Do you feel bloated … and lethargic … with a foggy brain and outbursts at middle school level? Let's say you have enough sleep and exercise and know your mental health is in danger. What the hell is going on with your body?
Then a sponsored Instagram practitioner might suggest that it's food. Facebook then says, "Hey, why not try a food sensitivity test?" And you think, "Sounds solid … right?"
But before you order this test kit, hoping to find a quick answer, you should do something about know the fine print. These kits are still controversial in the medical and nutritional industries, and their terms are often poorly defined.
Before deciding on susceptibility to food (and omitting money), keep in mind the following:
The guidelines on which counts as a food allergy are well known and can be true allergic reactions through blood or skin tests be documented. A true food allergy occurs when your immune system treats a particular food as an intruder.
So, if someone who's allergic to tree nuts accidentally gets almond milk in their coffee, it can lead to hives, vomiting, itching. or even get into anaphylactic shock. The results can be uncomfortable, which makes this definition quite clear.
And food intolerances? We know a lot about lactose intolerance (ie the inability to digest lactose in dairy products) and the associated inconvenience. An intolerance is not as dangerous as an allergy, but it can still lead to inconvenience.
However, the intolerances or sensitivities that occur in less common perpetrators such as pineapple or avocados are more difficult to explain. "We still do not understand how the body reacts to food and our environment," says Julie Stefanski, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
Intolerances do not affect the immune system and are not life-threatening, "says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, also spokeswoman for the AND.
and there is little agreement on what distinguishes sensitivity from intolerance. Often the two terms are used synonymously. The AND does not provide any official definition of any of the terms on its website.
According to Angelone, "Food sensitivities are delayed reactions that can affect any organ system in the body and may take 45 to several days to manifest." We have to admit that this is a rather broad interpretation that also describes food intolerances.
In the face of confusion, many physicians are suspicious of the concept of food sensitivities.
"Food sensitivity is a nebulous term. After eating certain foods, you may experience a variety of symptoms," Dr. David Stukus of the Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Ohio State University College of Medicine. In some ways, "food sensitivity" has become a collective term for treating common symptoms that have not been explained by science.
You may notice mild discomfort when eating a particular food, and you may learn to avoid eating, but how can you truly be one hundred percent sure? If the definition of sensitivity to food is so vague, what are companies testing for?
A food allergy test can be performed via blood sampling or skin sting to determine if a particular food product is causing an overreaction of your antibodies. However, food sensitivity testing uses other methods – and which test is used by a company is really important to maintain peace of mind.
One option, the ALCAT cell-based test, examines how your white blood cells react when they are incubated with "purified food" and mold extract. "The Mediator Release Test goes one step further and monitors whether your cells release inflammatory markers when exposed to different foods.
A particularly hot-button sensitivity test is the IgG test (immunoglobulin G). Many people criticized this test for simply revealing which foods a person has eaten lately, not those that actually cause symptoms.
"IgG increases in response to food consumption, does not correlate with symptoms, and is not a good marker for an inflammatory response to food," says Angelone. Since 2018, more than 25 health organizations have warned the public about the misinterpretation of this test.
Food sensitivities may seem revealing at best. It may seem harmless, but when the food culture comes into play, there is more to it. In a culture that focuses on dividing foods into "good" and "bad" categories and treating foods as medicines, the results of a test could trigger or promote eating disorders.
"A disturbed relationship to foods can affect the gut and essentially mimic the symptoms of food sensitivities due to stress and anxiety about eating," says Annie Goldsmith, RD, LDN, a nutritionist in private practice. "Customers are often in a vicious circle blaming certain foods for these symptoms and doubling their restriction, which makes the symptoms even worse." Trouble (and cost) of food sensitivity tests to get to the bottom of them. Many food problems can be solved with less invasive means.
"Ingested ingredients such as artificial fibers, sweeteners or other culprits can often be identified with a thorough nutritional analysis and a customer interview," says Stefanski.
"Whether a food must be completely avoided, that really depends on the type of reaction of a person," says Stefanov. Since the definitions of intolerance and sensitivity are so vague, you should work better with professionals to get your symptoms under control.
"Working with a team of allergists, registered dietitians and gastroenterologists will help someone determine if they have a serious condition in which food must be avoided over a long period of time," adds Stefanski.
And there may be hope for improvement over time – for the accuracy of these tests and for you.
"Often the sensitivity can improve if the inflammation decreases and other problematic foods are removed," says Angelone. "However, sometimes a person is always sensitive to a particular food."
Ordering a test kit on an Instagram ad may sound reassuring, but when it comes to knowing what you're sensitive to, it may be your best bet to go to the old school key. Trying an elimination diet and keeping a food diary that lists what you ate over a period of 24 to 48 hours and how you felt may be more effective in identifying troublesome foods.
An elimination diet may feel like an annoying piece of advice, but when to: Long term comfort, especially as you get older. It can be incredibly helpful to detect food sensitivities and intolerances. The diet involves simplifying your meals (eg chicken, spinach, rice) and slowly reintroducing different foods per week to see if something is causing a bad reaction.
Are you still of the opinion that a food sensitivity test is the right choice for you? Talk to a registered nutritionist, allergist or GI doctor to find your best schedule.
Sarah Garone is a dietitian, freelance writer and food blogger. Find her on A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter .