At-home food sensitivity tests are an option for people who suspect they are experiencing symptoms due to consuming certain foods. However, such tests cannot provide a reliable clinical diagnosis, and there is conflicting research on their effectiveness.
At-home food sensitivity tests can help a person gain insight into which foods may be causing uncomfortable digestive symptoms or allergic reactions.
However, an at-home food sensitivity test does not replace clinical diagnosis or treatment. There is no scientific evidence that suggests these tests have clinical value.
This article discusses food sensitivities, when to take a test, how these work, and four of the best at-home tests available online.
Three commonly used terms describing reactions to food are:
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), approximately 32 million people have food allergies in the U.S.
Food allergy usually leads to the most severe reaction to a specific food, caused by the body’s immune system reacting to a substance. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology lists the most common trigger foods as:
Sensitivity and intolerance refer to the body’s inability to process or digest certain foods. This can cause a mild immune reaction and potentially lead to a wide range of symptoms, including:
Food sensitivities may change over time as a person’s immune system and gut microbiome change.
What are common food sensitivities?
Some commonly reported food sensitivities include:
- Gluten: Gluten is present in many grains and foods, such as pasta, bread, baked goods, and condiments.
- Lactose: This is present in milk and dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and butter.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate.
- Salicylates: These are present in a range of foods, including some fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, honey, and nuts.
- Histamine: Histamine is the most common trigger, which occurs in fermented foods, cured meats, dried fruit, citrus fruit, and avocado.
- FODMAP foods: FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. It refers to food containing a certain carbohydrate group. It includes milk, soft cheeses, bread, beans, lentils, honey, apples, and beer.
At-home food sensitivity testing kits usually require a person to submit a sample, which could be:
- blood from a skin prick test
- strands of hair
- a mouth swab
- a breath test
Typically, people should collect this sample after exposure to food antigens. Different tests will provide specific instructions.
For most at-home food sensitivity tests, the user must send this sample to a lab for testing. Many kits test specifically for levels of antigens such as
The companies will then provide the results within a few days or weeks, sometimes via an online portal or smartphone app.
There is little evidence to support the accuracy of at-home food sensitivity tests.
The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and
Food sensitivities and at-home testing kits are a continuing subject of research. Future studies may support the use of alternative testing methods.
At-home kits for food sensitivity have not been studied extensively enough to prove their accuracy.
This may mean people receive inaccurate results from at-home food sensitivity tests, which may cause health anxiety and lead to unnecessary dietary changes or restrictions.
For example, a false positive result for gluten sensitivity may cause a person to avoid gluten. If they do not replace foods containing gluten, such as bread or pasta, with healthy alternatives, they may be omitting important nutrients from their diet which can contribute to malnutrition.
It is also possible that a person attributes symptoms to food sensitivity when an undiagnosed condition may be the true cause of perceived symptoms. For example, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease may cause gastrointestinal symptoms similar to food sensitivity.
Seeing a doctor about suspected food sensitivity ensures that a person receives a thorough assessment of their symptoms that may help rule out or identify other potential causes.
Studies have not proven the reliability of at-home food sensitivity tests. A 2018 review states that they should not receive medical endorsement until scientific studies support their use.
People may take an at-home test as a precursor to visiting a healthcare professional. However, they may save time and money by going directly to a professional for diagnosis.
A professional may recommend a person keep a food diary to document foods eaten and symptoms. They can then assess any potential links between symptoms and food exposure.
They may also recommend an elimination diet. This is best performed under the direction of a qualified professional to ensure nutritional requirements continue to be met, even when avoiding certain foods.
A person should see a doctor if they suspect they have a food allergy or are experiencing severe and ongoing symptoms, as medical attention is necessary.
A person should consult a doctor if they regularly experience:
A doctor might be able to diagnose the problem from a person’s symptoms and medical history. If not, they can order further tests to investigate the cause.
An at-home test is not a replacement for a clinical diagnosis and doctor-recommended treatments.
Below are answers to some of the top frequently asked questions about at-home food sensitivity tests:
Does insurance cover at-home food sensitivity tests?
Most insurance companies do not offer financial help for at-home food sensitivity tests.
However, some insurance providers may cover the cost of a food test at a doctor’s office. If a person has insurance, they should contact their insurance provider to check which tests they cover.
Can an at-home food sensitivity test diagnose a food allergy?
Currently, no at-home food sensitivity tests can diagnose food allergies.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that at-home food allergy tests may not provide accurate results. A person should follow up on any positive test results with a doctor.
Is food sensitivity the same as a food allergy?
Food sensitivities or intolerances are different from food allergies.
Food sensitivities are not life threatening. Moreover, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom explains that sensitivity to specific foods causes bloating, nausea, wind, and abdominal pain after a person eats the food.
By contrast, food allergy occurs when the immune system treats certain food as an infection. This causes allergy symptoms, such as wheezing, itching, and skin rashes, and it can be life threatening. If someone experiences a food allergy, they should seek immediate medical advice.
Can you reverse food sensitivities?
Food sensitivities are reversible. People can eliminate the food they are sensitive to and reintroduce it to their diet once the body has had time to heal.
Food allergies result from the body producing antibodies, whereas food sensitivities result in inflammation. This inflammation is reversible, but antibody production is not.
At-home food sensitivity tests are not scientifically proven to pinpoint food sensitivities. A person should not change their diet in line with at-home food sensitivity results without seeking medical advice first, as they may be cutting out food groups that keep the diet balanced.
However, some people may prefer to try an at-home test before seeking a professional diagnosis and guidance.