The Most Common Food Sensitivities (and How to Know If You Have One)

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December 14, 2020

By Gretchen Lidicker

If you’ve ever suspected that you have a food sensitivity, you probably already know how difficult a diagnosis can be. With a food allergy, you know if you have one. However, a food sensitivity is much milder. It can also lag in its manifestation, and it can present in a lot of different ways. As the at-home food sensitivity test company Everlywell explains on their website, “people who have food sensitivities can go a lifetime without ever knowing they have one due to delayed reaction times and vague symptoms that mirror common ailments.” 

Keep reading to find out what the most common food sensitivities are and the signs that you might have one. 

Common Food Sensitivities

According to Nick Bitz, a naturopathic doctor, author, and Chief Scientific Officer at Youtheory®, the food sensitivities he sees most often among his patients are dairy, nuts, gluten, and caffeine. Other common culprits include: eggs, corn, and soy; nightshades like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers; and high FODMAP foods like garlic and onions. 

He’s also observed an increasing in sensitivities to fructose, a sugar found in many fruits and vegetables — like apples, grapes, watermelon, asparagus, peas and zucchini — as well as honey. And, he adds,  “there seems to be a rising incidence in latex sensitivities, which occur with avocado, kiwi, and banana.” (In case you’re wondering, these fruits don’t actually have actual latex in them but they do contain a protein that is very similar to latex and causes an adverse reaction.)

How to Know if You Have a Food Sensitivity

The next question is: How do you know if you have one? This is where it gets a bit tricky because, unlike food allergies — which trigger an immediate histamine reaction that can be severe — the symptoms of a food sensitivity may go unnoticed or misdiagnosed for years. 

That’s down to two things: First, the symptoms can be delayed for a few days after ingesting the trigger food, which can make it tricky to connect the dots. Second, a food sensitivity doesn’t always trigger the same symptoms in each person. In fact, food sensitivities contribute to symptoms that you’d never guess are connected to what you eat.

According to a blog post by Dr. Will Cole — functional medicine practitioner and author of the best-selling book Ketotarian — any of the following symptoms can be a sign of a hidden food sensitivity: 

  • Acid reflux/heartburn
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema
  • Fatigue
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Hives
  • Inflammation
  • Itching
  • Joint pain
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Rashes and other skin problems
  • Sinus infections
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

That’s a lot of symptoms — 25 to be exact — which is why an elimination diet is the best way to figure out what food or foods may be contributing to your symptoms.

What Is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet involves removing all common food triggers for a period of time and then slowly adding them back in, observing your symptoms. According to Cole, this is the “gold standard” for uncovering food sensitivities. “Removing certain foods for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them will reduce inflammation, give your gut a healing break, and will give you insight into which foods cause a reaction for you,” he wrote. After you’ve pinpointed what food or foods is causing an issue for you, the next step is to eliminate that food from your diet and focus on healing your gut. 

Can You Get Over a Food Sensitivity?

So, now for the last questions on everyone’s mind: Does a food sensitivity mean you can never eat that food again? There’s really no guarantee. If you reintroduce the food gradually after your elimination diet,  to see if and your symptoms reappear, it’s a sign that that food should likely stay on the “avoid” list. If they don’t reappear, great news! You can likely continue to eat that food in small quantities without causing a problem.