Should You Take a Food Sensitivity Test?
A nutritionist examines the pros and cons of food sensitivity testing kits now on the market.
Various methods of food sensitivity testing have been around for decades, but a new wave of testing options complete with mail order convenience has expanded the availably. These quick and simple methods have revitalized peoples’ interest in getting testing to assess which foods might be causing their tummy woes. I served myself up as a guinea pig to test out three of the most popular food sensitivity platforms and here’s what I learned.
Food Sensitivities vs. Food Allergies
Sensitivities and allergies are very different. True food allergies involve an immune system response and often require medical intervention and strict abstinence from problematic foods. Food sensitivities involve less severe adverse reactions to foods and typically result in some degree of gastrointestinal discomfort. For these reasons, sensitivities allow for more dietary wiggle room. While allergic foods must be avoided completely, there are various thresholds for sensitivities and even if you are “sensitive” to a food you can likely eat certain amounts symptom free.
Symptoms of allergies and sensitivities may be similar, which is why it is sometimes difficult to assess what you are experiencing without diagnostic testing. Symptoms may include digestive issues like bloating, nausea and diarrhea as well headache, fatigue and mood changes.
There are several testing kits available online. A few clicks and a credit card payment and the materials arrive to your door in about 3 business days. Companies use different methods of testing, including hair samples, blood collection and DNA swabs. I submitted samples to 3 companies and opted for their basic nutrition assessment (many companies also offer testing for fertility, weight loss and other measures outside of nutrition).
This brand is riding a boost of popularity following a recent appearance on the show Shark Tank. They’re all over social media featuring a wide array of testing options. The basic nutrition blood testing kid costs $199. The nicely packaged DIY blood sample kit measures levels of IgG antibodies against 96 different types of food. My results were accessible online in about 4 days. The level of food sensitivities were categorized into “High” “Moderate” “Mild” and “Low.”
Via a hair sample, this company tests for “minor non-IgE and non-IgG allergy (known as intolerance), which according to a company representative is “temporary sensitivity to items causing minor reaction.” The company claims a hair sample is more accurate than blood as the sample is more intact. Simply pull out some a few strands (preferably with the root intact), place them in a baggie and ship off to the lab. My results came back in about 5 days. Results are organized on a scale from 1-100%, with intolerance levels over 85 indicating a high enough level to experience symptoms. Testing also includes heavy metal testing and reactions to food additives. Kits range from $55 to $130 with package deals for couples and families.
You will feel like a crime scene investigator when swabbing your cheek for DNA cells in this testing kit. Open the lovely packaging, swab, register barcodes online and drop samples in the mail (prepaid envelopes included). Basic nutrition testing includes evaluation of several nutrients as well as an assessment how your body metabolizes fats and sweets. The tests costs $149 with other options for vitamins, caffeine, lactose and alcohol tolerance at lower price points. Results come back in a nicely organized PDF document that explains results and how your genetic info stacks up against certain types of foods and metabolic conditions.
Once the results are in users are encouraged to experiment with an elimination diet for the most problematic foods. All of the services did a decent job of recommending what to do next. All adopted a “don’t panic” approach and provided guidance on how to systemically try to determine what foods may be causing symptoms.
When speaking with the Executive Medical Director from EverlyWell, she explained that in their case it isn’t about excluding entire food groups permanently and that many folks can benefit from this more targeted approach. They are hoping to collect more data to support the use of these testing methods.
My results were scattered since each company tested for different things but there did seem to be a few common elements.
EverlyWell identified a sensitivity to dairy foods. My issue is to not lactose (that wasn’t assessed) but to casein, another competent of milk protein. Another “high” scoring food was Brewers’ yeast found in beer, wine and vinegar. I’ve never noticed a big problem digesting any of these foods or beverages but admittedly don’t consume them in large quantities.
TestMyAllergy results listed everything from chickpeas to food coatings to lactose to certain varieties of apples and romaine lettuce as potential trigger foods for me. Deficiencies in Vitamin A, selenium, niacin and sodium were also flagged on my results. I did agree with their recommendation to seek out food sources to replenish these nutrients over supplements but think more testing may be warranted.
The Orig3n results cover everything from caffeine metabolism to whether or not I have genetic marker for cilantro aversion – I don’t! According to the results I have the genetic codes that correlates with higher levels of vitamin B6 and E but possibly a predisposition to lower levels of Vitamins A, B12 and Vitamin D. Interestingly, I was diagnosed with a lack of vitamin D a few years back.
Overall offering myself up as a sacrificial lamb to the food sensitivity gods was a pleasant experience. The customer service was good-to-great across all platforms. Sifting through all the results it is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. I can’t say that I’m convinced that there’s a need for me to cut some of the “high risk” foods from my diet but it seems as though it may be worth checking with my doctor to assess my levels of certain vitamins.
Food sensitivity kits may be helpful in narrowing down problematic foods in your diet. If using one of these kits does lead you to want to make big changes, just make sure to work with your physician and a registered dietitian nutritionist.