Written by: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet
As the market for gluten-free foods continues to grow, oatmeal, the long-time breakfast favorite, has seen a resurgence in popularity as a gluten-free alternative to wheat. Oats are often touted in marketing campaigns as “heart healthy.” And of course, they are loved by bodybuilders and cookie-baking grandmas alike.
But oats might not be the healthy food they’re made out to be…
In fact, a daily dose of gluten-free oatmeal can cause blood sugar imbalances, promote weight gain, increase immune reactivity and more.
Oatmeal: Healthful or Harmful to Blood Sugar?
While oatmeal is marketed as a “slow carb”, many people experience a sharp spike in blood sugar levels after eating it.
That’s because oatmeal has a relatively high (63) glycemic index rating. This is a measure of how quickly the carbohydrates in a given food break down to sugar during digestion.
But there is another – even more important – measure of how a particular food will affect your blood sugar. It’s called the glycemic load (GL). This measurement factors in the glycemic index of a food. But it also takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a typical serving. And this is an important distinction when it comes to managing your blood sugar.
For example, a piece of hard candy – let’s say, a peppermint – is almost pure sugar and has a glycemic index near the top of the scale (95-100). But the amount of carbohydrate in one peppermint (5g) is actually quite low. So, despite the high glycemic index, eating one piece of candy would have a negligible effect on the blood sugar levels of the average healthy person.
Oatmeal, on the other hand, has a considerably lower glycemic index (63). However, the standard serving size is 250 grams, including 30 grams of carbohydrates that rapidly convert to sugar. Therefore, the glycemic load for a serving of oatmeal is 19 – or 300% higher than the GL of the candy!
While it should be noted that oats do have a lower glycemic impact than other grains (especially if you add a healthy fat source like Kerrygold butter and nuts) eating foods with a high glycemic load on a regular basis can promote insulin resistance and weight gain – especially if you are not engaging in regular, vigorous exercise.
But that’s not the only reason to avoid oats. In fact, this gluten-free food may actually trigger an immune response similar to that of gluten-containing foods.
Oatmeal: Is It Gluten-Free?
Avenin is a protein in the prolamine family, which also includes gluten from wheat, rye, and barley, and zein, from corn.
Immune reactions to avenin that cause damage to the small intestine are rare, but they can occur in people with a condition called Avenin Sensitive Enteropathy (ASE).
What’s more, while most people with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance can tolerate certified gluten-free oats, there is a risk of cross-reactivity between gluten and avenin.
In fact, a study published in the journal Gut found that 26% of the subjects in the study experienced damage to the nutrient-absorbing villi of the intestine and rash during a period where 50 grams of oats were consumed daily for 12 weeks.
And like other grains, oats are also high in anti-nutrients, namely phytic acid.
A Comforting Bowl of Anti-Nutrients
Phytic acid (or phytates) actively bind with minerals during digestion, prevents these important nutrients from being absorbed. Phytates also reduce production of an enzyme called pepsin, which is critical for digestion.
So, while oats might be relatively rich in mineral content, the presence of phytic acid will render a good amount of those nutrients inactive and unavailable to your body.
Some studies do show that phytic acid can be reduced (and therefore nutrient absorption increased) by lactic fermentation – soaking oats with whey, yogurt or kefir. However, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, oats lack an enzyme called phytase – and therefore soaking alone cannot eliminate all of the phytic acid. A complementary grain rich in phytase – such as buckwheat – would need to be added to the oats during the soaking process to deactivate the phytates.
What Is YOUR Experience with Oats?
Many people cite adverse reactions to oats. In fact, if you notice that you feel “spacey” or experience nauseas after consuming oats, you’re not alone. This is surprisingly common complaint.
And while blood sugar spikes can cause these effects, that may not be the most likely explanation. Oats can also be contaminated with a mold toxin called deoxynivalenol (DON), which grows during the storage of the grain. This compound is also appropriately referred to as vomitoxin, as it can cause nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
Do you eat oats? If so, what is your experience with how they affect your blood sugar, energy levels and health, in general?
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing information about gluten-free pseudo-grains and grain alternatives that you can enjoy in your gluten-free and Paleo lifestyle.
Read more articles by Kelley Herring here.
Kelley Herring is author of more than a dozen books on nutrition and natural healing. She is also the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, which has just released their newest product – Better Bread – a 100% Paleo bread mix you can whip up in 5 minutes flat.
1. University of Sydney Glycemic Index database: http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=833&ak=detail
2. Weston A. Price. Living With Phytic Acid.
3. C Kilmartin, S Lynch, M Abuzakouk, et al. Avenin fails to induce a Th1 response in coeliac tissue following in vitro culture. Gut 2003;52:47-52 doi:10.1136/gut.52.1.47
4. Hollén E., Högberg L., Stenhammar L., Fälth-Magnusson K. and Magnusson K.-E. Antibodies to Oat Prolamines (Avenins) in Children with Coeliac Disease. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2003, Vol. 38, No. 7 , Pages 742-746
5. Guttormsen V1, Løvik A, Bye A, Bratlie J, Mørkrid L, Lundin KE. No induction of anti-avenin IgA by oats in adult, diet-treated coeliac disease. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2008;43(2):161-5. doi: 10.1080/00365520701832822.
6. K E A Lundin,E M Nilsen,H G Scott,E M Løberg, et al. Oats induced villous atrophy in coeliac disease Gut 2003;52:1649-1652
7. Bering S, Suchdev S, Sjøltov L, Berggren A, Tetens I, Bukhave K. A lactic acid-fermented oat gruel increases non-haem iron absorption from a phytate-rich meal in healthy women of childbearing age. Br J Nutr. 2006 Jul;96(1):80-5.