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Most medical experts agree that at-home food sensitivity tests are not worth your money. Instead, consider taking an at-home food allergy test or meeting with a doctor or registered dietitian to identify the cause of your unwanted symptoms.
Many people experience food sensitivities, which are immune responses to specific foods that can worsen or trigger a wide range of symptoms (
Though many types of at-home tests claim to help identify food sensitivities, most experts agree that these tests aren’t reliable and should not be recommended.
In this article, we discuss what food sensitivities are, why at-home testing kits are not worth your money, and what to do instead if you suspect you have a food sensitivity.
We’ll also discuss signs that may indicate a food allergy rather than a sensitivity and provide options for at-home food allergy testing.
For people who suspect that they may have mild food allergies, an at-home food allergy test can be a convenient first step in identifying potentially problematic foods.
Here is a quick look at our picks of the best at-home food allergy tests:
A food sensitivity occurs when your immune system reacts to a specific food. This can cause a variety of adverse symptoms.
Food sensitivities are believed to result from an immune reaction driven by antibodies such as immunoglobulin G (IgG), immunoglobulin M (IgM), and immunoglobulin A (IgA), along with other cell-mediated reactions in the body (
Food sensitivities are not life threatening but can cause unpleasant symptoms.
For example, research has linked non-celiac gluten sensitivity — a food sensitivity triggered by a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — to symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, brain fog, depression, and skin inflammation (
Though more studies on food sensitivities are necessary, research suggests that some people may be sensitive to certain foods or substances, including nightshade vegetables and lectins. Lectins are a type of proteins found in many plant foods, such as legumes (
Food sensitivity vs. allergy vs. intolerance
Despite sometimes being used interchangeably, the terms “food sensitivity,” “food allergy,” and “food intolerance” are not the same.
Here is the basic definition of each:
- Food sensitivity: This is an immune response to a specific food. While more research is needed, it’s thought that food sensitivities are driven by the production of antibodies and other cell-mediated reactions in the body. The symptoms are not life threatening (
- Food allergy: This is a type of immune response triggered by the proteins found in a specific food. Many, though not all, food allergies are mediated by increased production of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms can be life threatening (
- Food intolerance: This occurs when your body cannot digest a specific food. This reaction does not involve the immune system. Instead, it can happen if your body lacks certain enzymes that are necessary to break down that food (
Food sensitivity tests typically check how your immune system responds to different types of food.
A food sensitivity is driven by cell-mediated reactions and antibodies such as IgG, IgM, and IgA, while an allergic reaction is often caused by IgE (
Many at-home food sensitivity tests claim their tests can help you find out which foods are triggering symptoms like gas and bloating.
Some companies also market their food sensitivity tests as a way to help determine how your body may respond to certain ingredients or nutrients.
However, as we’ll discuss next, at-home tests are currently not reliable indicators of food sensitivities and cannot diagnose specific food sensitivities.
Many at-home food sensitivity tests measure your body’s immune response to a variety of foods by testing the levels of certain antibodies in your blood, such as IgG and IgG4, after you’re exposed to various food antigens (
However, there’s limited evidence supporting using these tests. What’s more, many of the studies that companies cite to support using these tests are outdated or have been published in nonreputable journals.
“Most at-home tests and even tests done in laboratories for food sensitivity have not been studied in a scientifically rigorous way,” explained Dr. David D. Clarke, board certified gastroenterologist and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.
Additionally, some studies suggest that the presence of these antibodies may not be an accurate or reliable marker of food sensitivity, especially because many other antibodies and cell-mediated reactions may also be involved in food sensitivities (
Multiple organizations, including the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), have advised against using these tests to diagnose food sensitivities (
Some tests claim to help you understand how your body may respond to certain foods based on factors like your genetic background. However, the research surrounding genetic testing and food allergies and sensitivities is also quite limited (
Overall, more reliable testing methods are necessary before at-home testing kits can be recommended to diagnose food sensitivities.
Other concerns surrounding at-home food sensitivity tests
Because at-home food sensitivity tests may or may not be accurate, they are associated with several risks, including (14, 15):
- unnecessary elimination of foods from your diet
- inadequate intake of important nutrients
- development or worsening of disordered eating behaviors
Notably, food sensitivity tests are not a replacement for a personalized care plan from a registered dietitian or gastroenterologist.
The field of food sensitivity testing is constantly evolving, and new research is emerging regularly. It is possible that more accurate at-home food sensitivity testing methods may become available in the future.
Elimination diets can be overly restrictive and lead to disordered eating behaviors
Food sensitivity tests cannot address other possible health concerns that a health professional would. And trying certain treatment methods — such as elimination diets — on your own may be harmful.
This is because elimination diets can be very restrictive, often requiring you to exclude multiple food groups, many of which are highly nutritious.
“One of the biggest risks of eliminating foods without the appropriate support (and oftentimes even under the supervision of a professional) is the anxiety and fear that develops around reintroducing foods, which can snowball into disordered eating, obsession, and orthorexia,” said Aleta Storch, registered dietitian and founder of Wise Heart Nutrition.
Storch recommends consulting a healthcare professional before attempting an elimination diet. A healthcare professional can provide recommendations to prevent nutrient deficiencies and guide you as you reintroduce foods to your diet.
If you believe you have a food sensitivity or you are experiencing unexplained symptoms, the following two steps may help you identify the cause:
- Start a food and symptom journal: This can help you notice patterns to determine whether certain ingredients may be causing digestive issues or other symptoms. If you prefer not to keep a written record, there are several apps that can make logging more convenient.
- Make an appointment with a doctor or dietitian: A health professional can help rule out other potential causes of symptoms and determine whether you may have a food allergy or intolerance.
A healthcare professional may recommend an elimination diet, which involves removing potential trigger foods from your diet and reintroducing them slowly to determine which ones may contribute to your symptoms (
Because this diet can be restrictive, time-consuming, and difficult to follow, you should attempt it only with the supervision of a registered dietitian or another qualified health professional.
While at-home food sensitivity tests are not recommended for diagnosing food sensitivities, they may help narrow down potential trigger foods, especially when used alongside other treatments and testing methods, such as an elimination diet.
If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.
“There are many conditions that can be responsible for digestive symptoms that might go undiagnosed if the symptoms are incorrectly attributed to a food sensitivity,” said Clarke. “Among the most common are irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gallstones, and peptic ulcer.”
Other potential culprits for your symptoms include:
- Stress: Feeling stressed can cause digestive issues, as well as other symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating (18).
- Dehydration: In addition to dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue, not drinking enough water can also lead to issues like constipation (
- Sleep deprivation: Getting poor or inadequate sleep can cause digestive symptoms, as well as brain fog and trouble focusing (
- Medications: Many medications can cause digestive side effects. For example, antibiotics, cancer drugs, and certain types of antacids can cause diarrhea. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin can increase the risk of nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain (21, 22).
- Dietary habits: What you eat and drink can greatly affect your digestive system. For example, consuming carbonated beverages, spicy foods, foods high in sugar or fat, or certain vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, can cause bloating (23).
- Food allergy: Food allergies can cause symptoms such as digestive issues, hives, and swelling, which can occur within minutes of consuming an allergen. Severe food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a very serious allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention (
- Food intolerance: Food intolerances may result in GI-related symptoms if your body cannot digest certain foods. Common sources of food intolerance include lactose, caffeine, sulfites, certain food additives, and fructose, which is a type of sugar found in fruits (
If you’re experiencing symptoms after eating certain foods, it’s important to rule out food allergies, which can be more severe than food sensitivities or intolerances.
Food allergies can cause several serious symptoms, including hives, itching, swelling, and digestive issues (
In some cases, food allergies may lead to anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening (25).
When testing for food allergies, a doctor will likely collect information about your symptoms, diet, and medical history.
Doctors commonly use certain tests to diagnose food allergies (28):
- Skin test: This type of test involves pricking your skin with a probe that contains a small amount of food allergen and monitoring your reaction.
- Blood test: This test helps determine whether you are allergic to specific foods by measuring the amounts of certain antibodies in your blood.
- Oral food challenge: This procedure involves consuming small amounts of a suspected allergen under the supervision of a doctor. They will keep emergency equipment and medication on hand in case of a severe reaction.
Though at-home food allergy tests are available, some may require a referral from a doctor.
You can order certain food allergy tests online from companies like Labcorp, which allows you to view your results online after providing a blood sample at a location near you.
Healthline’s picks of the best at-home food allergy tests
Can an at-home food sensitivity test diagnose a food allergy?
Many at-home food sensitivity tests measure IgG levels or genetic factors, neither of which can identify a food allergy.
Some at-home testing kits can measure levels of IgE antibodies in your blood to identify a potential food allergy. However, you still need to review your results with a healthcare professional to receive an official food allergy diagnosis.
Are at-home food allergy tests covered by insurance?
No. Insurance does not cover most at-home allergy tests. However, some companies may allow you to use your applicable flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) funds toward your purchase.
At-home food sensitivity tests are not currently considered a reliable or accurate method of diagnosing food sensitivities.
Therefore, if you suspect you have a food sensitivity, it’s best to consult a health professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian.
In addition to ruling out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as food allergies or intolerances, a professional can determine the best course of treatment and provide guidance on necessary dietary changes.