I felt it was important to write a post dedicated to the Nima Sensor. This little gadget has won over my celiac heart.
The Nima Sensor is a portable gluten sensor that allows you to test your food for gluten. Ever wondered if that pancake or pizza you ordered is really gluten-free? Test it with your Nima Sensor and know for sure.
Nima Sensor’s tagline is “bringing peace of mind to mealtime” and that is exactly what it does for me.
Nima found that 35 percent of meals eaten at restaurants contain gluten. That means one in every three meals served as “gluten-free” or “gluten-free friendly” are not actually gluten-free. Scary stuff, I know!
When I’m eating out at a restaurant, business conference or wedding, I now know with a greater level of confidence if my meal is gluten-free when I use my Nima Sensor. Plus, there are many packaged foods that aren’t explicitly labeled “gluten-free” – like spices – so I can test them to know for sure too.
Prior to using the Nima Sensor to test my food, I had to trust the kindness of the chefs and waitstaff to give me a safe meal. While I do trust most – err, some – of them, I also know that a lot can go wrong between the time I place my order and the time when my meal is actually delivered to my table. With my Nima Sensor, I feel empowered and I’m able to hold restaurants accountable in providing safe meals for me and the entire gluten-free community (more on this later).
In order to test your food for gluten, you simply insert a small pea-sized sample of it in the Nima test capsule. The capsules are single use capsules and should be discarded after each test. You then take the loaded capsule, insert it into the Nima Sensor, and in about three minutes, Nima will reveal the results. If the Nima Sensor gives you a smiley face, there’s no gluten, and if it says, “Gluten Found” and displays a wheat symbol, your food has gluten in it.
Nima Sensor Limitations
The Nima Sensor is not a replacement for common sense nor is it foolproof. There are some limitations. For example, the Nima Sensor cannot detect fermented foods, like soy sauce or beer. It also is not validated for testing medications or beauty products. Furthermore, the Nima Sensor only tests a pea-sized portion of your food. Cross contamination can occur on a different portion of your meal, so you should always be cautious when eating something prepared for you by someone else.
When I got to a restaurant, I always explain to my server that I have celiac disease and require a gluten-free meal prepared with the same care as someone with an allergy. You can also request “allergy prep.” Allergy prep signals that your meal should be cautiously cooked on a clean surface, with clean pans and spatulas, as well as with clean gloves. Even Chick-fil-a has an “allergy” button on its cash registers to alert its staff changes their gloves before handling your food.
I also like to let the waitstaff know that I have a device that will allow me to test my food for gluten. Just as I hope they’re completely transparent with me about my food, I want to be transparent with them.
What Happens When the Nima Sensor Displays, “Gluten Found?”
A question I get a lot from people about the Nima Sensor is, “What happens if there’s gluten found in your meal?” It has happened to me. The Nima Sensor found gluten in my “gluten-free friendly” pancake at Snooze. I was testing the pancake on Facebook Live when it happened too!
I’ll tell my server that my Nima Sensor detected gluten in my food and so I can’t eat it. Most will then offer to make it again or make me something else. I haven’t encountered anyone that hasn’t made this offer. I also ask to speak with the manager (although the server really should bring the manager over unprompted). I explain to the manager what my Nima Sensor is – a gluten detecting device – and tell him or her that gluten was found in the meal. I ask her more questions about how it was prepared and what ingredients are in it. Sometimes we can uncover honest mistakes, sometimes we find more pervasive issues like their staff has no clue about gluten. Maybe our chat will help improve things for the next gluten-free diner, I hope! At Snooze, I told them that it was unethical to continue to serve the pancakes as gluten-free now that they know it has gluten in it. (In a statement from the restaurant, they assured me they were looking into this.)
Eating out is a huge challenge for celiacs, people with wheat allergies, and people who are hypersensitive to gluten (non-celiac gluten sensitivities). My suggestion is to order things that are as naturally gluten-free as possible – burger (no bun), omelette, salad with grilled chicken, steak and potatoes, etc. While this isn’t as fun as pizza and pancakes, you’ll less likely be exposed to the risk of gluten cross contamination. If you want pizza, go to Pizza Hut or California Pizza Kitchen (both certified gluten-free restaurants) or eat those items at home where you can control the risk.
Why I Consider the Nima Sensor a Life Saver
A lot of my gluten-free blogger colleagues poo-poo the Nima Sensor, saying that it doesn’t go far enough in testing food and gives people a false sense of security. These negative-nillys drive me crazy! The Nima Sensor is just one more tool (and a cool tool to boot!) that helps me stay safe when eating outside of my home. While it’s not perfect, it really does an amazing job at making the eating out process much more transparent for celiacs. As someone with control issues (me!), I love the power it gives me. I don’t have to take anyone’s word or listen to someone say, “Oh, yeah, I think it’s gluten-free.” I can know with a much greater level of certainty now. Plus, when the staff knows I’m testing my food, they take more care in preparing it, which is a huge bonus in my book.
The Science Behind the Nima Sensor
The Nima Sensor’s founding team met at MIT and the product was created by engineers and a lot of smart people.
“Nima was developed by adapting antibody-based chemistry used for protein or allergen detection, designed into a hardware device that is portable and easy to use, and using electronic sensors and proprietary algorithms to detect test results,” according to the Nima website.
I don’t pretend to understand all the science, but in a nutshell the Nima capsules contain specific antibodies – these antibodies bind to a portion of the gluten protein. This protein is called the “33-mer fragment of gluten,” and it’s known as the toxic portion of the gluten protein or the portion that causes an autoimmune response. It also creates a signal change on the Nima capsule’s test strip (there’s a strip in the back of each capsule that looks like a pregnancy test strip). The Nima Sensor will detect the change in the test strip and then will display either a smiley face or “gluten found” notification.
Nima has done its own testing and found its tests to be quite accurate. Here’s just how accurate the Nima Sensor is:
- For foods containing gluten at or above 20 ppm, Nima reported “gluten found” 99 percent of the time.
- For foods containing below 2 ppm, Nima reported “gluten found” 7.8 percent of the time.
On top of that, the Nima Sensor detects all gluten, not just 20 ppm. This means Nima gives you better protection against eating gluten. The FDA standards for gluten-free labeling only requires gluten-free labeled food to contain 20 ppm of gluten or less, a threshold that is widely debated as celiacs require closer to 0 ppm. I encourage you to read this article about the 20 ppm debate. Like I mentioned, Nima will report any gluten found above 0 ppm. This is HUGE for celiacs – Nima has zero tolerance for gluten. None!
Where Can I Get the Nima Sensor?
I’m glad you asked. I think every celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitive person should have one. You can purchase one at NimaSensor.com. If you buy the Nima Sensor Starter Kit, use my $15 off coupon code – GOODFORYOU. This is my partner affiliate code – so you’ll get the discount and I’ll get credit for the sale. Remember, I only share products I believe in. Please see my disclosures for more information about how affiliate links work. I also will post deals and other coupons here as I see them.
I know, I know, the Nima Sensor is expensive. But I think doctor’s bills and long-term ill-health is more costly, so it’s an investment worth making. My hope is that the Nima Sensor will be a medical device covered by insurance one day. Fingers crossed!!