Are Food Sensitivities Over-Diagnosed?

'Eat this, don't eat that!' These days, it may seem like there's information coming from every direction about what's safe or healthy to eat. Celebrities following the latest food trends used to be focused solely on losing weight – but increasingly, their special diets are about food intolerance, according to C-Health.

Should we give up sugar, like Gwyneth Paltrow has reportedly done? Switch to a raw diet, like Demi Moore? Follow the bestselling diet book written by The View's Elizabeth Hasselbeck after she diagnosed herself with a gluten allergy? Or cut out milk, meat, wheat, or other ingredients, a switch some claim will cure ailments from tiredness to bloating to aches and pains?

There are definitely some good reasons for cutting out specific foods or even whole food groups from your diet. For example, peanut allergies can be potentially life-threatening, and certainly a good reason to avoid them. But according to one study, celebrities may be behind the exponential rise in supposed food intolerances.

The study, by a British allergy organization, found that as many as half of all Brits claimed that they suffered from some form of food intolerance. Another study asked 250 doctors, the majority of whom believed their patients' supposed food sensitivities were all in their heads. They've been called 'make-believe afflictions' and 'designer disorders,' and have spurred a global market of food allergy products projected to hit $26 billion in five years.

How do you know whether your food sensitivities are real or imagined? Experts suggest food allergy testing as the first step. A true food allergy involves an immune system response to the food; this reaction is immediate, and potentially life-threatening. Food intolerances and sensitivities, meanwhile, involve slower reactions and milder symptoms.

There are plenty of test kits out there. Skin prick tests for 'true' food allergies are considered the gold standard. Some other kits claim to scan for up to 700 food intolerances! Though some of their methods may be cutting-edge, others are just plain bad science, with little scientific support. Because getting blood tests or skin prick tests through your doctor can be expensive, some experts recommend elimination diets, which involve avoidance of a suspected trigger food to see if symptoms improve.

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