This was an extremely popular and well received topic on a recent episode of my podcast The Nourished Podcast, so I decided a blog post about it would also be very beneficial. You can listen to that episode here.
I think we can all agree that there are some foods that, when we eat them, it just doesn’t go well. We have major digestive distress, resulting in either running to the bathroom, not going to the bathroom for days, or curling up on the couch holding our belly in pain. Digestive issues can be a big sign that something in your meals isn’t working for you, but this is just one of the many ways our bodies respond with a food sensitivity. Headaches, skin breakouts, swelling, edema, brain fog, runny nose, sneezing, itching, disrupted sleep, anxiety, depression, weight gain or loss, joint pain, and chronic illness are just a few of the other ways the body warns us of an invader. But, how does food become an invader anyways?
Two words: leaky gut. While I won’t get into the nitty gritty of what leaky gut means since I already wrote a comprehensive blog post about it, I will touch on some important points. First of all, the likelihood that you are dealing with a leaky gut is HIGH. Because of the use of prescription medications, the consumption of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol, and the state of chronic stress in this country, the prevalence of leaky gut is at an all-time high with an estimated 75-85% of Americans affected. In my practice, it’s at 100% which isn’t at all surprising when you understand that most health issues stem from a leaky gut including autoimmune disease, mental health issues, skin disorders, digestive malfunction, and allergies.
When a gut becomes leaky, undigested food particles that are meant to stay within the walls of the digestive tract, make their way out into the blood stream. The immune system kicks in, sensing a foreign invader, and creates antibodies against this food particle, resulting in a food sensitivity. An immune response results in inflammation, histamine release, and an overall change in your body and blood. This response creates all of those little random symptoms that may not even seem to be linked to food or digestion at all.
And, until your gut is healed, that food will continue to cause a reaction every time it is eaten and introduced to the blood and immune system. Not only that, but as the gut remains leaky, more food sensitivities are formed and more random symptoms appear.
With that brief description, it should be pretty obvious that the health of the gut needs to be at the forefront of learning about your health issues. But, doesn’t it also make sense that we should find out what foods we’re sensitive to and stay away from those while healing the gut, so as not to cause unnecessary immune reactions and inflammation? So, how do we find out such specific information? I’m glad you asked.
There are two different methods to finding the foods that don’t work for you specifically; elimination diets or functional lab testing.
An elimination diet involves taking foods out of your diet that most commonly are found to be food sensitivities and/or cause inflammatory and immune responses. These often include grains, soy, dairy, legumes, eggs, nightshades, nuts and seeds, sugar, and processed foods. These are also referred to as healing diets and come with names like Paleo, AIP (Paleo Autoimmune Protocol), GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) diet, SCD (specific carbohydrate diet), among others.
When doing an elimination diet, you spend a period of time strictly avoiding these food. Once you determine healing has taken place, you can try to re-introduce the foods very systematically and see if you react to them. Those foods you have a reaction to would then be considered sensitivities and need to stay eliminated for a longer period of time while continuing the gut healing process.
Highly accurate: Elimination diets CAN have a 100% accuracy rate because YOU are determining the foods that work and don’t work for you by your own reaction and how you FEEL. What a great way to tap into your body, learn more about yourself, and really help yourself in this battle. This also makes them have the possibility of a 100% success rate, which is unprecedented.
Powerful results: These types of diets have helped many people heal themselves, putting diseases into remission, getting off medications, and squelching chronic inflammation. What an amazing thing to see the power that food can have on our health!
Unfortunately, I have quite a list of potential negatives that come with elimination diets that I have gained from my personal and professional experience with them. Over the past 3 years, I have done pretty much every elimination diet out there in an attempt to heal my gut and put my autoimmune diseases into remission. The most memorable was spending 9 months following the AIP diet to a T, including reintroductions. Many of my clients come to me already on healing diets and not getting the results they were expecting for a number of reasons, some of which we will dig into here.
Food fear: Something that I noticed both in myself and in my clients when it came to reintroducing previously eliminated foods is that there was now a negative feeling towards that food, most notably fear. It is now a scary thing to try to eat these otherwise extremely healthy and nutrient-dense foods again. What if they completely undo all of the healing that has taken place? Or, what if they cause serious reactions that make you feel terrible? It becomes easier just to stay on this extremely restricted diet and never reintroduce to determine your food sensitivities. Having a negative emotion around food of any kind is a prime environment to develop a disordered eating pattern. This turns into restriction, a feeling of “I can’t have that”, and a tendency to overthink and complicate what’s on your plate.
Reliance on your perception of a reaction: I remember when I was trying to reintroduce eggs after 6 months without them, I followed the procedure to reintroduce and after every serving of egg, I would find myself just waiting for something to happen: Is that a headache? Wait, am I dizzy? Why have I not pooped in the last 5 hours? I started assuming there would be a reaction and began imagining symptoms that weren’t there. I had taken the ‘tuning in’ piece too far and started overthinking the whole thing. I see this all the time in others who are trying to find out what they react to. It’s very easy to assume that when something wonky is going on in your body, it’s the reaction to something you ate. But, that’s not always the case and this thinking can lead to unnecessary food avoidance.
Not specific to YOU: Elimination diets also are a broad stroke. Really healthy, nutrient-dense foods are eliminated too, when they don’t necessarily have to be. Plus, there are also a lot of other foods that could be potential sensitivities that are never eliminated from these popular diets because they are only focusing on the COMMON triggers, but not necessarily YOUR triggers. In my case, I had done all of these elimination diets with no symptom relief or advances in gut healing, only to find out over a year later that a huge food sensitivity for me are potatoes (including sweet potatoes) and fermented foods, which I ate almost every day while following the elimination protocol because they aren’t the common triggers.
Hard to follow: Lastly, elimination diets often don’t work. Not because they’re not effective, but because they’re very hard to follow 100% of the time, which that strictness is necessary to determine an accurate reaction during the food reintroduction phase.
Food Sensitivity Testing
There are quite a variety of food sensitivity tests out there, some of which are inaccurate and some of which have been proven to provide very specific and accurate results. I myself have been very skeptical of food sensitivity tests in the past based on what I had read about their validity. It wasn’t until I went through the Restorative Wellness Specialist program and learned about the MRT (mediator release testing) in great detail that I felt like I had finally found a reliable testing method to provide much needed answers to both myself and my clients within my practice.
The MRT test differs from others in several key ways. First, for a food sensitivity test to even be considered usable, it needs to be at least 90% accurate which is determined by split sample reproduceability. This means the same blood sample is split up into two different tests and the same results come back at least 90% of the time. Most food sensitivity tests have yet to obtain that record. The MRT test was the only one to repeatedly come back with a greater than 90% reproduceability score every time in peer-reviewed studies.
Second, the MRT measures the degree of inflammation that occurs when a blood sample is introduced to a food, which is the case for many other food sensitivity tests. The differentiator is that the MRT tests for the total volume of mediators that are released into the blood, not just one mechanism that would cause a release, as is the case with IGG, IGM, or IGA type testing. Basically, this means ANY change in the blood volume will be noted and assessed to produce a level of sensitivity for that food based on the degree of reaction in the blood. This includes the release of mediators such as cytokines and histamines. This provides a more well rounded test and the ability to gain a higher level of healing with the more advanced knowledge that the MRT provides.
Now that I have explained the reasoning behind my gold standard in food sensitivity tests, let’s look at the pro’s and con’s to food sensitivity testing in general.
Ease: Food sensitivity tests basically do the elimination work for you. With just a simple blood draw, you can determine which foods cause a reaction in your body. You will not need to rely on your own perception of a reaction that may be somewhat skewed or biased.
The reaction is real: Something I see quite often in my practice is clients assuming the digestive reaction they have after consuming certain foods are because they are sensitive to that food, when in reality, it’s just because their digestive system isn’t functioning properly and they’re not actually digesting and processing those foods, thus causing gas, bloating, pain, acid reflux, and changes in bowel movements. Once their digestion is supported, those symptoms are resolved and previously eliminated foods can be easily added back in with no problem. With food sensitivity testing, the results are actually obtained because of a change in your blood, a true reaction that your body induces when in the presence of that food.
Peace of mind: Once the foods you are sensitive to are acknowledged, you can relax and enjoy the foods in which you don’t react to with reassurance. For many people who have spent time on an elimination or healing diet, this will not only greatly expand their food selection, but also provide relief.
Not just the common foods: Food sensitivity tests look at the reaction to a number of foods, many of which would be considered safe on elimination diet protocols and never taken out of the diet. These include fruits, vegetables, meats, food chemicals, oils, nuts and seeds, grains, etc. For example, the MRT I choose to use in my practice tests the blood against 150 different food and food additives! Wouldn’t it be great to know that your body reacts to things like zucchini, potatoes, berries, or coconut? Foods that people on elimination diets may eat a lot of and never know every time they do they’re causing an inflammatory response in their body.
Not 100% accurate: The accuracy made both lists! While the MRT provides over 90% accuracy consistently, it still is 100%. There still is a small chance for a false positive or false negative, albeit rare.
Requires blood: If you are someone that fears needles, this could be a challenge.
Not free: Because you are involving labs and a team of professionals, including doctors, scientists, and nutritionists, instead of doing it yourself, it does mean making a bit of an investment. On a strictly personal note, I can tell you with confidence that the information you get and the healing that occurs because of your newfound knowledge is invaluable.
If you are someone who:
is currently following (or has in the past) an elimination diet but not healing
is dealing with and trying to resolve a leaky gut
has unexplained symptoms
is ready to get to the root cause of their health issues
has been told by doctors there is nothing wrong
then food sensitivity testing may be the next step in your health journey.
Schedule a free 15-minute case analysis with Shawn to see if this is the right move for you.