You might have heard about the health benefits of oats and oat-based cereals and products. Due to the healthy sources of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a good amount of fiber, oats can keep you full and satisfied.

And their fiber also has beta-glucan, a sugar that can actually help to lower your body’s level of bad cholesterol, resulting in a reduced risk of heart disease. Additionally, research has shown increased consumption of fiber is linked to lower risk of colorectal cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Oats can also help minimize increases in blood sugar and insulin levels post-consumption than their lower-fiber cereal counterparts.

However, despite the numerous benefits, there may be unhealthy factors to consider when purchasing and consuming oatmeal and oat-based products.

An unhealthy side of a healthy food?

Some oat-based cereals may be contaminated with carcinogens. In 2015, after a study was conducted by researchers at the University of Idaho, it was reported that 70 percent of oat-based cereals purchased in the U.S. contained ochratoxin A, a kidney toxin and potential carcinogen.

But you don’t have to be a scientist to determine if what you are eating could be hurting you. ConsumerLab.com tested a number of oat-based cereals in order to identify which products contained unsafe amounts of ochratoxin A.

The good news: ConsumerLab.com’s research concluded that levels of ochratoxin A were not problematic in any of the 23 oat products (and one buckwheat product) tested.

Beware of gluten contamination

Oats have generally been considered to be naturally gluten-free. However, some oat cereals may in fact become contaminated from other wheat products during processing. That can be especially dangerous for people with Celiac Disease, an inflammatory disorder affecting the small intestine caused by an immune response to dietary gluten.

Fortunately, ConsumerLab.com tested the products for gluten as well.

The Food and Drug Administration’s standard for categorizing a food or drink as “gluten-free” comes with a limit of 20 parts-per-million (ppm) of gluten, but according to ConsumerLab.com’s research, some oat products had as much as 95 ppm of gluten. Because of this, those with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity should not assume all oat products are naturally gluten free and should look for products specifically labeled as “gluten-free.”

Which brands are best?

Below are the company’s top oat brand picks based upon the quality and the cost per serving of each product:

Steel-Cut Oats

Regular: Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats

Quick Cook: Trader Joe’s Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats

Rolled Oats

Regular: Quaker Oats Old Fashioned

Quick Cook: 365 Organic Quick Oats (Whole Foods)

Instant: Quaker Instant Oatmeal Original

Oat Bran

Bob’s Red Mill Oat Bran

Oat “O’s”

General Mills Cheerios

Baby Cereal

Gerber Oatmeal Cereal

The bottom line: One of the most important things that you can do for your health is take control of it. Not only does this mean exercising more, getting more sleep, and eating well, but it’s also knowing what you are actually putting in your body. Read labels, stay aware of any new reputable studies, and if you have a question, ask a trusted dietitian. At the end of the day you only have one body – it’s important to be your own advocate.

Want to incorporate oats into your diet? Try this chilled berry overnight oat recipe.

  • 1/3 cup dry oats
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1/3 cup liquid
  • 1 tsp. Chia seeds, hemp hearts or ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup berries
  • 1 tsp. Organic honey

Mix and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. (Makes one serving.)

Theresa Shank, RD, LDN, is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.