Is Food Intolerance Testing Accurate?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Food Intolerance 2 1080X675 1 | Is Food Intolerance Testing Accurate?

Food intolerance testing has become a popularly marketed test within the health and nutrition world—particularly with all the hype over gluten-free foods and gluten intolerance in these worlds as well.

Whether you want to know if you’re sensitive to gluten, dairy or a random fruit, like blueberries or pineapple, one blood stick (and upwards of $300-$500) is all you need to find out.

Food “Intolerance,” or food “sensitivity” is different than a food allergy or allergy testing (the test where the doc stirs lots of needles in your back to determine a histamine—inflammatory—response).

A “food Intolerance” or sensitivity is an inflammatory reaction to a particular food that often presents subtly or in chronic, lingering inflammation (i.e. brain fog, headaches, skin breakouts, gut issues, etc.), as opposed to an acute inflammatory response (i.e. sudden loose stools, hives, closed throat, swollen eyes, etc.).

Food Intolerances are more discreet and more difficult to diagnose, since symptoms vary widely and many folks believe, whatever they are feeling (like pimples or headaches), is their “normal.”

The reality? It doesn’t have to be.

Nevertheless most Food Intolerance tests on the market may not be the BEST way to find out.

While most these standard Food Intolerance tests may hint at some foods you are sensitive to—many tests actually fail for a few reasons.

Most Food Intolerance tests…

  1. Do NOT assess the WHOLE (clear) picture of your gut health
  2. DON’T Measure Your Reaction to the Foods You Actually Eat in Real Life
  3. DON’T Test for ALL Forms of the Food Sensitivity
  4. Are NOT Backed by Research
  5. DON’T Tell You What to “Do Next” (after you get results)

(Translation: you may be wasting your money).

The good news? There ARE two other options for food testing that I recommend with a much higher rate of accuracy and results (below), but first let’s briefly discuss each of these discrepancies where many Intolerance tests may fail:

  1. Do NOT Assess the WHOLE Picture of your Gut Health – Although you may come out with a long list of 10-100 foods you are “sensitive to” the bigger question here is WHY ARE YOU SENSITIVE to these foods in the first place?Often times, the BIGGER reason behind any food intolerance on your report is in your gut—something impeding your digestion or absorption. Do you have a leaky gut? Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth? A fungal overgrowth? Acid imbalances? Slowed gut motility? An autoimmune condition?While some gut-irritating foods (like conventional gluten, conventional dairy, rancid nuts, and other packaged, processed or chemical-laden foods) CAN equally cause underlying gut issues, often times the reason why you are sensitive to a random assortment of foods (like sweet potatoes, cherries or black pepper) is actually because you have some sort of gut dysfunction going on—not because you are sensitive to the food itself.In addition, fun fact: Did you know that you can often crave foods you are Intolerant to? This is because the bacteria in your gut are hungry for more of the foods that actually make you more sick in the long run (i.e. brain fog, constipation, bloating, etc.). Since gut bacteria feed off of fermented, rotting, undigested foods, they have a hey-day when you eat foods that you know don’t make you feel great, but for some reason, can’t help yourself from eating them anyway.
  2. DON’T Measure Your Reaction to the Foods You Actually Eat in Real Life – Most food sensitivity tests don’t test for BOTH the cooked and raw versions of the foods you eat—meaning test results are not accurate since enzyme and proteins in the cooked vs. raw forms most always digest differently—for instance, cooked eggs vs. raw eggs; Raw milk vs. pasteurized cooked milk; Raw, soaked nuts vs. dry roasted nuts; and raw broccoli vs. cooked broccoli.Your test results may reveal you’re sensitive to potatoes, but how often do you eat a raw potato? Make sure it’s testing for the real deal (and unfortunately, most do not).
  3. DON’T Test for ALL Forms of the Food Sensitivity – Food sensitivity tests SHOULD be measuring for both IgA and IgG antibody sensitivity responses.If they don’t they are missing the whole picture, and if any test says they are measuring for IgE responses, this is an allergy test—not a food sensitivity test—and will only test for severe inflammatory reactions to certain foods. Generally speaking, IgA sensitivity is typically the type of sensitivities that are experienced shortly after consuming a food and that “go away” within 24-48 of that food clearing your system, whereas IgG is a measure of longer-lasting sensitivities (that may be a bigger hint at a lingering gut issue—like leaky gut or an autoimmune condition).In addition, lots of tests out there only measure the “big key players”—like gluten (gliadin), wheat, dairy, peanuts, soy, and shellfish, and they miss other gluten cross-contaminating foods that you actually may be more sensitive to: instant coffee, yeast, spelt, rye, barley, milk chocolate, corn, tapioca, hemp, millet, oats, rice, potato, sesame, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, whey protein, casomorphin, egg. (No wonder some people still don’t feel great even after they go on a “gluten-free” diet and continue to eat many of the“gluten-free” foods from grocery store shelves).
  4. Are NOT Backed by Research Research is not always the “end all be all,” but many of the most popular food tests out there (ALCAT test, MRT test, LRA, or ELISA/ACT) unfortunately have very little—if any—research to back their accuracy. Dr. Aristo Vojdani (pioneer of food sensitivity testing, the inventor of IgG food allergy testing itself and an advisor of Cyrex-Labs food testing) has published over 120 peer-reviewed research reports on food sensitivity testing, and said, in his 40-plus years of clinical research he has yet to read a single article to support any of  these methodologies with clinical significance in the literature.In short: If it’s called ALCAT, MRT, LRA, or ELISA/ACT, don’t fall for it.
  5. DON’T Tell You What to “Do Next” (after you get results) – Lastly, an issue most people run into with Food Intolerance testing is that there are no play-by-plays on what to “do next” once you get back your results.Do you cut out the foods forever? Do results mean there’s no point of return to bananas or sweet potatoes or almonds? Are you one and done—never sensitive to anything else again?No. And no.Many nutritionists or doctors may help you interpret results and come back with the answer: “Just cut out these foods”—while still missing the issue that we made in point number one—you have an underlying gut issue.Deeper digging for SIBO, intestinal permeability, parasitic or fungal overgrowth, or autoimmunity may be warranted. In addition, the response you have on a food sensitivity test may also simply indicate that you are “overdoing” it on a particular food (if you eat the same foods over and over, you can also develop “sensitivities”), and thus varying your diet may help. And, thirdly, just because a particular food shows up as an intolerance does not mean necessarily it’s banned forever. Do a little “gut healing” or take a break from that food for awhile, then re-test yourself with the simple “reintroduction” test.Above all, check in with yourself: How does food make you feel?
    Food Intolerance

Two Alternatives to Food Sensitivity Testing

Don’t waste your money on just any test.

To date, if you want a blood test, the gold standard in the nutrition, health and functional medicine community is the Cyrex Labs  food sensitivity tests.

Choose the various tests that may help you do your deepest digging, including gluten sensitivity testing (Array 3), to gluten-cross-reactive sensitivity testing (Array 4), testing for autoimmune disease antibodies (Array 2) and/or the panel of nearly 200 foods (Array 10).

Cyrex evaluates for both IgG and IgA antibodies as well as measures the accurate cooked and raw versions of foods—depending on how they are typically consumed.

As for the cheapest test of them all that you can do at home?

Food elimination—trial and error!

This one takes some time, patience and intuitive eating skills, but if you’re adamant about figuring out whether or not you are sensitive to some particular foods (from your whey or vegan protein powder, to cheese, gluten-free bread, eggs, rice, beans, peanut butter, etc.), there’s no better way to find out than cutting it out (for approximately 21-30 days) then adding it back in.

If you AREN’T sensitive to the food, than more likely than not, you will not have a strong reaction.

If you are, you will feel some sort of side effect that you may have even been numb to before (like brain fog, headaches or fatigue).

Similar to a dirty car windshield, if the windshield is dirty, and it gets more dirt on it, you probably won’t notice. But if the windshield if clean, and gets more dirt on it, you probably WILL notice.

Check in with yourself.

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