Do Food Intolerance Tests Actually Work?

You might have heard of trends like the elimination diet, which involves eliminating foods from your daily meals to identify ones that may be problematic to your digestive system. However, the concept of food intolerance and weeding out items that cause issues has come a long way since the elimination diet first went viral. According to Women's Health, searches for food intolerance testing on Google increased by 250% between 2021 and 2022. As more people look to identify the reasons for unpleasant symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, companies are also jumping on the opportunity to develop food intolerance tests — but do they really work? Furthermore, what does it really mean to be intolerant to a certain food?

As the Cleveland Clinic explains, food intolerance can be explained as gut sensitivity. When your digestive system can't break down certain food, it can result in a wide range of symptoms, including diarrhea and abdominal pain. These symptoms are usually not life-threatening and may not even occur if you only eat a small amount of the food that causes irritation. For this reason, the causes of food intolerances can be difficult to identify, which leads many to seek out specific tests. Do these types of tests actually work? Here is what to expect from a food intolerance test, and what you can do with the knowledge you gain.

Do food intolerance tests really provide accurate results?

These days, there are many different types of food intolerance tests, and several of them can be purchased over the counter. Accessibility has contributed to the hype around these tests, but as registered dietitian Tamara Duker explained to The New York Times, there are no validated food intolerance tests on the market.

Because the market has become largely saturated with these tests, it has become difficult for consumers to understand exactly what they're buying. For instance, some tests claim that they can measure levels of antibodies in your body, as explained by The New York Times. Others state that they can measure the actual size of your blood cells following exposure to certain foods. Many of the tests only require you to submit a small sample of blood or hair, but as it turns out, this often isn't enough to make any determinations about potential food intolerances.

"There isn't anything in your hair that would tell you anything about your sensitivity to food," allergist Dr. John Kelso told the publication. It's also worth noting that many of the tests that are accessible to consumers over the counter or online have not undergone clinical trials. In short, this means their potential to detect food intolerances in your body has not been scientifically verified. If you want the real details about what your digestive system can handle, though, you aren't entirely out of luck.

How to properly identify your food intolerances

If you're interested in finding out about any underlying food intolerances you may have, dietitian Tamara Duker noted to Self that the first place to start is with a food journal. Keep a detailed log of what you eat over the course of at least two weeks, as well as any digestive symptoms you experience along the way. With this information in hand, you'll have the data a medical professional can use to analyze your body's potential food intolerances. A registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal problems will be best suited to talk to you about your concerns.

As the National Health Service notes, some of the most common food intolerances pertain to gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and lactose. Food intolerance is not entirely treatable, but its undesirable symptoms can be avoided by steering clear of the foods that are problematic to your digestive system.

The Cleveland Clinic also explains that there is a notable difference between food intolerances and food allergies. While food intolerances may cause symptoms such as an upset stomach, food allergies can result in a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Food allergy symptoms, such as wheezing and hives, also typically present themselves immediately after an allergen is ingested. In these situations, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.