Read this before splashing the cash on a Food Sensitivity test and learn a better way of identifying foods that don’t suit you.
Gluten, eggs, milk, or fructose maybe? Which of these is to blame for your constant bloating headaches or other discomforts?
If you’re reading this you probably think that a food sensitivity test has the answer.
And I'm here to tell you that, unfortunately, you won’t learn much from one. In fact the test could do you more harm than good.
In this post, I’ll explain why taking a food sensitivity test is a waste of your time and money, and show you the best way of identifying the foods which don’t suit you.
So, what is food sensitivity anyway?
Well, the truth is that “food sensitivity” doesn’t mean anything at all.
In fact, it’s not even a proper medical diagnosis. It’s just an inaccurate term used for either food allergies or food intolerances. And these are two very different problems.
What is a Food Allergy?
Food allergies happen when your body’s immune system identifies a particular food (like peanuts) as an invader and tries to fight it.
Your body’s reaction to an allergenic food can be violent and include a swelling of the throat, asthma attacks, rashes and many more.
These reactions are immediate and in the worst case scenarios, life threatening.
There are accurate tests available which give you more information about your allergy, and help you find the foods you are potentially allergic to. These are usually prescribed by an allergist.
What is a Food Intolerance?
A food intolerance on the other hand, is nothing like an allergy.
It is a digestive problem and not an immune response. Even its most troublesome symptoms (bloating, diarrhea, drowsiness etc…) are far from life threatening even though they can affect a person’s quality of life.
Food intolerance symptoms can happen a few days after eating the food you are intolerant to, and, if you ingest only small amounts of it, you might not feel anything at all.
It’s important to note that to this day, there are no accurate food intolerance tests.
This brings us to food sensitivity tests.
Even though food sensitivity is a catch-all term for both food allergies and intolerance, it’s more likely that when you’re asked to do a food sensitivity test, what you’re trying to find out are the foods you are intolerant to.
But, since accurate food allergy tests already exist and food intolerance tests do not, what is a “food sensitivity test” actually for?
What does a Food Sensitivity Test Measure?
We’re going to get a little “sciency” here so bear with me for a few lines.
Food sensitivity tests and food allergy tests measure the amount of antibodies your body produces in response to certain foods.
For example, if you’re allergic to shrimps and eat one, your body will produce antibodies called IGEs which results in an allergic reaction. The correlation between IGE’s and allergenic foods is well understood.
Food sensitivity tests on the other hand, measure your intolerance by testing for immunoglobulin G (IGG). The assumption is, that the higher the amount of IGG’s in your blood associated with certain foods, the more sensitive you are to them.
However, IGGs and their relation to the foods we eat is not well understood which means that the tests can be misleading.
For example, some immunologists believe that IGGs are a sign of the body building up tolerance towards certain foods (instead of showing signs of intolerance).
On the other hand, some doctors claim that a high IGG count is in fact an indicator of deeper medical issues.
But, since the science is not clear, organisations such as the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and many other leading health organisations consider food sensitivity tests irrelevant.
There’s no need to go deep in the debate or get too “sciency” to reach the conclusion that you should take your Food Sensitivity test results with a pinch (no, handful) of salt.
Are there any risks to taking a sensitivity test?
How can taking a simple test be risky?
Well, other than making you lose a bit of money, food sensitivity test results can lead you to make false conclusions about your lifestyle and health if they are not well interpreted.
I’ve had patients come to me with test results which show a sensitivity to nearly every food they eat. Eggs, meat, fish, milk, cheese etc… These patients were forced into trying a very restrictive diet in which they eliminated every food on their list and they still were not feeling better.
Some people can carry on eliminating foods until they find the culprit (which they may never find) and that can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies and in the long run, eating disorders.
For example, clinical trials reveal that, when trying to follow the dietary restrictions following a food sensitivity test, individuals developed symptoms similar to anorexia nervosa.
Even though there was no clear evidence that the food they ate led to any discomfort, the mere belief that these foods could affect them was enough to cause these individuals to feel sick. In turn, this led them to become even more restrictive with their diet as they desperately tried to find and control the cause of their problem. This is a very negative attitude to take towards food and one which can, eventually, lead to eating disorders.
So, if it isn’t clear by now, avoid food sensitivity tests and try the following alternative instead.
The Golden Standard: The elimination diet
To this day, an elimination diet (monitored by a dietitian) is the surest method to identify foods which are causing you discomfort.
Instead of crossing all the foods on the list (including all those that you love the most) and hoping for the best, an elimination diet is a strategic approach which gradually removes and reintroduces foods while guaranteeing that your daily nutritional meals are met.
It is also much more accurate in identifying the foods that are causing you health problems.
There are many ways to approach an elimination diet so talk to your dietitian to find one which works best for your lifestyle.
Of course, you can try to do an elimination diet on your own and if you want to go down that path, this link will help you.
However, it is hard to do alone (but not impossible) and to avoid causing your body any nutritional deficiencies it’s best to be followed by a dietitian. Consulting one will also help you set achievable goals for your elimination diet and help you balance your dietary changes with the demands of your social and work life.
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