What’s The Real Deal With Food Sensitivity Tests?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some simple test you could do to figure out EXACTLY what foods you should eat, and which foods you should avoid? Find out EXACTLY what might be causing your fatigue, bloating, or afternoon headaches? Find out why you just have no energy to get to the gym despite your best intentions? Find out why you just can’t seem to lose that muffin top no matter how perfectly you eat?

If you answered YES! then you’re exactly the type of person who might want to purchase an at-home food sensitivity test. They’re quick, they’re easy, and they’ll tell you exactly which foods might be causing all your problems.

But can they live up to the hype? Read on to find out if they’re actually worth shelling out the cash.

For those of you who may not be familiar, at-home food sensitivity tests are a new-ish product on the market as part of a growing industry of consumer-directed healthcare offerings. Basically what this means is that more and more companies are popping up, offering everything from STI tests to lab tests like Vitamin D or B12, fertility tests, or yes  things like these food sensitivity test which claim to tell you exactly which foods you should be avoiding for your best health. Prior to that these types of tests were available to consumers, but usually only through their “alternative medicine” providers- folks like naturopaths, chiropractors, etc.

How do they work?

Basically, you order a test kit from the company, send them a sample (some use hair, some use blood) and within a few weeks you’ll receive a full report of which food items you ‘react’ to. From there you just… well that’s where it gets a little complicated.

First, let’s back up a little bit. My first encounter with food sensitivity testing was actually several years ago. I had a client come in for an appointment who had this type of test done (through her naturopath I’ll add), who attended her appointment with a pages long report showing all of the foods and her various “sensitivities”. A few that stand out in my memory were eggs, cow’s milk, and mushrooms. But there were others. Many, many others. The foods were also ranked from severe sentivities, to moderate, to mild. Over the years I’ve had more clients who have previously done these types of tests, and one thing I noticed time and time again was that almost everyone was coming back with the same sensitivity results. Eggs, cow’s milk, fruits. and vegetables like bell peppers and berries, and of course wheat were consistently problematic for almost everyone taking these tests. Strange.

Now, more recently food sensitivity testing has become significantly more common. You no longer need to go to a clinic to access these services- you can get the test kit sent right to your home and the test results sent directly to your inbox. And it makes sense- people want to feel and look their best, while at the same time we’re seeing a shift away from the “dietary guidelines” type nutrition advice. Instead we’re all looking for more personalized answers. There’s also a huge mix of advice out there on the internet for the nutrition-curious among us. Despite the vast fundamental differences between them, each diet camp is shouting that they’re the best for a wide range of chronic conditions. Keto, Paleo, Raw, Carnovire, Whole 30, Intermittent Fasting all claim to be the cure for literally anything a person can have wrong with them. Consumers are so confused and frustrated by all the conflicting information they read online it reaches a point were the only thing that makes sense is to figure out what’s best for THEM. As healthcare professionals we are also constantly making the case for this type of approach- a more individualized care model. These food sensitivity tests seem like a perfect fit because why go through the struggle of trial and error to get your diet on track when you can get the right answer handed to you on a silver platter for only a finger poke and a few hundred bucks? For many people it’s a no-brainer.

So, what’s the state of the science beheind at-home food sensitivity testing? I want to be clear just in case anyone is wondering about it- these types of home tests are not the same as a test you would get done in an Allergist’s office for a true food allergy test. At-home food sensitivity tests look at a type of antibody in the blood called IgG (immunoglobulin G). Based on the results of these antibodies present in the blood, they claim to be able to tell which foods you’re “reacting” to.

The problem? It’s not actually testing for anything real.

Let me explain… IgG testing can actually only be used as a tool to assess exposure to a food item. So, it can basically tell us the types of foods you’ve been eating. Which is exactly why time and time again we see so many people being diagnosed with the exact same food sensitivities. It’s not that those foods are actually triggering sensitivities in so many people, it’s that they’re just commonly eaten foods.

On the other hand if you’re going to an Allergist’s office for actual allergy testing, they’re using tests that look at your IgE antibodies. Similar, but different.

Aside from the obvious issues with the test being completely false and unreliable, it also does bring up a bigger question in regard to how a consumer can be expected to interpret these types of test results. What symptoms should you be on the lookout for to know if you have a food sensitivity? How long should you eliminate a food to determine if it changes your symptoms? When should you add the food back in after eliminating it? Should you even add a food back in after eliminating it, or should you stay away from all the foods on your sensitivity list just to be safe? You can imagine this type of information might become a tad overwhelming- especially if you have a list of 30 or more foods that you testing positive for.

So, the bottom line? Please do not waste your money on at-home food sensitivity tests. If you think the foods you’re eating may be negatively impacting your health, or you’re confused about all the nutrition information your read online and are unsure what the right diet looks like for you- Talk to a Registered Dietitian. And, if you think you may have a legitimate food allergy- go see your Doctor!


About the Author:

Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She believes good health doesn’t need to be complicated, and that you don’t need to be afraid have your cake and eat it too.