It is crazy to think that there was a time not long ago when humans just ate all the foods they had access to. There were no peanut allergies, lactose intolerance, or gluten sensitivities. Granted, the food we had access to was very different a century ago than it is today. Over the decades, our food has changed, and so have our bodies, making food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities a real problem for millions of Americans.
Today, about 26 million U.S adults suffer from a food allergy. This excludes Americans with food sensitivities or intolerances. A food allergy means your body triggers an immune response to the allergen. On the other hand, food sensitivities may cause inflammation or digestive problems, but it does not trigger an elevated immune response.
It is suspected that tens of millions of Americans regularly experience digestive issues like heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea after eating certain foods. These symptoms are due to food sensitivities, not food allergies.
With so many people suffering from these symptoms, it is no wonder that food sensitivity tests have gained so much popularity. Today, at-home food-sensitivity tests can be ordered online or purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy. With a simple pluck of a few hairs or prick of your finger, these tests promise to send you definitive answers on which foods you should avoid.
Some of these tests claim to determine your sensitivity to hundreds of foods and ingredients with just a single strand of hair. That’s the kind of promise that gives off some major Theranos vibes. Needless to say, this technique lacks any sort of credible clinical evidence.
How to test for food allergies? Try different foods, then eliminate them from contention
Some other food sensitivity tests look for antibody activity in the blood to determine if a food sensitivity problem exists. While these tests might have a better chance of being accurate than the hair tests, this technique is also flawed. It often leads to false positives, especially when someone eats a lot of the food that is flagged by the test.
According to a registered dietitian at New York Gastroenterology Associates in New York City quoted in this New York Times article, “ …there aren’t [any] validated tests for food intolerances or sensitivities.”
The key takeaway? If only it were as simple as taking an easy at-home test and immediately knowing what foods your body is having difficulty digesting. While we wouldn’t go as far as to say these food sensitivity tests are a total scam, the technology still has a long way to go before it can produce reliable results.
The best way to reliably find out what food sensitivities you may have is to try an elimination diet and then periodically reintroduce common allergens one at a time. The problem is that this approach takes time and requires a lot of discipline and dedication to get through the elimination phase of the process.
It may be challenging, but it works. What better time to go through an elimination diet and find what foods you should avoid than right before the holidays? Just saying…
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