The short answer is yes. Non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten intolerance.
So why the confusion?
The main problem with oats is contamination. Many oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley and/or rye. The gluten in these ingredients can contaminate oats.
Contamination can also happen in the field, when oats are grown side-by-side with fields of wheat, and can vary widely between batches of processed oats — even oats grown and processed in the same place.
If you have a mild intolerance to gluten, eating oats is almost certainly fine. However, if you have a more sensitive reaction to gluten, you may prefer to find a brand of pure gluten-free oats that works for you.
Coeliac disease and oats
If you’ve been diagnosed with coeliac disease, you definitely need to find a brand of oats that is 100% guaranteed pure and uncontaminated. The majority of coeliacs will be able to enjoy pure gluten-free oats without any problems.
However, while oats do not contain gluten, a small percentage of people with coeliac disease still have a sensitivity to them. This may not present with any symptoms, meaning that you could be damaging the lining of your gut without realising. For this reason, it is recommended that you do not eat oats for the first 1-2 years after your diagnosis, until your antibodies have returned to normal levels. Always consult your dietician before attempting to introduce oats into your coeliac diet.