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Most medical experts agree that food sensitivity tests are not a valid or reliable way to identify food sensitivities or intolerances for anyone, including people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. We recommend saving your money and working with an IBD-focused registered dietitian to find your unique trigger foods and keep your diet as expansive as possible.
Food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities: what’s the difference?
- Food allergy - A food allergy is when your immune system responds to a food as if it were an unwanted substance in your body. Some food allergies can be life threatening.
- Food intolerance - A food intolerance is when certain foods cause unwanted symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc.
- Food sensitivity - This term is often used interchangeably with food intolerance but has no standardized medical definition.
How do food sensitivity tests work?
These tests are marketed as a way to find “food sensitivities” but in reality, they only measure your exposure to certain foods.
Most of these tests measure a substance in your blood called immunoglobulin G, or IgG. An elevated IgG level doesn’t mean you have an intolerance to a particular food, it actually appears to reflect recent intake of that particular food, and may even reflect tolerance to that food.
Are food sensitivity tests reliable?
In short, no. There is insufficient research to support their use in identifying food sensitivities or intolerances. Many of the scientific studies provided by test makers to support the use of their products are often out of date, in non-reputable journals, or may not actually use the test that’s being marketed.
Researchers and medical experts generally agree that the results from a food sensitivity test shouldn’t be used to inform your decision-making regarding food intolerances or allergies.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology all recommend against using IgG food sensitivity testing to diagnose food allergies or food intolerances and sensitivities.
No food sensitivity test available on the market today has been scientifically or clinically validated, so they can’t be used to identify a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, despite what the company may claim in its marketing material.
What are the downsides of trying a food sensitivity test?
Since food sensitivity testing is not a reliable method for identifying food sensitivities or intolerances, there are several downsides to trying these tests
- Cost - These tests can cost over $100. Since you can’t rely on the results to diagnose a food intolerance, you may consider these tests to be a waste of money
- Unnecessary food restriction - Because food sensitivity tests can’t tell you which foods you may be intolerant to, they may lead to unnecessary restriction of foods that are actually well-tolerated
- Promotes disordered eating behavior - These tests may lead to an increase in disordered eating behaviors in certain individuals such as restriction of multiple foods/food groups, meal skipping due to a restrictive diet, or increased fear of eating overall.
- Increased risk for nutrient deficiencies - Following a diet that unnecessarily restricts certain foods may put you at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies
So then how can you find your food intolerances or sensitivities?
We recommend working with an IBD-focused registered dietitian (like us!) to help you find your food intolerances quickly without restricting your diet. Request a consultation to learn how we can help you find your personal trigger foods while keeping your diet as expansive as possible.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Committee on Food Allergies: Global Burden, Causes, Treatment, Prevention, and Public Policy. Finding a Path to Safety in Food Allergy: Assessment of the Global Burden, Causes, Prevention, Management, and Public Policy. Oria MP, Stallings VA, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 30. PMID: 28609025.
- Bock SA. AAAAI support of the EAACI Position Paper on IgG4. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010 Jun;125(6):1410. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2010.03.013. Epub 2010 May 7. PMID: 20451986.