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Food Sensitivity Tests: A 101 Primer

A woman with cramping pushes away bread--gluten sensitivity

Food allergies aren’t the same as food sensitivities. Food allergies can cause serious reactions like hives and breathing difficulties (anaphylaxis) and may even be fatal. Food sensitivities, however, typically cause irritations related to the gastrointestinal system like gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea.

Managing food sensitivities also can be a challenge, because the triggering food might not be obvious.

If you’re suffering from bouts of gas, bloating, cramping or other symptoms, it’s best to speak to a doctor to rule out other medical
concerns. Your next step may be a food sensitivity test to help uncover problematic foods that may be triggering the symptoms.

The most common food sensitivities include:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy (or lactose)
  • Fructose
  • Sulfites (chemicals found in wine)

Starting a Food Journal

Figuring out which food is triggering your symptoms may be a trial and error hunt. Before you order a sensitivity test, talk to your doctor about keeping a food journal to track your symptoms and diet.

What’s a food journal? This isn’t a formal bound journal. Food journaling simply means you track your diet and note any effects from the meal. You need to list everything you’re eating, though. The best way to journal is to eat simply for a few days or a week. Less ingredients mean less items to track.

Think about it; if you eat mashed potatoes loaded with bacon, cheese, milk, butter and sour cream, how can you really know what ingredient is causing the issue? Instead, opt for a simple menu that allows you to track foods easily.

After each meal, note any symptoms. This can help you (and your doctor) figure out what may be causing the symptoms.

At-home tests can be a great resource for finding simple causes for discomfort related to foods.

Most tests are incredibly easy to use and results are kept confidential. So what do the tests involve?

  • A simple finger-prick blood test
  • A quick testing process (it’s all completed in minutes)
  • Lab results in a matter of days
  • No cost to mail samples to labs (free shipping!)

How do these tests find the food culprit? Your body reacts to foods in a variety of ways. So to measure sensitivities to gluten, for example, the test will analyze antibodies released in the blood.

When taking an at-home test, we recommend that you keep in contact with your doctor. You may need to maintain a specific diet for accuracy. If you or your doctor suspects Celiac Disease, eating gluten could be harmful to your health; your doctor can best advise you on how to safely take these tests without aggravating your condition or causing further issues.

How to Interpret the Results

Once you’ve taken the test and sent the sample off to the lab, the wait is on for your results. Typically, you should receive results from the lab in a matter of days.

Your results interpret your risk to sensitivity to a specific food source. With gluten tests, your results may show:

  • High risk for gluten sensitivity
  • High risk for Celiac Disease
  • Increased or Moderate Risks for either Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac Disease
  • Low Risk for either Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac Disease

These results should be shared with your doctor to help determine the next steps in your health management. Depending on your results, your doctor may limit your gluten intake or advise you to remove gluten from your diet completely. Again, though, it’s important that you work directly with your doctor for all health related matters.

What if the Test Shows a Negative Result?

You may test for food sensitivity only to find out nothing is wrong. Does this mean that your issues are all in your head? No! Each test only measures for sensitivity to that specific food. If you tested negative for gluten sensitivity, you may have an issue with another food—like lactose or fructose.

Your doctor can best advise you after you receive your results. More tests may be ordered to uncover the source of your discomfort.

Life after Diagnosis: Avoiding Food Triggers

Food sensitivity can mean that you need to limit your diet to avoid the triggering food. Sometimes this is incredibly difficult, as it may feel like your food selection is limited. You could experience a number of feelings after being diagnosed; understand, though, that food sensitivities are common and can be managed.

If you uncovered a gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten is easier than ever now. Look for gluten-free cereals, breads, pastas, and other products at your local grocer. Many offer gluten-free aisles, as gluten intolerance and gluten avoidance is so common today.

Suffering from lactose sensitivity? Your milk and dairy options are plentiful! Almond, soy and other milk substitutes offer many flavors to please your palate; try vanilla almond milk for a sweeter flavor that nearly mimics traditional dairy. Love cheese? Try vegan varieties!

If you’re concerned about the limitations of your diet, talk to your doctor. A hospital dietician also could help you find options to vary your diet.

Food sensitivities may cause many painful and embarrassing problems; gas, bloating and diarrhea could plague your gut after a meal. Work closely with your doctor to rule out any serious medical conditions. However, your doctor may advise further testing to diagnose food allergies or food sensitivities. If sensitivities are suspected, a food journal may help pinpoint problem foods; you may talk to your doctor about at-home food sensitivity testing. These tests may help uncover your risk for sensitivities or other issues. Talk to your doctor about the results and how to best manage your diet to avoid any food triggers.

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