I believe in transparency, and while at the time this post was written, I was not a Nima affiliate, I want you to know that after using Nima for about a month I decided to join their affiliate program. If you shop for a Nima Sensor via my link I receive a small commission. That has no effect on the price you pay. Any time I write to you about Nima, I will repeat this, just so you know I do have an affiliation with the brand. That said, all opinions are my own and foods I test are chosen by me with no outside influence. I partnered with Nima because I like using the product and I believe it is a useful tool for celiac and other gluten-free individuals. If you purchase a Nima Sensor via my link thank you for supporting my work and helping offset the costs I incur while keeping the content I share here free to you.
A Nima Sensor and test capsules were provided to me at no charge and with no obligation to use or discuss the device here or elsewhere.
When I first heard about a device to test for gluten in food, I was skeptical. Truthfully, I didn’t even look into it. From time to time, others who work in the gluten-free and celiac community forwarded articles to me about the device. Some of those articles were in support of the Nima Sensor and others shared strong skepticism about the device.
My goal here, as always, is transparency. I do not know all there is to know about Nima and I am aware of the concerns voiced by the celiac and gluten-free community about the device’s validity.
As a former research scientist, I am interested in facts, so let’s discuss it and open a positive line of conversation and exploration here. It is my hope this will help all of us better understand Nima, its limitations and its proper use. As I learn more, I will update you, too; please feel free to add your thoughts on, or questions about, this device in the comments below.
Why am I using a Nima Sensor to test gluten-free foods?
I recently sat down face-to-face with some members of the Nima team and discussed the device. I was able to ask questions, discuss some of the skepticism surrounding the sensor, and get the facts direct from the people who make the device. The discussion we had and the answers I received made me understand more of Nima’s intended use. That, I think, is a huge part of understanding the device.
What is Nima’s intended use?
Nima is designed to detect gluten in food items.
Nima is not meant to replace anyone’s good judgment, nor is it intended to eliminate a need to ask appropriate questions at restaurants, read food labels or otherwise self-advocate for your gluten-free diet. We must continue to assess foods as we normally would as celiac patients.
An Additional Tool in the Celiac Toolbox
I like to think of Nima as an additional tool in my celiac toolbox.
Using Nima at Home
While my home kitchen is 100% gluten-free and 90% of what I eat is whole (non-packaged) food, we do enjoy some gluten-free packaged products at home and when traveling on occasion. There have been times when I didn’t feel so great after eating a gluten-free protein bar or cookie from a package. That’s where Nima comes in – I can test those specific foods for gluten.
Using Nima when Traveling
Another time I like to have my Nima handy is when traveling. Travel means dining out and that means there’s a risk of gluten contamination. It takes about three minutes to test my food once it comes to the table. It’s relatively discrete and gives me added peace of mind, which is especially comforting when I’m away from home.
Now, I have to give you ALL sides to the story, so I can’t omit the fact that there are limitations when using Nima. To learn more about these, I spoke via phone to one of the scientists on the Nima team. One thing I really like about this company is their willingness to listen to everyone’s questions, provide open answers and continue to share information with consumers on the device.
What are Nima’s limitations?
Certain Foods Should Not Be Tested
First of all, Nima cannot be used to accurately test fermented foods or hydrolyzed gluten.
That means Nima is not meant to test foods like soy sauce and alcoholic beverages (this includes gluten-removed beer). The Nima site also mentions that pure xanthan or guar gum should not be tested alone. These products are too gummy in texture. However, you can test foods where xanthan or guar gum are an ingredient. See the Nima site for more.
Just a side note: The same is true of the two tests named by the FDA as the tests they will use to determine compliance of gluten-free food manufacturers if/when needed. You can find this information in the regulatory guidance section on gluten-free food labeling for manufacturers here. Scroll down to point 4 under “Compliance”.
I should also tell you, Nima isn’t designed to test other products like pet foods and cosmetics for gluten.
Nima is Sensitive Below 20 ppm
According to the scientists at Nima, the device can – and will – be sensitive to less than 20 ppm gluten. Nima was designed to be highly accurate in detecting gluten in foods. For this reason, the device needed to be more sensitive than just at the 20 ppm level. The thinking here is that it is better to have a more sensitive device than one that might “miss” gluten in a sample.
Further, the purpose of Nima is to detect gluten in a food sample. That is straight forward, isn’t it? If a food sample tested with Nima detects any level of gluten, the result is “gluten found”. You can read an excellent and thorough explanation about gluten levels and the 20 ppm debate here on the Nima site.
My Thoughts on Nima’s Sensitivity to Gluten
As someone with celiac disease who reacts abruptly and severely when I ingest even a small amount of gluten, here’s my thinking:
For those of us with celiac disease, gluten damages our small intestine. The only way to prevent the autoimmune response caused by gluten is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. While it is accepted that there is no “zero gluten” in manufactured gluten-free foods (read more on that here in my article on what 20 ppm means), I certainly prefer the lowest level of gluten possible. So, if Nima picks up gluten in a labeled “gluten free” product because it is ultra-sensitive, that’s actually a good thing for me.
We don’t all have to agree on this point, but I do think it helps if we maintain a focus on the intended use of the device.
The Issue of False Positives
You may have read articles about false positives with Nima. A false positive in this case means packaged foods labeled “gluten-free” render a “gluten found” result when tested with Nima.
The efficacy of the device is addressed on the Nima website (scroll to bottom of page) where it states: “For foods containing below 2 ppm [gluten], Nima reported ‘gluten found’ 7.8 percent of the time.”
When I spoke to the Nima team, they quickly acknowledged a low incidence of false positives; however, they pointed out that it is most important to limit a false negative test result. In other words, if a food does contain gluten at or over 20 ppm, Nima needs to be highly accurate at detecting this in order to be of utility to consumers.
Again, stats from the Nima site (same page as linked for false positives, above), this is the finding for false negatives: “For foods containing gluten at or above 20 ppm, Nima reported ‘gluten found’ 99 percent of the time.”
In my opinion, false positives are a bit of an inconvenience, but false negatives are detrimental to one’s health when we’re talking about the need for a medically necessitated gluten-free diet as with celiac disease.
Now, that’s a lot of info on the Nima Sensor, but I hope it’s useful to those of you who were, like me, unsure about the device and curious about how it works.
My goal is to share more on what I’m testing with Nima along with the results, as well as more of the science on the efficacy of the device as it becomes available to the public. If you have a Nima Sensor and you are testing foods with it, please feel free to comment and share if you’d like.
I’ll leave you with a reader question I received recently. Please feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments below.
An Excellent Reader Question about the Device
A great question someone asked me on a recent Facebook post I shared when one of my favorite gluten-free protein bars tested “gluten found” with Nima is, “Can gluten contaminate the device?” In other words, if you test foods that do contain some gluten, can that gluten get into the device somehow and taint future tests and results. Fortunately, the answer is “no”.
The mini science lab is contained in a single-use test capsule that is disposed once a test is complete. Nothing from the test capsule enters the actual Nima device. I recommend you read all about the science behind the Nima Sensor on the Nima website here.