steps that will benefit the celiac community through allowing gluten-free claims on specially produced oats,” said Anne Wraggett, president of the CCA. “Oats are a nutritious grain and can add variety for those who must follow a strict gluten-free diet for life.”

Experts suggest speaking to a health professional before adding oats to your gluten-free diet.

A comment period will be held until January 27, 2015, giving the public and stakeholders a chance to weigh in on the decision. It is therefore still unclear when “gluten free” oats will hit Canadian shelves.

To comment or read more about the pending regulations, see the Health Canada website.

For more on this debate, check out “Are Oats OK on the GF Diet?” in our upcoming Winter 2015 issue.

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