Study finds liberals are no more likely to express gluten-avoidance than conservatives

When Ted Cruz was running for president in 2016, he tried to cater to conservative voters by pledging not to provide gluten-free meals to members of the military.

But new research indicates that conservatives are just as likely as liberals to avoid gluten in their diet. The findings have been published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values.

“My co-author Bailey Norwood and I were talking about how politics influence food choices, and the stereotypes surrounding gluten immediately came to mind. There is some controversy as to whether gluten sensitivity is ‘real’ in the same way as celiac disease,” said study author Trey Malone of Michigan State University.

In a September 2017 survey of 1,000 residents of the United States, the researchers found that about 29% of respondents believed that avoiding gluten improved their health.

These respondents agreed with statements such as “I believe that I am sensitive to gluten in foods,” “I often feel in poor health after eating foods containing gluten,” and “My health improves when I avoid foods containing gluten.”

(This did not include roughly 3% of the sample who indicated they had been diagnosed by a medical professional as having celiac disease.)

People who described themselves as liberal and people who described themselves as conservative exhibited the same degree of gluten-avoidance overall. This was true even when the researchers broke political ideology down into two social policy and economic policy.

“Be careful about stereotypes — food fads unite us all,” Malone told PsyPost.

There were some interesting nuances, however.

Despite the overall lack of differences, the researchers did find an increase in gluten avoidance among a particular subgroup: liberal respondents who also had liberal parents.

The respondents were also asked to indicate who they viewed most favorably: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton. Trump supporters had the highest levels of gluten-avoidance, followed by Obama supporters.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that extreme liberals were more likely to have celiac disease than those who were slightly or extremely conservative.

“This suggests that Celiac disease may be even more highly correlated with politics than is gluten avoidance. Either the genetics for Celiac disease has profound implications for political views, or being diagnosed with Celiac disease sets into motion a number of changes pushing one towards extreme liberalism,” they wrote in their study.

But only 41 respondents had celiac disease. The sample is “too small to draw firm conclusions,” but “it does call for more research on the relationship between diagnosable diseases and political ideology,” the researchers said.

“The way socio-political factors influence health and food choices is a fascinating research area that would require 100 hundred lifetimes to understand all of the nuances,” Malone told PsyPost.

“This is especially true as food preferences change dramatically over time. One important question worth exploring is who will adopt new plant-based proteins. Will it divide along party lines, or will it be adopted by all people the same?”

“While we find no evidence of a clear separation between the self-reported gluten sensitivity of liberals and conservatives, it is likely that more politically polarizing topics have compromised other food choices. Consider, for example, GMOs or beef,” Malone added.

The study, “Gluten aversion is not limited to the political left“, Trey Malone and F. Bailey Norwood.