I think I’ve got a food intolerance, should I get a test?

Written by
Jonathan Steedman

Food intolerances are no fun, especially if you can’t figure out what’s causing you to feel crummy all of the time. It would be great if you could get a test that tells you what foods you are or aren’t intolerant too right? Although this sounds straightforward, the truth is unfortunately a little murkier.


Food Allergies

Let's start with food allergy tests. These tests look for the presence of immunoglobulin E antibodies in response to a specific food or compound. Basically, they test whether your body creates these antibodies in response to coming into contact with something that you might be allergic to. If these antibodies are found, then it's likely that you are allergic to that thing. Food allergies can be quite dramatic and sudden, so getting a food allergy test is a legitimate thing to do if you suspect you might have an allergy. However, if you already know you have a food allergy and you're a bit older, you probably don't need to get a test since allergies are usually quite obvious


Food Intolerances

Now, let's talk about food intolerance or sensitivity tests. These tests don't test for immunoglobulin E antibodies like allergy tests do. Instead, they test for immunoglobulin G antibodies or IgG. IgG antibodies are made whenever you come into contact with an outside compound, which can include any kind of food. So, if you test positive for IgG antibodies related to a specific food, all that really means is that you've come into contact with that food before. If you regularly eat that food, then it's likely you'll test positive for IgG antibodies related to it. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean you're necessarily sensitive or intolerant to that food.


Why don't we recommend them?

The problem with food sensitivity tests is that they're not validated or accurate. There's no way to test for a food intolerance, so the best way to figure it out is through trial and error, working with a healthcare professional, and keeping a food and symptom diary. Unfortunately, food sensitivity tests often come back with a long list of foods that you're supposedly sensitive to, many of which you might regularly include in your diet. This can lead to unnecessary elimination of foods and a restrictive diet, which isn't always healthy.


I’ve had a test, removed the foods and I feel better. What gives?

In terms of whether these tests work or not, they can sometimes inadvertently identify a food that you're intolerant of (even a broken clock is right twice a day) but, more often than not, they don't provide accurate answers. If you're struggling with a food intolerance and can't figure out what's causing it, it might be tempting to get a food sensitivity test. However, I would strongly recommend against it. Instead, save your money and see a GP or dietician who can help you figure out your food intolerances through a more reliable process.



Basically, while food allergy tests can be useful in identifying allergies, food sensitivity tests are not reliable and can lead to unnecessary food eliminations and a restrictive diet. If you suspect you have a food intolerance, it's best to work with your dietitian and/or doctor to keep a food and symptom diary to begin to figure it all out!

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