The Nima gluten sensor is a portable gluten sensor that tests food for trace amounts of gluten. It’s the first technology of its kind. I’ve had my Nima gluten sensor for almost a year now, and honestly, I think it’s an amazing tool!
HOW DOES NIMA WORK?
It’s actually quite a complex process. In a nutshell, the test capsules have antibodies in them. If the food you’re testing contains gluten, the antibodies bind to the gluten, the device is aware of this change, and you get a “gluten found” message. If your food is gluten free, the device knows the antibodies didn’t bind to anything, and you get a smiley face.
An antibody is a protein that recognizes and binds to a specific pathogen or targeted molecule. But here’s where it gets impressive:
“The Nima chemistry team developed a pair of antibodies specifically for the detection of gluten. There are existing gluten antibodies on the market, but none of them met the sensitivity and specificity requirements needed for Nima.”
In fact, their antibodies are so precise, they are now being used by other companies. This is a huge leap forward in celiac disease science and I am SO grateful that people are undertaking these efforts.
If you want all the specifics about how it works, check out their page here.
Nima can’t identify gluten in:
- Fermented foods such as beer, soy sauce, and malt vinegar
- Hydrolyzed foods (look for the word “hydrdolyzed” in the ingredients)
- Alcohol and high alcohol foods such as vanilla extract
- Pure xanthan gum and guar gum
There are some tricks to testing certain types of food to get an accurate result—it’s not totally straight forward. So you have to educate yourself on how to test dry, gummy, brightly colored, high fat, hard, and puffed foods.
Also Nima was not created to test non-food items such as makeup and medication, so the accuracy of using it in this capacity is unknown.
The Nima test capsule can only handle a pea-sized amount of food, which can make testing all the components of your meal difficult.
Nima is accurate at 20 parts per million (ppm) approximately 97% of the time. This excludes the foods listed above.
That doesn’t mean it cannot detect below 20ppm—it can. In fact it has to be more sensitive to provide a margin of safety.
The above statistic just means the accuracy rate has been measured against a threshold of 20ppm. If Nima detects any gluten at all, as low as 1ppm, it will show you “gluten found.”
The starter kit (Nima sensor and 12 capsules) is $289. The capsules are one-time use, so you have to purchase refills as you use them.
There are two ways to order the test capsules. You can purchase them whenever you want and a pack of 12 will cost you $72 ($6 per capsule). Or you can sign up for automatic refills and you’ll get the discounted price of $59/pack ($5/capsule).
You can also sign up for a premium membership for $10/month (6 month commitment required) which will get you a free 12-pack of test capsules every 6 months, discounted pricing on all test capsules you purchase, and exclusive monthly reports.
IPHONE & ANDROID APP
Nima has created an app that will show restaurant food tests and people’s comments. For example, if I eat out, I can test my food with my Nima, and if my sensor is connected to the app, I can log that information in their database with my comments.
Nima then takes this information and creates a map that shows which restaurants are consistently gluten free and which restaurants are not.
And you can tap on the symbols to get more specific information.
I don’t find this function particularly useful because I’m extremely careful where I eat out. But I think it’s a phenomenal idea, will serve as a great educational tool for the restaurant industry, and I’m sure it’s helpful for people who are newly diagnosed and still finding their way to a 100% gluten free lifestyle.
I think given time to collect more data, it will probably change the way restaurants accommodate allergies. I think it’s a brilliant, ground-breaking way to employ sensor data.
The app offers the same function for packaged food. Again I think it’s a helpful way to use the information, especially since the FDA doesn’t require companies to test their products before labeling them gluten free.
- Shows “gluten found” for any level of trace gluten
- Software can be updated via the mobile app
- Only technology of its kind
- Fast test results
- They’re working to establish a robust compendium of food data that’s available to everyone via their app
- Flexible spending account (FSA) and health savings account (HSA) reimbursable with a celiac disease diagnosis. If you don’t have a formal diagnosis, you won’t be able to take advantage of this.
- Pea sized test amount means you may have to use more than one capsule to test a complex food dish. You need to get a little bit of everything in the sample—if you don’t your results will only represent what you were able to include. So a salad with a variety of toppings could be difficult to test with a single capsule.
- Capsules expire. The first set of capsules I got lasted were good for about 6 months. However, my most recent purchase was just over 2 months. So you can’t be sure what the expiration date will be, which is a little inconvenient. They do guarantee your capsules will have at least 2 months left on them when you buy them.
- There’s a learning curve with testing different types of food. When I first got my Nima, I got a lot of “! – no test result” messages until I learned the art of it.
- Test results could be misleading—you can’t assume anything. For example, because a packaged item tested gluten free doesn’t mean it will be gluten free every time. Don’t think of Nima as an absolute, rather think of it as an additional screening step for your food.
- It may be a little pricey for some people, though they do offer financing/monthly payments. For everyday use, for me, it’s a bit expensive. At home I use it only if I think I’ve been glutened by food that’s labeled gluten free, but not certified gluten free.
If you have celiac disease, the Nima gluten sensor can be very helpful when you have no other tools available to you. So if you’re out traveling and have to eat at a restaurant, or something along those lines, it can be invaluable.
I do, however, think there’s a chance for it to be misleading. That’s part of the problem I have with the app. If someone tests something once and it shows gluten free, people might be inclined to assume that item is safe or will always be gluten free, which isn’t the case.
But I do love that the app, while it lets you see the aggregate data, also allows you see individual test information. I think that’s critical to the app being useful.
There is also the risk that if you don’t capture a good food sample (which is a legitimate challenge because the capsules hold so little) that you’re not testing all the ingredients in your dish.
Since the Nima gluten sensor is not 100% accurate, there is room for error, although it’s a small percentage.
All that said, if you’re savvy about how you use it (common sense and caution should always be your primary means of self-protection), it can be a very useful weapon in your arsenal!