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I've seen a lot of questions popping up lately about gluten free oat milk so I wanted to put together a post to tackle any confusion.
Oats are often a difficult thing to get your head around when you first start on a gluten free diet.
When it comes to oat milk, there's so much confusion over which ones are gluten free in the UK.
Really though, it's quite simple. And I shall prove this with my super easy guide to gluten free oat milk in the UK!
I will try to update this guide as much as possible but all was correct at the time of publishing (April 2021).
As always, recipes often change so please always double check the ingredients.
I recommended using the Coeliac UK Food and Drink Guide or downloading their Food Scanner App.
Are oats gluten free?
Let's start off by explaining about oats, and why some of them are not suitable for a gluten free diet.
Oats themselves do not contain gluten. But often with the way they are processed there is cross contamination from gluten-containing crops.
Therefore in the UK, only oats SPECIFICALLY marked as gluten free are ACTUALLY gluten free.
It's really that simple.
Any oat products not marked gluten free, are not safe to consume on a gluten free diet.
This is because they don't meet the strict gluten free standards of being below 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
It's also important to note that a lot of people with coeliac disease cannot tolerate oats.
This is because they contain a protein called avenin.
Avenin can cause a reaction similar to gluten in some people with coeliac disease.
If you find you are struggling to tolerate even gluten free oats, it's best to speak to your GP or dietician.
So is oat milk gluten free?
The concept of whether oat milk is gluten free or not is exactly the same as the concept of if oats are gluten free or not.
If you're in the UK and the oat milk is marked as gluten free, then you're good to go.
If it is not, then it's not gluten free.
There really is no other way to explain it. And be wary of those 'barista style' almond (and other dairy free) milks as sometimes they have oat milk added.
But what about 'low gluten' oat milk?
I'm gonna tell you this straight: stop listening to this 'low gluten' crap if you have coeliac disease or are on a gluten free diet for medical reasons.
Being on a gluten free diet is exactly that - gluten FREE. Free from gluten.
Not a drop.
Low gluten is not gluten free.
Low gluten oat milk is not gluten free.
Baristas who try to tell you that it is are misinformed.
If you just have a minor intolerance or are avoiding gluten through choice, that's fine.
But if you need to have a gluten free diet - and especially if you have coeliac disease - low gluten is not good enough.
Sorry to burst that bubble.
Gluten free oat milk brands (in the UK)
The good news is that while most oat milks are not gluten free, there are some good ones out there.
Which means if you're able to tolerate gluten free oats in your diet, you can get on that oat milk latte trend.
I've only come across a few oat milks in the UK that are marked specifically gluten free:
- Rude Health Gluten Free Oat Drink (Sold in Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Holland and Barratt and Waitrose)
- Glebe Farm Oat Milk (available from Holland and Barrett or in bulk Amazon here)
- Plenish Oat M*lk (available in Sainsburys, Holland and Barratt and Ocado)
- Alpro Barista For Professionals Gluten Free Oat (not be confused with the standard Barista Oat Milk which is NOT gluten free. Buy on Amazon here.)
It's important to note that it is only these specific products which are gluten free and they are clearly marked as such.
Alpro produce a vast range of oat milks - including several other barista oat milks - which are NOT gluten free.
I understand their gluten free barista oat milk is mainly only sold in wholesalers but a few people have reported seeing them in Tesco or Sainsbury's.
They are stocked on Amazon too right here.
Rude Health also does a barista oat milk which is NOT made with gluten free oats.
So make sure you check for the one clearly labelled gluten free.
This is why it's so important to double, triple check the labels as a lot of them look very similar and can be easily confused in a hurry.
Is Oatly gluten free?
In most coffee shops, Oatly is the oat milk of choice but I'm sorry to say Oatly is NOT gluten free in the UK.
While Oatly claims to be 'very low gluten' it does not fall below 20ppm and is therefore not safe for people on a gluten free diet.
Interestingly I think the confusion comes from the fact that in the US, Oatly is in fact certified gluten free.
I can only hope in time they consider certifying their European and Asian products, as this would make life considerably easier!
So with non-gluten-free oat milk used in most cafes, does this pose a problem when it comes to oat milk in coffee shops?
Oat milk in coffee shops
A few years ago veganism boomed onto the UK scene and suddenly oat milk was everywhere.
And because it's cheaper, pretty much all UK coffee shops (apart from a few independents) use oat milk which contains gluten.
Great if you're vegan or dairy free - not so great if you're gluten free and in particular, if you have coeliac disease.
Costa Coffee oat milk is no longer gluten free
When I first wrote this piece on oat milk Costa had literally just switched to using the Alpro Barista Gluten Free oat milk.
But as of December 30th, 2021, the oat milk they are using is no longer gluten free.
And to make matters worse, their updated nutrition and allergen information now lists their soya and coconut milks as a 'may contain' for wheat.
I contacted Costa to ask about this and got the following response:
“As part of our new January  menu we have changed supplier of dairy alternative products. Consumers can still enjoy the full range of dairy alternative flavours they’ve come to expect at Costa, including oat, soya, almond and coconut. We have updated our Nutrition and Allergy Guide to reflect these changes and whilst the new oat flavour does not contain wheat, we have included “may contain” information aligned to the suppliers risk assessment. Updated information can be found in store or online and we’ve a new counter top card in stores notifying consumers of the change.”A Costa Coffee Spokesperson
Some stores may be using old stock so as always I'd recommend checking with the individual store and I'll update this as soon as I have more information.
Sadly it looks like it'll now be a case of going back to the old routine with Costa of grilling the barista staff and asking them to wipe down all equipment / use the unused steamer.
And if you have coeliac disease and usually drink coconut or soya milks, you better find a new place to grab your morning latte I'm afraid.
A dietician's point of view
With coeliac disease it's not just about eating gluten free food.
You have to be very careful about cross contamination - i.e. the tiniest flecks of gluten getting into your gluten free food.
So with shared steamers at coffee shops, what risk does this pose for people on a gluten free diet?
Gordon McAndrew is a Registered Gastroenterology Dietitian at NHS Lanarkshire.
He works as part of the only Gastroenterology Dietetic service permanently funded in Scotland, which sees patients with IBS and coeliac disease.
Mr McAndrew explains that generally patients with coeliac disease are advised to continue eating gluten free oats when first diagnosed.
But this is best done under the guidance of a dietician, so any symptoms can be monitored.
When it comes to coffee shops, Mr McAndrew advises people with coeliac disease to ask as may questions as needed to establish if they think it is safe.
"We always advise patients with coeliac disease to be mindful when eating out," says Mr McAndrew.
"This is the same if considering oat milk use in coffee shops.
"You should make it clear you have coeliac disease and ask about cross-contamination practices in store.
"If they cannot tell you they have taken all necessary precautions or you are in doubt - it's best to avoid.
"The risk of cross contamination can be minimised by taking good precautions."
My personal experience
Personally, I take each coffee shop as it comes.
If I'm going to a very busy coffee shop, I tend to order an Americano with cold milk, so there is no risk of anything touching those potentially oat-y frothers.
But anyone who knows me, knows I'm a flat white kinda girl, so if I think I can safely enjoy one - I will!
My local Costa Coffee shops (pre the introduction of GF oat milk) were always brilliant whenever I went in to order.
After explaining it to them, they always use the second steamer (which in my local store is rarely used anyway) and clean it all down thoroughly before making my drink.
I do find most coffee shops only regularly use one steamer which means the other one is likely to be cleaner.
On several occasions staff have also insisted only the manager makes my drinks, which made me feel they took it seriously.
I tend to find explaining it as 'an allergy to oat milk' instead of 'coeliac disease' makes things easier to understand - especially when trying to talk through face masks.
Generally staff have been really accommodating and I haven't personally felt unwell drinking anywhere that has followed these procedures.
But all the while there is no definitive answer on how great the risk of cross contamination is, I can only advise you follow your instinct.
If you're unsure drinking somewhere that uses non-gluten-free oat milk, then order a tea, black coffee or different drink.
Or, if you're lucky, maybe you can find a cafe which either doesn't serve oat milk, or serves the gluten free stuff!
To sum up...
Firstly, if you made it this far, congratulations, I'm glad I could hold your attention for this long, hopefully it was worthwhile.
In summary, gluten free oats and oat milk doesn't have to be confusing.
- People with coeliac disease should only eat gluten free oats.
- People with coeliac disease should only drink oat milk marked 'gluten free'
- While cross contamination risk in coffee shops is undetermined, you should always ask questions, make it clear you have coeliac disease, and make your own judgements.
If you liked this post, make sure you check out some of my other coeliac tips!
- Guide to gluten free sauces and condiments
- Is Corona gluten free?
- Is baking powder gluten free?
- Gluten free gravy and stock cubes
- Is Orzo gluten free?
- What is gluten free in McDonald's (UK)?