Disclosure: This ZOE Test Kit review is sponsored by ZOE. Thank you for supporting the work we’re doing at The Hormone Dietitian!
Imagine learning exactly which foods work for your body — and which don’t — based on your own unique biology! Integrative and functional nutrition takes a personalized approach to diet and lifestyle, so when I had the opportunity to try the ZOE test kit for myself, I jumped at the chance!
In this article, I’ll be sharing what the testing process was like, what my results were, and what changes I’ve implemented in my diet since!
The Testing Process
What’s in the Kit
Within just a few days of placing my order, the box arrived! Inside the box were:
- Blood & gut health sample kits
- Muffins & food scale
- Blood sugar sensor
I had been instructed to download the ZOE Test App to my phone after purchasing the kit.
The instructions inside the box directed me to scan the box into the app to get started and then to pick a start date. Day 3 of the process is the most time-intensive with specific time points that actions should be completed, so I picked a start date that gave me the most flexibility on Day 3.
The instructions also said to freeze the muffins, which I did.
Setting up the Continuous Glucose Monitor
On day 1 of the test, the only task was to set up the blood sugar sensor before noon. I admit, I was a little scared to poke myself, but it turned out to not be a big deal at all. I did end up enlisting Mr. Avocado to help, as I wanted the sensor to be on the back of my arm where it would be out of the way. It would definitely be possible to do this step alone if you had to.
As for what it feels like — not much at all, actually. The first day felt a little sore, as if I had gotten a flu shot in that arm, but after that I didn’t notice it.
Within an hour the meter was recording my blood sugar and I was up and running!
The Poop Test
Day 2’s task was to complete the gut health (stool) test. I’ll spare you the details, but the instructions made it simple to complete and it wasn’t nearly as gross as I’d feared. Once that is complete, it gets popped into the return box that you place in your mailbox.
My only other tasks this day were to remove the Day 3 muffins from the freezer and to fast overnight (for at least 8 hours). The app even sent me a reminder to take the muffins out of the freezer.
Day 3: Test Meal Day — The Muffins
I was supposed to remain fasted with only black coffee and water allowed. Since my days are not happening without coffee, I chugged some black coffee for medicinal purposes.
At 7:15 AM, I did the first blood test of the day. It did not go super smoothly, which was my fault. (Trust me when I tell you not to skip the step where you soak your hand in warm water first.) I ended up having to stick myself 3 times, but it did get done.
At 7:44 AM, I scanned the breakfast muffins into the ZOE Test App and started eating them. They tasted like… plain muffins. Because they were so dry, it took me a while to get them all in, but I finished eating by 8:02.
The 4-hour fast starts from the time you START eating. I felt pretty bad during this time, headachy, brain foggy, sleepy, dizzy. I felt my heart rate speed up at first. And I was hungry less than 2 hours after eating the muffins. Muffins are very different from my usual breakfast, which is heavy on the protein, fat, and fiber. Even though I could tell from the ingredients these were supposed to be the “higher fat” muffins, they still threw me for a loop.
At 11:44 AM, I ate the lunch muffins. From the ingredients label, I was able to tell that these were the higher-carb muffins compared to the breakfast muffins. And this was obvious from the taste as well. These were actually kind of delicious — like angel food cake. I still felt hungry after eating these, but had to fast for another 2 hours and take the last blood test.
By 2:00 I had completed the last finger prick test and finally ate a real balanced meal. Once the blood tests were dry, those went into the return packages and into my mailbox.
Day 4 — More Muffins
More breakfast muffins (higher carb again) and then fasting for 3 hours afterward.
Again, I felt pretty bad until I was able to get a balanced meal in and never really “caught up” from the blood sugar imbalance.
This is why I teach women how to avoid the blood sugar roller coaster!
Testing Your Own Food
On Day 4 you also start testing your own meals, by entering the specific foods and amounts into the ZOE test app. They provide a food scale for easy measuring, and the database was robust, with most of the foods I eat accounted for. (For example: the Trader Joe’s sunflower seed butter I buy was in there; but while the database had several Rx Bars listed, it didn’t have the specific flavor I was eating, so I picked the one that looked the closest.)
You also test your meals for the remaining days of the test (Days 5 & 6) while continuing to wear the continuous glucose meter.
The more information you can track, the more specific results you’ll get.
Unfortunately, it’s been oh, about 20 years now since I’ve had any interest in tracking my food in any way… so I wasn’t super consistent or as dedicated to the tracking part as I should have been. But I did continue to wear the blood sugar sensor until day 7 and did the best I could when it came to tracking.
The Science Behind it All
The ZOE test measures potential for dietary inflammation by measuring blood glucose control. Some foods cause larger blood glucose spikes than others. The goal is to control blood sugar spikes in order to reduce inflammation, provide steady energy, and lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The ZOE test also measures how well your body controls blood fat levels — fats that float around in your bloodstream after a meal. Being able to control these blood fat levels also lowers inflammation and the risk for chronic diseases.
And finally, the ZOE test measures the organisms present in your own gut microbiome to predict how you will respond to certain foods as well as which foods may boost gut health and which may suppress it.
A recently published study in Nature Medicine provides more detail.
It took about 2.5 weeks to get my results. My results were surprising, but at the same time, not that surprising.
My blood sugar control was poor. Really, the very bottom edge of poor, veering into bad.
I say I’m not really surprised because I’ve definitely struggled with reactive hypoglycemia throughout the years and I know from decades of experience that a high-carb diet or a high-carb meal early in the day does not work for me. I feel tired, sluggish, and shaky after a high-carb meal like pancakes, so I’ve learned how to eat to avoid those feelings — lots of protein, lots of fiber in the form of fruits and veggies, and lots of high-quality fats like avocados and nuts.
My blood fat control was slightly better, a little below the halfway mark in terms of average.
We have a history of high cholesterol in my family and mine tends to be high as well (although my ratio of HDL to LDL is always very good).
I would say I don’t really feel this one physically in my body as clearly as I do the blood sugar spikes and crashes.
ZOE Food Scores
ZOE uses the results of your test to assign individual scores to millions of foods based on the results seen in their PREDICT study. They also score the meals that you track in the app during the testing process.
Using the food scores:
- 0-24 eat once in a while
- 25-49 enjoy in moderation
- 50-74 enjoy regularly
- 75-100 enjoy freely
How a food will affect you also depends on what you eat it WITH and when you eat it during the day
My best-scored meals tended to be breakfasts.
My worst-scored meals were… no surprise here — processed foods. Mr. Avocado and I broke down and had frozen pizza for dinner one night and that scored a 26 for me. Yeah… I don’t really need a reminder that meals like that should be once in a while.
For snacks – a spoonful of nut butter (76) was better than an Rx Bar (35).
ZOE Gut Insights
Again, it’s kind of a wonder that I’m a healthy, thriving individual with results like these.
ZOE has identified 15 “good bugs” associated with favorable metabolism, lower inflammation, and better blood glucose control. I had almost none of these (I had trace amounts of 3 of them).
On the flip side, there are 15 “bad bugs” associated with less favorable metabolism, worse blood sugar control and worse blood pressure. I had quite a few of these — 9 were “very high,” 2 were “high,” and I didn’t have 4 of them at all.
Additionally, I did not have Blastocystis, a parasite that sounds terrible, but is actually associated with less visceral fat (belly fat).
Based on these results, my gut boosting foods are apples, avocados, zucchini, spinach, lentils, and broccoli regularly. With the exception of apples, these are all already on my weekly shopping list, and I eat avocados nearly every day.
My gut suppressing foods include foods I rarely or never eat. Beef, white bread, pork, corned beef, sausages, and savory pies. I don’t eat pork, so the only one of these I eat somewhat regularly is high-quality beef once a week or so.
I was definitely surprised by my relatively poor gut status considering how much work I’ve put into my gut over the last few years and how many gut-supporting foods I eat (fiber, phytonutrients, fermented foods). I also rarely experience any sort of digestive symptoms.
It’s important to note that the test really only accounts for diet and the lab tests — not personal medical history that would impact gut microbiome (eg, not being breastfed, taking antibiotics, etc).
And as ZOE continues to collect more data, more information will be added about which bacteria are beneficial versus not.
I appreciated that the ZOE test also provides you with a list of all of the bacteria present in your gut, not just the 15 “good” ones and 15 “bad” ones. From this list, I was able to see that I had very high levels of various Bacteroides strains, for example.
Incorporating the Results
The ZOE Insights App has everything you need to follow the recommendations, including meal ideas and recipes and your personal scores for various foods.
Using the app, you can start a 4-week plan to retrain your body and lower inflammation and make better gut choices. Then moving forward, the goal is to continue to get overall daily scores of 75+ for maintenance. No foods are off limits — it really is all about the big picture.
Again, tracking my food at this point in my life is not something I’m interested in, but I’ve definitely been incorporating some of the learnings from the test.
For example, seeing that unsweetened coconut milk, my non-dairy milk of choice (which I use in my coffee every day), scores a 39 (enjoy in moderation), I was able to find that unsweetened soymilk would be a much better choice for me, with a score of 76 (enjoy freely).
Seeing just how low my blood sugar is most of the day and night has encouraged me to eat slightly more carbs throughout the day than I normally would. For example, if I’m going to work out in the afternoon, I’ll have a piece of peanut butter toast now to prevent me from going too low. My blood sugar was so low during the fasting finger prick test (56 mg/dL!) that the company sent me an email instructing me to talk about my results with my doctor.
It was cool to see the principles I teach reflected in my own blood sugar. For example, I recommend eating a “treat” as close to a meal as possible so as not to spike blood sugar, and that recommendation played out in my results. Eating a small handful of dark chocolate after a balanced lunch had no impact on my blood sugar. Eating it on an empty stomach, however, spiked it right up.
The ZOE test is a comprehensive way to measure your own personal response to foods based on your blood sugar control, your blood fat control, and your microbiome. As they continue to publish the results from their studies, the data will only continue to get better.
Our responses to foods are individual and we are learning more every day about factors that influence our responses to foods. Focusing on foods (and combinations of foods) that balance our blood sugar and lower inflammation is a smart strategy to becoming more metabolically healthy.
Click here to learn more about ZOE.