The Lottery of Food Sensitivity Testing

Following on from my post this week, Food exclusion: a dangerous game, about why experimental food exclusion or elimination could cause you unwanted problems, even if it does make you feel better, I’d like to expand a little on the issue of controversial testing methods for food sensitivities.

There are a lot of them out there – hair analysts, kinesiologists, Vega practitioners and so on – and none has been validated scientifically. One or two others may be less suspect and more interesting and worth further research but the majority of specialists say the evidence is not yet there even for these.

This is an extract from one of my books, and it refers to alternative tests and diagnoses:

“Results follow a strikingly similar pattern. One or both of wheat or dairy are commonly cited as culprits, and to these will be added other supposed allergens, often including obscure foods (broad beans appear a favourite), in order to the lend the whole operation a convincing air of precision. In fact, multiple and unrelated food allergies are comparatively rare, and the restricted diets demanded by the results of such tests can put you at risk of under-nutrition.”

“Oh, what a clever test!” you may think. “It even detected my eel / kiwi / macadamia nut intolerance!”

I think it pays to be more sceptical than this.

In the course of my work I’ve interviewed lots of experts – dietitians, gastroenterologists, medics – and many have related tales of women (it’s usually women – typically late 20s to early 40s) getting into a dreadful mess with their dietary intake: excluding foods which are probably quite safe, restricting their nutrition, possibly suffering from anaemia and other consequences as a result, attributing this ill-health to further food sensitivities, then further restricting their food intake – until they’re eating a hopelessly inadequate diet and have spiralled into a state of conviction that they should avoid dozens of foods. Dietitians are often charged with unpicking this tragedy, trying to rebuild women’s shattered confidence in food, which can be a struggle when individuals have been living on restricted diets for some time and their bodies can no longer properly cope with an ordinary diet.

What might be better instead of copying the latest celebrity or listening to a friend who has lost weight by excluding gluten or acting on the results of a toenail clipping analysis:

a/ ask yourself whether you’re eating healthily – if you’re eating sweets and junk, try a more wholesome diet – you’d be surprised how much it can help;
b/ if that doesn’t help, see a doctor; have a chat with him or her; your problem may not even be food related;
c/ if it is possibly food-related, it will be probably worth having coeliac disease and lactose intolerance excluded as possibilities (there are good tests for both);
d/ if you must pay for something – pay for a dietitian specialising in food reactions, and under their guidance (possibly) try a proper, supervised exclusion diet, which can uncover a sensitivity.

Remember, choosing your lottery numbers the same way last week’s winner chose his will not necessarily work for you – and neither is it true to say that the winner has found a way to identify winning lottery numbers.

Equally, undertaking a test or consultation which your friend undertook and found productive will not necessarily work for you – and neither is it true to say that your friend or his alternative therapist has found a way to identify problematic food triggers.

It’s really that simple.


  1. smilinggreenmom

    Ugh, it sure did seem like a lottery when we were going through all kinds of doctors, testing, creams, meds etc and no one had any consistent results to help our little boy's allergies, intolerance and eczema. He had it from the time he was just a few weeks old until he nearly three and it was so hard and challenging. Thankfully though the one and only thing that has really helped him dramatically with his intolerances and eczema has been his Belly Boost chewable probiotics. We are so thankful to have found something that not only works but that he likes to take too. I am so glad that he no longer has to take all those potent meds like steroids and creams because I fear the risks that often go along with less natural methods of treatment. I highly recommend this to anyone suffering from food issues and/or eczema!

  2. Alex G

    Thanks for commenting – and glad you've found something that works for your son.


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