My mission with this blog from the beginning has been to make gluten free eating safer and more convenient for my readers. In my opinion, eating out is one of the biggest sources of a headache when you need to eat gluten free. For my restaurant and product reviews, part of the rating criteria has been a non-scientific gut test. Did I get sick or did I come away from my experience feeling fine. About a month ago I decided to inject a little bit of science into that specific rating criteria by enlisting (purchasing) the help of the Nima Sensor which is a gluten detecting device.
The Nima Sensor isn’t perfect but my gut has definitely been thanking me. I also believe it has brought my reviews a little more accuracy which is great for everyone. However, I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of controversy lately regarding the Nima Sensor.
After scouring through comments on Instagram posts that featured Nima and reading a few articles and studies on the device, it is clear that there are two camps. The first camp believes Nima is God’s gift to gluten free eating and that camp tends to rely heavily on it. The second camp believes Nima has too many drawbacks and doesn’t warrant usage at all. I don’t fall in either camp, which is what sparked me to write this review. This review is not based on any science. It is strictly my own opinion backed by my own intuition and experience with the device.
I never talk about food or restaurant costs in this blog because I want to keep it strictly about gluten free eating. Although convenience does have a higher cost with anything in life, our health shouldn’t have such a high price. Nima disagrees with high cost health argument and puts a price tag of about $300 on helping us gluten free eaters (there are always random discounts on Instagram though if you know where to look). That price tag gets you the gluten detecting device and a 12 pack of nima capsules, among other little things like cords and a travel pouch.
The capsules are where the magic happens but I’ll dive further into what they do in a little bit. These capsules are the real cost problem though. Three hundred is high but understandable for such a device if that is your only cost for the life of it. This is science in a bottle after all that has the potential of saving us from lots of pain. Unfortunately, the costs don’t stop at the initial purchase. A single 12 pack of capsules costs approx $70 and you will need to purchase more of these packs down the line since each capsule is one time use. I get why they are one time use, which will be explained below, but that cost is crazy to me. Gluten free options already commands extra charges at restaurants and grocery stores. Tack on a test with Nima and that price just jumped another $5-6 (the cost of each capsule/test).
How It Works
It is pretty easy to work this thing but the time it takes to conduct a test is annoying. All you do is put a pea size amount of food into the capsule – tighten the capsule lid – insert into the Nima device and tap the button twice. There is a small screen on the device that gives you an animation and a progress bar indicating the device is testing. The capsules are a one time use so when the test is done, take the capsule out and discard it. I kind of like that since I hate cleaning. But it is annoying to have to bring the device and a sealed capsule with me when I go out to eat. I have enough problems with having my phone, wallet, keys and whatever else is in my pocket at any given time.
About 3 minutes is the typical test time which doesn’t seem long, but at a restaurant is a lifetime. When the food first arrives at your table, maybe 3 seconds is spared before people start digging in. Saying a long family style Thanksgiving grace would be shorter then this wait. I get it, science takes time. But they should have found a way to reduce the test time while still retaining the accuracy. I’ve had countless waiters come up to me and ask if everything is ok in that wait period. It just looks weird and is definitely not convenient. If you are eating with a group of people who don’t have a gluten problem then forget it, they will be done eating before you even start.
This is the most important part and really determines if the device is worth it. There are two areas where the accuracy can vary. The first is based on the test sample of the food you use. The second is based on the calibration and science of the device. The first is up to us, the users, and is somewhat in our control. The second is based entirely on the company that produced Nima, which is out of our control.
Let’s talk about the first area of accuracy I mentioned. Since the device only tests a pea size area of your plate of food, gluten may never make it into the device for testing. Imagine if you ordered a gluten free pizza and you tested the back crust with a little cheese and sauce sample. The test might come back negative which is great (smiley face – meaning no gluten was found). But what if they used a pizza cutter that was used on other gluten pizzas and gluten was in between your pizza slices? Based on your test sample, that means your Nima device never saw the part of your food that actually had gluten. Now we have a false negative on our hands and your gut will pay the price. This is one potential accuracy issue with Nima.
Let’s talk about the second scenario which is a bit more complicated. According to one study by the Gluten Free Watchdog, the Nima device entered the market too early and no third party tests were done to conduct its’ accuracy. Well, a third party decided to conduct their own science lab driven tests and concluded that even if your test sample had gluten, the device was only accurate if the sample had more then 40ppm of gluten in it. This is a problem for people with celiac disease, like myself. Apparently, it is nearly 100% accurate when above 40ppm. This is the other potential accuracy issue with Nima. Here is the article if you want to read more.
Knowing the above information, I’ll start this section by saying that everytime the Nima device gives me a smiley face I still proceed with caution. I will always rely on my own judgement first and foremost but this is a helpful aid in that judgement, not a replacement for it.
My own judgement is really good but it isn’t perfect. Gluten can find its way into our food in weird and mischievous ways where even the best knowledge and judgement can’t detect it. At the time of writing this, I’ve had two experiences so far where I trusted the restaurant, the server and the food that was brought out to me but Nima detected otherwise. In those instances, I would have eaten the food and been sick. I will proceed with my food if Nima comes back with a smiley face but if it detects gluten, I will never eat that food. For that, Nima is worth it to me as an aid, but nothing more. Read more here about one particular experience I had where Nima saved me.
UPDATE: (12/10/18) Originally when I wrote this article I had only two experiences where the device saved me. But in the last 3-4 months, I’ve had close to 5 or 6 experiences where Nima has saved me. There have been some seasonings that would appear to be gluten free from the labeling but actually weren’t gluten free. There were also a few experiences at restaurants where the server told me the fries would be cooked in a dedicated fryer but Nima ended up detecting gluten, saving me from a world of pain.
Overall, this device isn’t perfect but neither is science. I would NEVER use this as a replacement for my own judgement and intuition. Nothing replaces that and we must all be our own advocates with gluten free eating. But I do believe the positives and potential of this device far outweigh the negatives and I will continue to use it as an aid to my judgement. It helps me be just a little safer and I love that. I don’t want to go to bed sick or wake up and be married to the bathroom for three days. I have a real job, a real life and love to be social. Gluten can wreck havoc on all of those things for me pretty quickly. I’m sure you all are in similar shoes. So I welcome Nima in assisting me on this quest of avoiding gluten entirely. I will just always make sure Nima is a passenger on that quest and not the driver.