What are food sensitivities?
Food sensitivity is not an official medical diagnosis, but the term is often used to refer to an adverse reaction to food. More often than not when someone mentions a food sensitivity they are referring to a food allergy or a food intolerance.
Food allergies result in the production of IgE antibodies and an immune response upon the consumption of certain foods. For example, those with a peanut allergy develop an immune response when their body comes into contact with certain proteins in peanuts. A food intolerance refers to the lack of necessary digestive enzymes to digest certain foods. For example, those with lactose intolerance lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, and therefore cannot properly digest dairy products. Although food sensitivity isn’t an official diagnosis, food sensitivity tests have become popular in the last few years due to the marketing push of companies who have created food sensitivity tests.
Reportedly, many people are sensitive to the following foods:
Beef, pork, and lamb
High FODMAP foods (high fiber foods)
Nightshades (i.e. tomato, eggplant, bell peppers, white potatoes)
Reportedly, those with food sensitivities may experience the following symptoms after eating:
Gas & bloating
Indigestion or gastrointestinal pain
Diarrhea or constipation
Sinus or ear congestion
Rashes or itchy skin
Water retention (or unexplained weight gain or loss)
What the science says
Although food sensitivity is not an official diagnosis, in recent years food sensitivity blood tests have grown in popularity. These tests look for the presence of IgG and/or IgG4 antibodies, similar to an allergy test except that food allergy tests are looking for the presence of IgE antibodies.
Research has demonstrated, however, that IgG blood tests do not indicate allergies or food intolerance. IgG antibodies are produced as a result of food consumption, but rather than indicating an allergy to food, these antibodies simply indicate exposure and possibly good tolerance to foods. To explain further, all people have IgG antibodies, and research has found that as children are exposed to and develop a tolerance for foods such as peanuts and dairy their level of IgG4 antibodies increase.
Therefore, the presence of IgG antibodies is an indication of exposure and tolerance rather than allergy. Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence that making dietary changes in response to food sensitivity tests results in better health or digestion. Most likely a food sensitivity test will result in the unnecessary elimination of many healthy foods.
The Apeiron Life perspective
It is important to diagnose food allergies and intolerances. Food allergies can be potentially life threatening and food intolerances can cause a lot of physical discomfort, not to mention, in more severe cases, long term problems related to malabsorption. If you think you might have a food allergy or intolerance it’s important to work with a nutritionally-informed doctor to obtain an official diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, health care professionals can effectively help you mitigate the allergy or intolerance.
Food sensitivity tests, on the other hand, are probably not worth your time or money. Research has not shown these tests to be helpful in identifying potentially problematic foods, the results are challenging to interpret, and more often than not they lead people to unnecessarily eliminate healthy foods.
Will a food sensitivity test benefit you?
If you are still curious about conducting a food sensitivity test ask yourself the following:
What am I trying to achieve?
Do I already have a strong suspicion that I am intolerant to a specific food and could I test this suspicion by simply eliminating that food for 2 weeks? Symptoms should improve after 2 weeks if that food was problematic and would return if you reintroduce that food.
Might I possibly have a more serious condition that warrants medical attention/ guidance (e.g. celiac disease, or a serious food allergy)?