Do you have food sensitivities? The one simple test you can do anytime, anywhere to find out.

By   53 Comments

“Is there any food you couldn’t give up?”

This is one of the key questions I ask every new client. The answer tells me a lot.

In some cruel twist of fate, our bodies tend to crave the very foods we are most sensitive to. It’s a big bummer, but when you understand what’s happening in the body, it makes a lot of sense.

When we eat a food our body is sensitive to, our pulse increases. Here’s what happens:

We ingest a food that we’re sensitive to. That food triggers our body’s histamine response, which you can think of like a fire – it’s responsible for the inflammation involved in healing. To counter the effects of the histamine, our adrenals secrete cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone which acts like the fire truck to put out the fire. (Think of the cortisone treatments so often used to counter inflammation – this is just synthetic cortisol.) In addition to bringing down inflammation, cortisol, as one of our body’s stress hormones, also speeds up our pulse.

In short: trigger food → increase in pulse.

Here’s the catch: that speed in our pulse? It’s can actually feel like a nice buzz, and is part of the reason we crave those foods that trigger it. We’re unconsciously looking for the mild high.

In my clinical experience, it’s rare for a food we crave (in that slightly maniacal I Must Have This kind of craving) to NOT be a food sensitivity.

This is not all bad news. Actually, it gives us a very powerful tool in helping to identify which foods we’re sensitive to. It’s called the Coca’s pulse test, named after Dr. Arthur Coca, an allergist from the mid-1950s who discovered this profound but simple test to identify potential food sensitivities.

The pulse-dietary system has become a special medical diagnostic art. It is based on a simple, easily-proven premise; that your pulse-rate is often accelerated by foods and other substances; that the reason the pulse is accelerated is because your system is allergic to that which is making your pulse race; and that life-spoiling and life-shortening conditions such as migraine, eczema, epilepsy, diabetes, and hypertension, may be caused by your continuing to expose yourself to those foods or substances to which you are allergic. – Dr. A. Coca

Here’s how to do the test. (Please note: this test can give you insights into what foods are triggering a response but this isn’t comprehensive and doesn’t replace formal testing. It’s a fun way to see if there are foods you’re eating that are causing a stress response in your body.)

Do you have food sensitivities? The one simple test you can do anytime, anywhere to find out. |

Step 1: Determine if you have sensitivities to begin with

For some of us it’s obvious that something isn’t working. Chronic sinus infections, digestive upsets after certain types of food, eczema, chronic headaches… these are just some of the many things that can be attributed to food sensitivities. But for others of us, these sensitivities are a lot more subtle.

So our first task is to identify whether you have allergic tension in your body to begin with. To do so:

  1. Have a seat, take a couple of nice big breaths to get into your body, and then take your pulse for a full 60 seconds. Yup, a whole minute – not 20 seconds multiplied by three, or 30 seconds multiplied by two… a full 60 seconds. Write that number down.
  2. Stand up, and wait for about 15-30 seconds
  3. Take your pulse a second time, for another full 60 seconds. Write that number down.

Compare the two numbers. If your pulse on standing is 6 or more beats per minute greater than your pulse while sitting, you are experiencing allergic tension.

Step 2: Determine what food (or other environmental cause) is causing that tension

This is where it gets fun and you get to bring out your detective hat. There’s actually quite a long and formal process for determining this exactly, but I’m going to give you a short cut. (If you’re interested in the whole process, check out Dr. Coca’s seminal work here).

Let’s say you LOVE cheese. Like the I-can’t-imagine-life-without-it kind of love. I-have-to-have-it-every-day-or-I-start-to-twitch kind of love. That’s a good place to start. (Remember: the foods you love the most are always the most likely culprits because of that stress buzz response.)

  1. Before a meal (ideally a good 1-2 hours since you’ve eaten or drank anything other than water), sit down again and take a nice big couple of breaths to get into your body.
  2. Before eating anything, take your pulse again for a full 60 seconds. Write down the number.
  3. Take a bite of the cheese (it’s best to do this with a single ingredient – not a food that combines several likely culprits – like pizza, for example), and hold it in your mouth for 30 seconds.
  4. With the cheese still in your mouth, take your pulse for another 60 seconds (don’t swallow yet!). Write that number down.

If your pulse increased by 6 beats or more per minute (5 beats or more if you’re an O blood type), then you have a sensitivity to the cheese. If your pulse stayed the same or only changed by a couple of beats per minute, you’re fine.

Cool, right?

You can try this anytime, anywhere with any food. The key is that you want it to be the first thing you’ve eaten, otherwise you can skew the results. Dr. Coca recommends you try a new food every hour if you’re experiencing lots of symptoms and want to root out the underlying cause.

You can also test things other than food. Some folks have found that they react to their toothpaste, a certain perfume, laundry detergent…

Try the test! What foods – if any – are you sensitive to?

More reading on food sensitivities:

Do you have hidden food sensitivities?

Are food sensitivities giving you acne?


  1. Rene


    And for those with an iPhone: there’s an app that does the Coca’s pulse test for you. I find it very convenient. It’s called the ‘Sweetbeat App’. (bluetooth heart monitor belt required)

  2. Jennie


    That’s really interesting. I always crave sugar, and just ate a bunch before I read this article. My pulse was a whole 26 bpm higher when standing! Yikes!

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. Jen Molitor


    I love the app idea! Do you have any recs for the heart monitor belt?

    • Alina


      I’ve got the Polar, and I love it.
      Sooo going to try this test!

  4. Ben


    Statistically speaking this is highly unlikely to yield a causal relation between your food intake and an allergic reaction.

    Not only are many people very inept at taking a pulse, 6 BPM is well within a normal range of variation. The act of simply eating my cheese could cause enough physiological changes to alter my heart rate by 6. Especially when compared to a baseline taken by simple means and based on one sample.

    Also a change in 6 bpm upon standing suggests you are having an allergic reaction? Try your heart is adjusting to the change in blood pressure.

    Go to the Doctor if you really wish to find out what foods you are allergic to or conduct a long term self monitoring program.

    • @Ben, I agree, it’s not 100%. But I have used this test with countless people and have been amazed at how accurate it is. Many people who have BPM increases have significantly more than the 6BPM – their pulse is normal, they eat a food, and then their pulse speeds up by 10 or even 20BPM more.

      Absolutely have a food sensitivity checked via blood panel if you’d like to, but this is a simple DIY test you can do to give you indication of where things are at.

      • Ayzoia


        My sitting pulse after relaxing today was 55. My standing pulse was 90. I had a general food sensitivity panel and it was borderline on a lot of things but not over the top. I also have very thin skin that shows veins, dermatographia, constant headaches and hypermobility.

  5. Emma


    Hmmm well this doesn’t really make any sense since the heart has to beat faster to pump blood when standing… So it would be expected to be higher

    • @Emma – that is why you wait for 15-30 seconds. It should even out. And for people without food sensitivities, it does. I’ve used this test a lot and been amazed at the results. Is it 100% accurate? No. But it’s a good, easy, and free at-home way to assess. And if you eat a food and notice your pulse racing (as many people do) that’s a very strong indication that you shouldn’t be eating that food.

      • Hugo


        That is not truths at all there is always a difference in HR between sitting and standing.

        • You’re right that there’s not always a difference — there’s no such thing as “always” with the body. Every person is unique.

  6. Jen


    How do you go about checking laundry detergent, etc.?

    • @Jen – you would test your pulse after putting on clothing that was freshly washed in a particular detergent. It’s not a perfect science, but it will give you an indication of where triggers might be hiding.

  7. Steph E


    Thank you so much for posting this!

    I first wanted to mention that from sitting to standing only increased my heart rate by 2 bpm. I encourage skeptics to try just the first step!

    I had an allergy panel run a few years back (expensive!), but there is still something that I am reacting to that wasn’t included in the test. Now that my main allergens have been removed from my diet, I need to be retested, but until I do, I am so excited to give this a try. Hopefully I can identify what causes my health woes.

    Thank you, again!

  8. Janny


    I’ve been looking for an article just like this for months. Can you give me any references to studies or other articles about this issue of correlation between food cravings and food sensitivities.

  9. Sandy


    Thank You So Much, Margaret, for sharing this information! I notice that sometimes after I eat my pulse starts racing and I get that “buzzed” feeling. I didn’t know what it meant, but now I do! I love that you have shared this information…and that I found it! I am so excited now to take this newfound knowledge and learn what my body has been trying to tell me. 🙂

  10. gibran


    So do I have a food sensitivity to coffee? My heart rate increases with coffee.

    • @Gibran – likely you do. Or it’s something you put in the coffee… One would think of course your pulse would increase with coffee because of the caffeine – but that’s actually not the case. I’ve had many clients who’s pulse does NOT increase with coffee, but does increase with other foods. Important point: just because you’re pulse doesn’t increase with something, doesn’t mean it’s *good* for you – it just means you don’t have a sensitivity. 🙂

  11. Leanna Suttle


    It’s really hard to trust information when it accompanies a very wrong picture. You can’t take your pulse like the lady is showing on the pic. Hmmmm

  12. Pingback: 9 Natural Remedies for Migraines (that work) | Eat Naked Now

  13. Pingback: Do you have food sensitivities? The one simple test you can do anytime, anywhere to find out. | Eat Naked Now | The Food We Eat

  14. Vicki


    Interesting. 57 when seated and 58 standing. I used to always be having issues but have been following a Paleo Fodmap diet for a couple of years now. I do eat dairy and wine on weekends. The change in diet has really worked!

  15. Danielle


    I just tried this with a food and got difference results doing it twice in a row. I did it once and my heartbeat only went 3 beats longer, then I kept the food in my mouth (never spitting it out), did it again, and my pulse was 7 beats longer. Now sure which one to trust?

    • Well, it’s (clearly) not a perfect science. I would try it again on a different day with the same food and see what you get. If your instincts tell you that there’s a sensitivity, I would trust that. It can never hurt to pull the food out of your diet temporarily and see if you notice a change in any symptoms you’re experiencing.

  16. Caitlin


    Very interesting — I’m going to try it out!

  17. connie frost


    How about animals, wouls there be a way to check if I am allergic to my cat? I think I am, but I would like to have some backup before I go to an ENT for testing. I’ve seen some subtle changes since I’ve had him. Thank you for any tips on how to use this information if possible.

    • Connie – that’s a good question. i don’t actually know the answer to it because clearly you’re not going to eat your cat. But I do know that environmental triggers can cause increased heart rate for some people so you could try it by cuddling with your cat while taking your pulse? I think it would be more an interesting thing to do than solid evidence of a cat allergy one way or the other.

  18. SM


    I really don’t think this theory makes sense, at least from an Ayurvedic viewpoint. Certain people have faster pulse rates, and others slower. There is no direct correlation to foods in that sense. You could be allergic to something, and yet have a slower pulse rate, and vice versa.

    • It’s not about the overall pulse – it’s the pulse in response to eating a certain food.

  19. Srimita


    How does food sensitivity relate to blood type? I am trying to decide whether to include blood type diet in our family’s food restrictions. Do you recommend it?

    • Srimita – blood type is one factor among many when determining what foods are most optimal for you and your family. I don’t use it as a prescriptive approach, but rather take from it some interesting information alongside other key factors such as lifestyle, family history, specific health issues, gut health, and food sensitivities. I’m doing a series right now on food sensitivities that might interest you. Here’s the first installment of four.

  20. Jen


    I’ve known I had environmental allergies for as long as I can remember. When my dad would mow the yard, I’d have to be inside with all the doors and windows shut. As I got older it got to the point that even with the doors and windows shut I’d have to change what part of the house I was in based on what part of the yard he was mowing. That’s just one example.

    I never had allergy testing done until December 2013. I never suspected I had food allergies. I went because every time they cleaned the carpet at work I’d end up with a migraine and a asthma attack. Not only did I learn that when smells trigger a reaction it’s hypersensitivity due to long term, bad allergies and not necessarily an allergy to the trigger, but I learned I am allergic to soy, tomatoes, and potatoes! Of all the foods I gave up, tomatoes are the only ones I still crave. I always loved them but didn’t think it was on the “gotta have it” level, but now it definitely is, lol.

    This article helped that make sense to me. I’m very intrigued by this but almost afraid to try it, lol.

    • That’s fascinating, Jen. I have a few other food sensitivity articles on this blog that might help it make even more sense. Check out: and I’d love to hear how it sits with your experience!

  21. KAT


    While this test may have worked for several of your patients/clients, it definitely would not work for everyone. For instance, it simply would not work to have someone with POTS do the stand up test. POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) effects a persons’ autonomic nervous system. If a person with POTS were to stand up, their heart rate would increase at least 30 beats per minute-and that would have nothing to do with what they ate. A person with this form of Dysautonomia can still have their heart race when eating food, but 6 beats per minute would not be a good enough gauge for them.

    • Agree completely. It’s not conclusive by any means – it’s just a starting point to give you a sense of whether you need to look further. here’s how I work clinically with food sensitivities.

    • Tanya


      Agreed! I have POTS myself, and I’ve had entire stretches of days where *everything* I ate would increase my heart rate drastically, to the point where I will eat 10 bites of something, and have to stop because of severe tachycardia! Then an hour later I’m still hungry, so I go through the whole cycle again! I’ve had increases of 20 bpm just drinking a glass of water with some Vitamin C powder in it! An increase of only 6 beats a minute after a meal would be utopia for me!

  22. Susan


    I have tested many foods that have an increase of 5 bpm. My blood type is A+. Should I eliminate these foods as possible sensitivities? Some I have tried again and had the same or 4bpm increase. Several foods tested have no increase or only 1 or 2 bpm increase

    • Susan – you can try eliminating the foods you had a significant increase with and see if that makes a difference in how you feel. it’s not a perfect science, but it’s a good starting point when working with food sensitivities.

  23. Rachel


    Is this ok to do first thing in the morning before you have had anything to eat or drink?

  24. Shelby


    Would you guage a change in bpm differently for someone who already has an inflammatory disease or high blood pressure? I have rheumatoid arthritis, which many people claim can be brought on or at least made worse by food allergies, so I’d be curious to try this, but I feel like my bpm naturally varies quite frequently beyond the 6bpm range. I feel like the only way to really know is an elimination diet guided by a nutritionist.

    • Well, the BPM is about deviation from what’s normal for you – so if you have high blood pressure and a typically fast heart rate, then it would be whatever is different from YOUR normal. Now.. in a situation such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, I agree completely that food sensitivities are a key aspect of that, but I’d recommend doing some thorough food sensitivity testing alongside some GI testing. Here’s a series I wrote on the topic that may be of interest to you. I’d strongly recommend you do something like what I propose in this series rather than an elimination diet when you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease.

  25. Sarah Parry


    Hi, this is an interesting concept. Just one thing, the picture at the introduction of your article the model is not taking her pulse in the traditional way by palpation of the radial artery and this could be misleading for a novice. Being mere laypeople, we need all the help we can get!

  26. Humzee


    Oh my goodness. So many of these questions are answered in the original book by Dr. Coca, The Pulse Test, which is available for free online (just google it and get the free pdf.). The test described above is not Dr. Coca’s original test. The data collected from the many patients he worked with shows a very clear accuracy of determining the causation behind many common symptoms and diseases. All of which were improved by the elimination of the offending foods. BTW this is different than the food allergy skin tests, both in theory and results. People have shown no allergy to beef with the skin test for example, but get an elevated pulse and debilitating symptoms from the Coca pulse test. Recommended that readers with questions go to the source and read the original text. Again it is free online.

  27. Elaine


    I have noticed that after eating dinner,somtimes my heart races. I started doing some research and found this web site. My pulse is 10 beats faster upon standing after waiting a min. What is Allergic Tension? And what can I do about it?

    • This test is just a preliminary gauge and of course doesn’t preclude formal allergy or food sensitivity testing, but you could play with this to see if you notice that your heart races more after certain foods than others. After a meal where your heart is racing, make note of everything you ate and drank. Then, avoid all of those foods. One by one over the next few days you could use this pulse method to test each one of those foods individually to see if they make your heart race. (Only do one food a day, and do the test *before* eating a meal so that you don’t have other food in your system which could skew the results). When you isolate the foods that make your heart race, then eliminate those from your diet and see how you do. That’s a good starting point.

  28. Sasha


    Would this work with herbal supplements? If you got a bit of the powdervand put it on your tongue?

  29. Linda


    Can you use a finger oximeter, there is a video on YouTube of someone doing this. But there was a comment by someone saying they had tried it and it hadn’t worked. So been wondering if I should buy one and have a go or if it would be a waste of money.

    • Hi Linda, You could try it, but I’m not sure that the finger oximeter would make it easier. I think just using your fingers to check your pulse is sufficient. I wouldn’t spend the money.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.