New research showing oats may be safe for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance has been heralded as an important ‘first step’ towards changing Australia’s food labeling laws.
Australian and New Zealand food standards legislation differs from EU and US regulations, which means that oats cannot be marketed as gluten-free, even if they meet the general criteria.
The strict regulations prevent Australian farmers from supplying domestic and potential export niche markets with gluten-free oats, as the product cannot carry the much sought-after label.
Researchers from Edith Cowan University recently contributed to a global study – published in the scientific journal Nature – which decoded the genomic composition of oats.
Research has found that this popular breakfast food may be suitable for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, as oats contain less gluten-matching protein in wheat and cause an immune reaction in celiacs. people with celiac disease.
Ashley Wiese, chair of the Grain Industry Association of WA’s Oat Council, said the research was an important “first step” in changing Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s gluten-free labeling rules in one day.
“This is a really exciting development for oats, unfortunately the legislation states that oats cannot be called gluten-free, but the vast majority of celiacs do not react to the protein in oats, which is l ‘avenin,’ he said.
“Being able to eat oats brings a cereal into the diet of celiacs, aside from rice, and gives them the health benefits of oats.
It is hoped that the results will add weight to oat marketing efforts around the world and provide new information on varieties that are more nutritious and resistant to drought and disease.
ECU researchers have joined forces with CSIRO and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research for the international collaboration led by Lund University, the ScanOats Industrial Research Center and Helmholtz Munich.
CSIRO professor Michelle Colgrave said the researchers were particularly interested in finding out why oat products trigger fewer allergies and intolerances compared to other grains.
The researchers were able to decode the genome sequence of oats to better understand which genes were responsible for which traits, and confirmed that at the gene and protein level, oats contained fewer protein sequences known to trigger food allergies and intolerances.
“We found that oats contain less protein that matches gluten in wheat, causing an immune reaction in people with celiac disease,” Professor Colgrave said. “This allowed us to confirm, both at the gene and protein level, that oats contain fewer protein sequences known to trigger food allergies and intolerances.”
Compared to other cereals, oats also contain a much higher proportion of beta-glucans, which reduce blood cholesterol levels and have a positive effect on people with type 2 diabetes.
Jason Tye-Din, associate professor at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, said the research provides reassurance about the safety of oats for people with celiac disease and brings the industry closer to including oats safely in gluten-free diets.
“Concerns that oats contain gluten-like proteins that could be harmful to people with celiac disease have meant that in Australia and New Zealand oats are excluded from the gluten-free diet,” a- he declared.
“The results of this study tell us that genes encoding potentially harmful gluten-like sequences are infrequent, expressed at a low level, and that the sequences themselves are less likely to trigger inflammation.
“These characteristics mean that oats have closer genomic and protein similarities to rice, which is safe for celiac disease, than to wheat and other gluten-rich grains.”
Professor Colgrave said the freely available resources created through the collaboration would become the “blueprint for oats” and increase the “breeding potential to target specific traits”.
New knowledge of the oat genome means that the breeding and cultivation of more nutritious and sustainable oats could now be accelerated.
ECU researcher Angela Juhasz said the results could be a huge boon for Australia’s oats industry, with farmers in Western Australia on track to plant 310,000 hectares this year.
“Research allows us to identify not only proteins associated with gluten-like traits in oats, but also traits that can increase crop yield, improve nutrient profiles, and make them more disease and drought resistant. “, she said.
“This can provide Australian producers with unique and differentiated cereals to maintain a position as a supplier of premium cereals with specific health benefits.”
Australia is a world leader in the production of high quality milling oats for the international market and the second largest exporter of oats in the world, with approximately 10-15% of world trade behind Canada.
Human consumption of oats is increasing, with an annual growth of 5% expected over the next five years.
Australian milled oat tonnages are also increasing, with 300,000 t of oats expected to be milled in Australia this year, up from 250,000 t in 2020.
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