Food sensitivities are incredibly challenging to detect, often far more elusive than the often more straightforward food allergies. Symptoms range from headaches and hives to grogginess and GI issues, and we often don’t realize that the chronic symptoms we’re experiencing are caused by the foods – or seemingly insignificant ingredients in the foods that we eat.
Fortunately, food sensitivity testing products are making it easier than ever to identify trigger foods that leave us feeling less than optimal. Here’s a high-level rundown on what you need to know about these kits, from how to get tested to how to interpret the results.
Breaking it down | food sensitivities versus intolerances versus allergies
There are 3 main types of adverse food reactions; each has a very different biological pathway:
Food allergies: Food allergies involve the immune system, occurring when our creates IgE antibodies in response to a food. These IgE antibodies then trigger the release of histamine and other pro-inflammatory compounds into our bloodstream. Food allergy reactions typically occur quickly, often within minutes or hours. Think peanut or pine nut allergy.
Food sensitivities: Food sensitivities also involve the immune system, but in a different way: White blood cells release pro-inflammatory chemicals known as “mediators” [e.g. cytokines, prostaglandins] into the bloodstream in response to a food or chemical. Food sensitivity reactions are often delayed and dose-dependent. Examples include a sensitivity to cinnamon that causes stomach pain the following day, or a sensitivity to vanilla that results in a brain fog and headache the day after consuming.
Food intolerances: Food intolerances don’t involve the immune system. Instead, they occur when we lack the enzymes needed to digest specific compounds. Think lactose intolerance, for example.
There’s no universal consensus on the exact definition of food “sensitivities” or “intolerances” – they are often used interchangeably, but ultimately when we use either term, we’re referring to a negative reaction to food that is not a true food allergy.
The Science Behind Food Sensitivities
With food sensitivities, the immune system reacts to a trigger, such as an otherwise harmless food or chemical. This triggers our white blood cells to release mediators (e.g. prostaglandins, cytokines) that cause symptoms such as pain, inflammation, fatigue, congestion, GI issues, sensitivity to light, etc.
What Types of Tests Are Available?
There are many food sensitivity tests to choose from, but some are better than others. Here’s the rundown on three common tests that you may hear about:
1. Mediator Release Testing (MRT) + LEAP Diet. Mediator Release Testing (MRT) is considered to be the best food sensitivity test currently available. MRT measures the amount of mediators released from white blood cells. MRT is a blood test ordered through a healthcare professional; you get your blood drawn and then ship it overnight to their lab. Substances are flagged as highly reactive, moderately reactive or low- non-reactive.
The importance of working with a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT). LEAP stands for Lifestyle Eating and Performance; I highly recommended that you work with a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT) for the best results. CLTs can work closely with you to interpret your test results, explain the physiology and nuances of your specific food sensitivities, and develop a customized LEAP nutrition plan to fit your lifestyle.
2. Antigen Leukocyte Antibody Test (ALCAT). ALCAT is similar to MRT – in fact, the same immunologist developed both tests. ALCAT is a good option, but MRT uses more current technology for more comprehensive results.
3. Immunoglobulin G (IgG) Testing. IgG testing is popular, especially on social media – you may have seen it promoted under the brands Everllywell, Cyrex or Pinnertest. It’s not considered as useful as MRT or ALCAT because there are multiple pathways that can cause food sensitivity reactions, and IgG is just one of these.
It’s important to note that even ‘highly reactive’ foods may not need to be avoided forever. Once inflammation and other adverse reactions are under control, it may be possible to add these foods in smaller amounts.
Also keep in mind that any type of food sensitivity test is just that – a test that provides us with insight into how we react to foods. It’s up to us to make the most of these results, understanding and truly applying them to our lifestyle in a mindful, sustainable way.
Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in food sensitivities and intolerances can help to guide you through this process, blending the art and science of nutrition and wellness.
For more on the science of food sensitivities check out my FUELED Wellness + Nutrition podcast here. where I’m joined by food sensitivity expert registered dietitian Susan Linke.
- Food Reactivity Testing | MRT [Mediator Release Testing] + LEAP therapy: www.nowleap.com
- Ochsner Fitness Center RD Alexis Weilbaecher [food sensitivities]: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Susan Linke, RD | www.susanlinke.com
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.