FAQ’s On Food Sensitivities

What is the difference between a food reaction, food allergy and food sensitivity?

A food reaction is an umbrella term used to cover any adverse reaction to food, whether it’s immune mediated (a food allergy and sensitivity) or not. A classic food allergy usually only involves one or two foods and is easy to diagnose. Symptoms include a significant rash, swelling of the throat or throat closing up. The symptoms occur immediately, usually within 2 hours of eating. On the other hand, a food sensitivity usually involves multiple foods and can occur anywhere from two hours to two days after eating the food. Since sensitivity symptoms are non-specific, it isn’t obvious or easy to self-diagnose. The third group, non-immune reactions to food are also non-specific and hard to diagnose.

If I’m sensitive to a certain food, does that mean I’ll never be able to eat it again?

No, a food sensitivity is usually not permanent, as opposed to a food allergy which usually is. Eliminate the food for one to three months, then slowly introduce it back into your diet. If the underlying gastrointestinal dysfunction — such as Dysbiosis or Leaky Gut — is treated, chances are your food sensitivity will have improved or gone away completely.

My skin and blood tests were negative, could I still have food sensitivities?

Yes, routine blood and skin tests will detect classical food allergies only. Most people have food intolerances or sensitivities, which have different immune mechanisms and are not picked up with such tests. There are labs that test for these antibodies (IgG), and some people have food reactions that don’t product antibodies at all.

What is the best way to test for food sensitivities?

Although there are IgG food allergy tests, the easiest and I believe the best way to detect them is to do an elimination diet for 2 weeks and then re-introduce the foods again.

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  • Angelagwillis

    Thank you for clearing this up. Just in time for the strawberry patch in my garden to be ripe with berries, I started noticing patches on my tongue swelling. It also occurred with other highly acidic fruits, such as pineapple, limes, and lemons; but not with oranges. I've not had a past history with any food allergies or sensitivities.

    I am curious. Since you said above “gastrointestinal dysfunction — such as Dysbiosis or Leaky Gut ” is an underlying problem that can cause a symptom of food allergies, could this also be connected to gluten intolerance (or Celiac's Disease)?

  • absolutely

  • jennifromtheblock

    I used one of the online labs to see if my 3 year old daughter was sensitive to any foods. (she was having constipation, stomach aches, rashes on her legs, arms and stomach and aggresion/behavior problems). I took her to an allergist and they did a skin test and found she was allergic to dogs and no food. Then the lab told us she is sensitive to gluten, soy, dairy, eggs and yeast. It is a little tricky now to find food with none of these things in it that a toddler will eat. BUT when we avoid the foods the symptoms go away.The lab sent information along with the results and recommended that she NEVER eat these foods again – especially gluten as it can cause permenant damage in her intestines. Is gluten sensitivity different than other food sensitivities? Will they go away? Has anyone heard of the new LDA shots?

  • Jenni
    the one food that she should probably stay away from is gluten as it
    can cause permanent damage to the intestine if she has celiac disease
    or a severe sensitivity. So start with eliminating that and giving her
    some probiotics and see what happens

  • Cjyprice

    I have had my gallbladder removed, and now have problems digesting fats. It doesnt stop there however, I seem to be more and more intolerant to meat, even lean meats. I have tried your spent diet and it helps, but I still experience bloating, constipation, and diarraha. Even my stand-by my Metagentics rice protien shake is giving me problems. What to do? My family doctor just shakes his head, and has no answers.

  • Yogalena

    I did the spent program and eliminated sugar, gluten, caffeine, processed foods, etc about 4 months ago. I haven't been tested for celiac disease, but recently experimented with a food with gluten. It was delicious, but then I was up most of the night with GI problems. I'm definitely not going back.

  • First try Betaine HCL and Digestive enzymes,
    If that doesn't help, add probiotics and
    if that doesn't help, try some lipotopic factors like choline,
    betaine, methionine, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12.

  • Julie

    Are there any good tests out that that test for food sensitivity? I've heard of a couple…ELISA and ALCAT…are these good?

  • HI, 

    Its nice article guys, I liked it.

  • Rochelleask

    I’ve had some thyroid problems and after seeing 5 doctors went to an allergist specialist in LA, he did a 20 min skin test to test all types of allergies. They do it on your back and test for gluten, shellfish, dairy, pollens, nuts etc. Turns out I am gluten/wheat intolerant and have an allergy to the protein in eggs as well. I had been diagnosed a number of years ago with IBS so I just lived with stomach pain. My stomach pain is gone but it will take some time for my thyroid to regulate. I wish I had known about this allergy when I was little. I highly recommend seeing Dr. Rafi at the Allergy Asthma Care Center if anyone is having problems in the Los Angeles area. 

  • Rochelleask

    I’ve had some thyroid problems and after seeing 5 doctors went to an allergist specialist in LA, he did a 20 min skin test to test all types of allergies. They do it on your back and test for gluten, shellfish, dairy, pollens, nuts etc. Turns out I am gluten/wheat intolerant and have an allergy to the protein in eggs as well. I had been diagnosed a number of years ago with IBS so I just lived with stomach pain. My stomach pain is gone but it will take some time for my thyroid to regulate. I wish I had known about this allergy when I was little. I highly recommend seeing Dr. Rafi at the Allergy Asthma Care Center if anyone is having problems in the Los Angeles area. 

  • Jenn

    I seem to be having reactions to fruit– all kinds, the list keeps growing– any suggestions? 

  • This is a great post about food sensitivities, but the problem with doing an “elimination diet” is that you can’t be sure that you are not sensitive to whatever you continue to eat. When we eliminated wheat, soy, and dairy from my son’s diet for a year it didn’t make any difference because there were almost 40 other foods he was still eating that were causing him to react.

    Now I work with the Mediator Release Test (MRT) which does an amazing job of identifying food sensitivities. Using the scientifically-based results we design a “safe diet” out of the foods with low reactivity rather than an “elimination diet” based on guesswork. The MRT is the next-generation of the ALCAT and includes dietary management protocols to increase the rate of recovery from symptoms. I have found it to be very effective in helping my clients eradicate their symptoms and lead normal lives.

  • Gmoody

    Yes! I just had testing done myself two weeks ago, and it turns out that I have a sensitivity to: wheat, sugars, corn, tuna, coffee, especially dairy but gluten is okay! Very surprising news, as I do have food allergies and have for many years. Not sure where my food diet is headed, as there seems to be additives related to my sensitivities in almost everything!

  • Guest

    I suffer from bloated feeling very often, lack of energy, I constantly feel down and tired, it is very frustrating and annoying…..Can this be related to food sensitivity? If yes, what would you suggest to start with? Thank you.

  •  Your symptoms do sound like they could be from food sensitivity reactions, though I would want to know more about your health and history before sounding definitive. You can try to keep a detailed food diary and see if you can correlate any symptoms, remembering that food sensitivity reactions are dose-dependent and may be delayed by as long as 4 days. If this doesn’t work for you, you should consider getting tested. You are welcome to contact me directly for more information.

  • Healthymamma

    I’ve had bloating/constipation all of my life.  Began getting hives/rashes only on my legs and not one doctor is able to tell me what’s wrong.  I’ve been to top immunologists, dermatologists, allergists, etc.  A holistic doc did applied kinesiology and told me I was sensitive to sugar and wheat.  AND WINE, NO LESS, lol.
    Is there a ‘way’ besides an elimination diet to know for sure?

  • Lina

    Hi, my problem is that after lunch I can get so tired. It takes like one our and a half after eating my lunch and then suddenly I feel so tired I just want to go to bed. But I can´t, I sit in front of a computer…I have tried to cut down on carbs and only have like grilled chicken and vegetables for lunch and I find that much better, not tired at all after that, BUT in the afternoon, like at 3 pm I feel cravings for candy and I assume that is because I did´n have any carbs for lunch. I find it hard to find the balance.I often have oatmeal for breakfast and after my job I often have two boiled eggs on a sandwich. Do you know what the perfect lunch for me would be? BR Lina

  •  You sound like a good candidate for the MRT. This simple blood test will look at your reactivity to 150 common foods and chemicals. Most of my clients have a medical file inches thick by the time they come to see me for testing, and it turns out they can be helped simply by using the test results to custom-design a diet that is right for their body. The laboratory analysis is hard science that shows you exactly what you are and are not sensitive to, eliminating any guesswork or arduous elimination diets.

  •  You might benefit from using plant-based digestive enzymes when you eat. They will help your stomach to break down your food better so that your intestines can actually absorb the nutrients. I think we’d need more information before designing the “perfect” lunch for you.

  • Guest

    Sometimes I eat healthy carbohydrates (e.g., quinoa) to help me avoid cravings for candy.  I also like eating avocados.  I hope this helps!  Enjoy!

  • Linaivarsson

    Hi, thank you both. I will try the healthy carbs and digestive enzymes. Lina

  • Dianne in Singapore

    Dear Dr.Lipman,
    I just discovered you through your wonderful GOOP article and had 2 questions:
    1. Why do you say you wouldn’t recommend the slow-cooking oats, millet, quinoa…porridge on a daily basis?
    2. Why do you use cacao, which has caffeine, instead of carob, in recipes?
    I’m making the Chia Pudding tomorrow! Thank you,  

  • Marissa

    I have had a food sensitivity test. I was desperate to find out if anything I was eating was causing the debilitating eczema that I have on my hands and shins. Turns out that I CAN have gluten but no corn or rice. There are a lot of foods I can’t have, like eggs. (egg whites specifically) eczema is better but not 100%. I started 4months ago
    Question1…have a good sub for eggs?question2…should I still limit my gluten?

  • Lorilanger

    The Mediator Release Test (MRT) is the latest tecchnology available for food sensitivity testing and it is far more accurate than IgG testing. You can eliminate the guess work of a food elimination diet w/ MRT testing. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to get 100% remission of food sensitivity symptoms w/an elimination diet, when one is sensitive to more than a half dozen foods (which is often the case).
    Lori Langer, RD, MEd,LDN,CLT

  • Antoniamoro

    Hi I loved the articule, thanks, I live in Patagonia, and have a 5 year old boy, that olny likes cous cous, bread, some meat. some pasta, milk.
     obviously I am very worry about it, doctors say he is just being spoiled…

  • Lindsay

    Have your candita levels checked. I felt depressed, foggy/confused, moody, gained weight, wanted to sleep all the time and dragged my body around constantly (even after a full night’s sleep). 

  • Gea.K

    What i’m trying to find out is – why at a certain point of our life’s we get food intollerance (sensitivity)? What is the main cause of it? I asked few doctors, check the internet and still didn’t get any answers..

  • Kstanglass

    i have had skin “flare ups” for the past couple years- usually itching hives or welts on my cheeks and neck. after a skin test my 1 derm said i was allergic to all my hair products…but issues were not totally relieved. derm 2 thinks i have a hormonal case of acne…we are in the midst of trying different topical creams to help.

    ive always wondered if it was food related.

    can anyone recommend a food allergist that i can see in NYC?


  • Rlrl4

    Hi Rochelleask I am in the NYC area could you ask your allergist if he knows of anyone like him in my area, he is exactly what I am looking for…

  • Angela S

     I’ve just recently had a really bad case of hives on my chest and underarms, I went to a dermatologist who recommended allergy medicine that did nothing at all so I went to a Holistic Doctor who diagnosed it as an autoimmune problem (I have other autoimmune issues going on as well) and that usually means that there is a gluten problem.  I have been off of gluten, dairy and sugar and the hives are gone!! I’m pretty sure that you have the same problem.

  • wildflower64

    I get flushed from beer if I drink more then one I think I am getting a wheat or grain allergy of some kind. I think I got hives from trying that new double strength beer which actually helped me see the connection! Now I drink wine ;)

  • Larissa

    I just had blood- and skin tests done at the dermatologist because I get horrible skin-irritations about every 2 months (since November 2011). My whole face starts itching and then I get red patches that are super-dry and peel off (especially on my eyelids) but my face is also always hot and sweaty. My doctor discovered 2 allergies to things in lotions etc (I only know the German names which are “Wollwachsalkohol” and “Quaternium 15”) as well as Nickel. No food allergies. The problem is: Even though she prescribed me lotions free of that stuff and I never put on makeup again (and I had a low-concentrated cortisone lotion for my eyelids) the irritations returned! I’m starting to wonder whether I might not still be allergic to some food and she just didn’t discover it!?

  • Guest

    HI Jenn,

    You could have fructose malabsorption.  Check out:


  • monica

    Hi Elizabeth. I’m having trouble finding someone in LA who does the MRT or IgG test and also trying to find out it’s covered by my flexspend (since I know my insurance doesn’t cover it. Any recommendations? Thanks

  • Susan

    You may be sensitive to histamine, which is in many foods and products.

  • Connie

    Did you ever find any answer as to how to fix this problem. I have the symptoms you mentioned and I can only eat 3 foods since I have extreme sensitivites to everything else.

  • Miss Sue

    See a certified dietician to make sure you have a balanced diet. Get a blood panel as well – you could have a vitamin deficiency. Feeling sleepy after lunch is common, as is craving sugar in the late afternoon. A quick fix is to eat less at lunch with a variety – small protein, small salad or veg, a small roll or rice. After lunch take a walk before sitting at your computer. At 3:00, have some fruit and a cup of tea. Vary your breakfast choices. Add protein and fat in the morning. I cannot stress the importance of getting an annual physical from an Internal Medicine M.D. Do not go in for restrictive diets — you can develop problems. Some vitamin deficiencies can cause neuropathy which is a debilitating condition.

  • Anonymous

    Like Miss Sue said, healthy fats and protein can be a great way to balance energy and are important to include in every meal. Reducing your bread/gluten/grain intake should also help (for example, just have hard boiled eggs after work without the bread or a smoothie/shake for breakfast instead of oatmeal).
    You also want to make sure that you are drinking enough water as dehydration can cause low-energy and cravings for sweets. It is estimated that you should be drinking about half your body weight in ounces each day.
    -Amanda, Be Well Coach

  • Baridge

    I just got my allergy results back from US BioTek Labs and they indicate a “low reactivity” to eggs and and a “very low reactivity” to bananas. Everything else came back ok. I don’t know what this means. Any idea if I need to cut these foods out or if low and very low mean just that.?

  • Kim G

    What if you have a sensitivity to something good – like fluoride for children? Do you eliminate it and lose the benefits or keep the exposure? If you keep the exposure are you getting any benefits or does the sensitivity basically cause your body to reject it completely?

  • Karin

    Sounds like you have leaky gut. Look into it. You have to heal your gut lining or else you will have problems with most foods. I got hives, itchy rashes, and basically reacted to most foods and environmental situations. Healing the gut usually takes a 30 day controlled detox by an integrative doc. Supplements are added in to aid. Good luck