How to find out if you have a food allergy or an intolerance

We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article

A growing number of us are experiencing food allergies and intolerances (self-diagnosed or otherwise), so is it worth getting tested?

Over the past 12 months in the UK, Google searches for ‘intolerance testing labs’ rose by 750%, while hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by 500% since 1990.

I’ve spent much of my adult life musing over my own possible problems with food. I’m fine with milk but heat it up for a latte or a bowl of porridge and I’ll soon be running to the toilet. Soy alternatives make my tummy hurt and too much chocolate will sometimes give me hives. Before vegan milks became as widely available as it is now, my solution was to train myself to like black coffee — my chocolate-induced hives, however, I just had to live with.

My curiosity sent me to nutrition consultant Sana Khan, the founder of medical and aesthetic clinic Avicenna Wellbeing. I underwent some thorough blood and tissue testing in her hands.

Test tubes for checking blood levels
Testing for allergies and deficiencies. Photo by Alena Shekhovtcova
Vitamin and mineral deficiency testing

Sana’s is one of five clinics in the UK to offer nutrient and mineral status testing. Using one of the latest diagnostic tools on the market — a handheld gadget — she simply scans my hand in a few areas, and the results are instant. While all within the average range, she admits most of them could be higher. The three that are just below average are magnesium (low levels can cause muscle aches), silica (important for skin, hair and nails) and zinc (vital for the immune system and skin). She gives me some of her own supplements — Nourish by SK, rich in zinc and silica — and advises me to bathe with Epsom salts, which are high in magnesium and can be absorbed through the skin. Ultimately, she tells me that adding more green vegetables and some seeds into my diet will do the trick.

Food allergy testing and body diagnostics

Following a blood test, Sand was able to assess whether my body was showing signs of an allergic reaction. It measured my levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE), the antibody produced by allergy sufferers in reaction to a perceived threat. If they’d been high, I’d have been asked to keep a diary and return for more tests at a later date, but clearly with my current diet, I’m not ingesting anything that’s causing problems.

At the same time, Sana ran some other tests on my blood to give an insight into my overall physical health, including thyroid, kidneys, liver, white blood cells, haemoglobin (which carries oxygen), platelets (which form clots) and glucose — as well as vitamin D and iron, despite the earlier nutrient scan covering these — and all came back normal.

A healthy snack could be the cause of an allergic reaction
Avocado, Egg and Nut Sourdough Toast
Food intolerance testing — a scam?

This is where things got interesting. Despite my intrigue, Sana didn’t test for intolerances — she simply saw no reason to after looking at the results from my blood. This is because the antibodies that might indicate an intolerance are present in the body for a whole host of reasons. They protect against bacterial and viral infections and, depending on the state of your immune system, your body could react to food with these antibodies differently on any given day, making the results inconclusive.

Having done some research before my appointment, I was a little taken aback — Google search ‘food intolerance testing’ and it reveals an abundance of private companies offering checks or selling at-home testing kits. Sana tells me she often treats people who come to her with a long list of foods they’ve been told to avoid, and by doing so, they’re often left with nutrient deficiencies.

And her avoidance is supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which states it ‘couldn’t identify any evidence the tests worked’.

Share this article