I am not a fan of the Nima Sensor, and I’m going to tell you why.
Disclaimer – Several of my readers wrote to me expressing their own doubts and concerns about Nima and asking for my opinion. The following opinions are my own. This is meant to be a discussion, so please feel free to contribute. I own a Nima Sensor (which I paid for myself), and these are my experiences. It is not my intention to sway readers for or against Nima. I am simply discussing my opinions. Many of you know of my hero, Gluten Free Watchdog, an invaluable expert in the gluten free community. I will be referencing several of her articles about the Nima Sensor. Please also keep in mind that the FDA has defined gluten free as less than 20ppm. Some GF certification organizations require a food to be less than this. I am aware that some extremely sensitive Celiacs react to 20ppm. Nima’s chemistry is optimized for 20ppm.
I was among a group of gluten free bloggers invited to informational events with the Nima team before the product was released. If you remember my post from two years ago – “The Nima Sensor – A Game Changer” – you’ll remember that I was incredibly excited about this product, so much so that I preordered my sensor the second it went on sale. I also loved the Nima team. The creators were kind and seemed to really want to do some good in the world.
The cost – $279. The capsules cost about $4.87 – $6.08 each and are not reusable. And they expire within about six months.
Nima doesn’t work on:
- Fermented foods
- Soy sauce
- Pure vinegar
- Xanthan and guar gum in their pure form
- Bright colored food
- Hard food such as uncooked pasta and dry beans
- Nima has not been validated to test for gluten in medication or non-food products such as makeup. If tested, the Nima team cannot make claims about the accuracy of test results.
Problems with the sample size
When using Nima, you only test a pea-sized sample of food. This means that if you have multiple items or components on one plate, it may be hard to get all of those into one capsule, and you’ll end up having to use multiple ones. If you use three capsules for one meal, that’s about $15-$18.
Also, because you are only testing a small amount, Nima may not find the gluten in food that has been contaminated. Remember, cross contamination is not necessarily evenly spread out throughout a dish. The Nima team recommends testing likely areas such as grill marks on a piece of chicken, but there is no guarantee that it will find a hot spot of contamination.
Example – you order a gluten free pizza and test 1/2 pea-size of crust and the other 1/2 pea-size of cheese. The Nima results in a happy face – no gluten found. Is your pizza gluten free? Who knows. All you know is that the pea-size sample you tested is.
A false sense of security
I’m worried that the device is giving the community a false sense of security. Celiac Disease is highly emotional, and many of my followers have expressed that the hardest part is the social aspect. I’ve had too many occasions where I sipped water at a restaurant while everyone else ate pizza. We all want to believe (myself included) that this device will give us comfort and allow us to regain control. We want to fit in. We don’t want there to be any problems. We WANT this device to work.
The Nima team emphasizes that it’s important to still ask questions about how food was made and where it was prepared. But will consumers end up relying too much on the device itself?
Several people I know tested Cheerios (click here to read more about Cheerios’ questionable gluten free status). When I explained to them how spotty cross contamination can be, particularly when it comes to gluten free oats, they all replied that they would continue to eat Cheerios anyway because Nima gave them the answer they wanted to hear.
Testing under 20ppm & damaging reputations of truly gluten free businesses
Nima once said that foods under 20ppm occasionally may test positive for gluten, but that is rare. Now Nima publicly admits on their site, “For foods containing below 2ppm, Nima reported ‘gluten found’ 7.8% of the time.”
This is highly concerning to me and brings up some other important questions – What is the percentage for under 10ppm? And under 20ppm? Even though the device is “optimized for 20ppm”, logic shows that greater than 7.8% of food under 10 or 20ppm will test positive.
I worry that restaurants and companies that are doing an excellent job may have their reputations unfairly tarnished.
Imagine this – you go to your favorite restaurant and test a dish. It comes back positive for gluten. You question the manager and the chef. They swear that all of their ingredients were gluten free and they took their normal steps to prevent cross contamination. What do you do? Do you eat the dish? Do you stop going to your favorite restaurant? Did your food have 2ppm in it? 10ppm? 100ppm? There is no way of knowing because Nima cannot tell you.
And then that information gets logged into the Nima app. Other Nima-owners can see your test results, and perhaps they will start avoiding that restaurant.
I refused to bring my Nima with me to restaurants. I thought it would be irresponsible of me to potentially tarnish the reputation of a restaurant that is doing a great job because the device that I was using had no way of telling me how much gluten was actually in their food.
Now before you say, “Any amount of gluten that it detects is too much”, let me ask you – is less than 1ppm too much gluten?
And before you say, “But so-and-so said that their Nima saved them from eating unsafe food at a restaurant,” let me also ask – did that person also send their dish to a lab to have it verify that the dish contained over 20ppm? Maybe it was gluten free and maybe it wasn’t.
And of course, I am certain that Nima has saved people from ingesting gluten – if a sample has over 20ppm Nima will most likely find it (unless it is a food that Nima cannot test for like soy sauce) – but how many times has it prevented someone from eating food that was totally safe? How many times has it damaged the reputation of an excellent company? It is a question of consistency.
I also see a lot of social media posts of people testing certified gluten free food and getting upset when Nima says “gluten found.” Do you disregard the testing requirements of the certification bodies?
Testing a food multiple times
At the request of other Celiacs, I tested quite a few foods including this bag of gluten free potato chips – labeled GF (company tests ingredients and finished products), the bag was new/unopened, samples gathered with a new plastic spoon that had been sealed in plastic. Nima came back with a “high gluten” result (likely over 100ppm). I tested a second sample from the same bag with a new spoon – happy face/ “no gluten found”.
We also tested this gluten free brownie twice with the same precautions. The first test came back “low gluten”, the second test came back “no gluten found.”
What do you do? Do you eat these foods? Or do you stop trusting the companies? How many times should you test a product with Nima to feel satisfied with its answer?
So Jessica, what are you currently doing with your Nima?
Remember I wanted Nima to be our community’s savior. However, mine is currently collecting dust in my cabinet, and I don’t plan on ordering any more capsules. My personal opinion – a costly gadget that makes my gluten free dining experience even more expensive yet still leaves me unsure as to my food’s actual gluten free status is not a gadget that is useful to me. For my needs, I don’t think the technology is there yet.
The way I see it:
“No gluten found” – No gluten was found in your pea-size sample. Is the entire dish gluten free? Nima doesn’t know.
“Gluten found” – Nima found gluten in the sample, but it might be less than 2ppm. How much gluten is in it? Nima can’t tell you.
Sure, the Nima team will emphasize that the device is another tool for your toolbox. I ask – is it a consistent/accurate tool? And does it leave you with more answers or more questions?
I know others out there may disagree with my feelings about Nima. Again I will stress that these are my opinions based on information provided by both Nima and Gluten Free Watchdog. This is meant to be a discussion, so please feel free to leave a comment – what is your opinion of Nima?
Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this review, and I did not receive any product samples. All opinions are my own.