Thinking of investing in a Nima Sensor? In this article, I will share everything you need to know about this portable gluten-detecting device. Please note that in September 2021, Nima Sensor rebranded as Nima Partners. Nima Sensors and capsules are now only available on the Nima Partners website (not on Amazon). This is welcome news given that Nima Sensor went out of business in 2020 and left fans in the dark. Also, please note that this post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures and disclaimers.
There is a lot of buzz about the Nima Sensor these days, and with good reason. It’s a device that, if used properly, can help you find hidden gluten in products and restaurants dishes. No more guessing if that burger is gluten free; with Nima, you can know for sure.
Before I tell you all the the pros, cons and limitations of the Nima Sensor, let me first introduce you to this device.
The Nima Sensor is a portable gluten-detecting device that enables you to test the food placed before you for hidden gluten; no testing lab needed. Consider it a gluten-free testing lab that you carry around in your pocket or purse.
If you’ve ever wondered if that pancake or pizza you ordered at your favorite restaurant is really gluten free, you can now test it with your Nima Sensor to find out, with a greater level of certainty, if it’s safe for you to eat or not.
The Nima Sensor’s tagline is “bringing peace of mind to mealtime.” That’s exactly what the Nima Sensor does for me. It has freed me to eat out more comfortably and confidently without worry of getting glutened. No more gluten-free jail for me!
The device can be used to test products and restaurant dishes.
For many people in the gluten-free community, eating out is fraught with anxiety. In fact, Nima Sensor data shows that 35 percent of restaurants meals labeled as “gluten free” actually contained gluten. I’m not great at math, but that sounds like you’re probably getting glutened quite a bit when you eat out.
I once surveyed the gluten-free community to find out their top challenges. The top challenge, no doubt, is eating out. This reaffirms why the Nima Sensor has become such an important part of the gluten-free community; we finally have a tool to help us manage our top challenge.
Please note that since publishing this article, two new gluten-detecting sensors – the ALLIS Sensor and the Allergy Amulet – announced that they may be coming to market. Be sure to research the pros and cons of each product before investing in any gluten-detecting device as these devices are not cheap!
Trusting restaurant staff to create a safe meal for me, especially people who are not knowledgeable about gluten, is hard.
But I’m not willing to give up my love of eating out, traveling and being with friends. Every social occasion revolves around food and I refuse to let my “disability” get in the way of enjoying life.
Instead of giving up on eating out, I’ve utilized my Nima Sensor to help me enjoy eating out safely without the fear of getting sick.
I’ve owned my Nima Sensor for more than five years, and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone serious about eating gluten free. There is so much to learn about this little gadget, but with anything, there are pros and cons that you should know about to understand if this device is right for you.
Much has been written and said about the Nima Sensor, and some people are hell-bent on putting the company out of business; but there are literally thousands of us who depend on this device and technology to eat more freely and with peace of mind.
Once you learn all the facts, you can judge for yourself whether Nima is a technology you wish to use to enhance your life, or one you’ll pass on.
My goal is to help you make an informed decision about whether or not the Nima Sensor is right for you.
(If you’ve heard controversial things about Nima Sensor and want to get to the bottom of what the critics say, please read this important article: Canadian Celiac Association vs. Nima Sensor: Why I Stand With Nima.)
Is Nima Sensor Accurate?
I wrote an entire article on this exact question (you can read it here), because there has been a lot said about the accuracy of the Nima Sensor and whether its hyper-accuracy is a pro or con.
Some critics say the Nima Sensor gives too many false positives, which is true, but you need to understand what that means before you judge it as a pro or con.
The truth is, Nima Sensor is so accurate that it can detect gluten below 20 parts per million (ppm).
This comes to issue because the FDA says a product can be labeled “gluten free” if it contains 0-19 ppm of gluten.
So if a product contains 19 ppm of gluten, Nima Sensor will likely display a “gluten found” message. Nima’s own research says it will report “gluten found” 96.8 percent of the time when the level of gluten is 20 ppm or greater (FDA legal limit).
But the data also shows it will report “gluten found” 56 percent of the time when the level of gluten is 10 ppm, and 35 percent of the time when it finds 5 ppm of gluten. This is what critics call “false positives.”
As you can see, Nima is highly accurate, albeit not perfect. But no one should let perfection be the enemy of good.
Did you know that at least half of the women getting annual mammograms over a 10-year period will have a false-positive finding at some point according to the American Cancer Society? The organization says that false positives create “anxiety” and leads to extra testing, which cost time, money and “physical discomfort.” Yet, most doctors recommend their patients undergo an annual mammogram because again, perfection should not be the enemy of good.
I asked the founder of the Nima Sensor about why Nima displays a “gluten found” message so often when it finds gluten under the legal 20 ppm threshold. She said that the company faced an ethical dilemma. Should Nima display a “gluten found” message when it finds any gluten? Or just say a product is “gluten free” even if it contains some detectable gluten? They chose to go the route of full transparency.
Unfortunately, the Nima Sensor cannot tell you the exact parts per million of gluten it finds in a product; it can only display a smiley face if it doesn’t find any gluten, or a “gluten found” message if it finds gluten. This is definitely a limitation for those of you who may still choose to eat something with a little bit of detectable gluten in it.
That said, if you want a device that tells you precisely the parts per million of gluten in your food, look closely at the ALLIS Sensor, which is due to come out sometime in 2022. It promises to share the exact ppm of gluten. (Please note the ALLIS Sensor has delayed its launch date many times.)
Does Nima Promote Hypervigilance?
One critic of Nima says the device promotes hypervigilance, can lead to disordered eating, and puts you in food jail. While I understand this criticism, it’s totally unfounded and the logic is a bit twisted to me.
First of all, this exact critic has never used a Nima Sensor, nor spoken to someone like me who has used it successfully for years.
The truth is, most people in the gluten-free community do have real food fears and anxieties about eating out. Let’s just say most of us have trust issues when it comes to our food because we continually feel sick despite eating gluten-free labeled foods or explaining our diet to a well-meaninged waiter who still gets it wrong. Those of us on the gluten-free diet are left feeling sick to our stomachs and dealing with the long-term repercussions of not being fully compliant with the gluten-free diet.
The Nima Sensor can give you food freedom, helping you trust products and restaurants dishes more because you have an actual tool at your fingertips that can help you decode if that hamburger bun placed before you is really gluten free.
So while some will call that hypervigilance and label it as a “bad” thing, I think it’s actually a huge win in the pro column for how a Nima Sensor can get you out of food-fear jail.
Keep in mind, however, that when eating out, it can be extremely stressful to test your food. If the result is “gluten found,” having those uncomfortable conversations with the waitstaff can bring forth a lot of anxiety.
Again, this is an ethical dilemma. Is it better to know or not to know your food contains gluten? Is ignorance bliss? If you choose not to know, are you just accepting subpar restaurant service? Are you helping make the world safer for the celiac community by not knowing? You will have to decide these ethical dilemmas for yourself.
Nima Can’t Test Some Foods
A big limitation of the Nima Sensor is that it cannot test for gluten in some foods.
- Nima cannot detect gluten in fermented foods, such as beer, vanilla extract, alcohol, or gluten-removed beers.
- Nima cannot detect gluten in hydrolyzed foods such as soy sauce and malt extract/flavoring.
- Nima has not been validated to test medications, cosmetics or non-food items. (Although I have “illegally” used it to test Zyrtec.)
- Nima cannot detect gluten in PURE xanthan or guar gum.
When using the device you must be fully aware of these limitations. For example, if a product contains barley malt, Nima may not find gluten; careful label reading should have had you eliminate that product in the first place.
For some foods, such as fatty foods like chocolate, yogurt, cheese and frosting, Nima recommends using only a small amount of the food diluted in a little water to reduce testing errors.
The same goes for powdery, dry foods like spices. Nima recommend you add a little water to dilute the powder in order to get an accurate test result.
Nima Can Only Test a Small Amount of Food
The Nima Sensor can only test a pea-sized portion of your food, which critics say can create unreliable results due to hot spots, which is true.
If one part of your food is gluten free, but another part touched gluten, then you may not know if the full dish is gluten free.
While it would be nice to be able to send your food to a lab for full-on testing, it’s not possible to do.
One strategy I employ is that I rub the piece of food I’m going to test over other parts of my food, particularly on grill lines and parts that seem like they could have come in contact with gluten. This enables Nima to have a more accurate picture of the full dish vs. just one tiny sample.
Remember, a Nima Sensor is not a substitute for lazy ordering or for being overly trusting of restaurants. You must still order meals that are least likely to come in contact with gluten if you truly want to eat out safely. That means avoiding items like pizza and pasta due to the potential for cross contamination even if you test it with a Nima Sensor.
A Nima Sensor is Expensive!
A Nima Sensor is not cheap. Last I checked, a Nima Sensor was listed at $279.99 on the Nima Partners website, and it costs $39.99 for six single-use test capsules. Each test requires one single-use test capsule.
That means if you test a $5 hamburger, you can tack on another $6.60 to test that burger. It can cost more to test your food than the food costs itself! On top of that, the capsules expire after 6-12 months.
One critic says those of us who use Nima need to recognize our “privilege.” I hate that word and find it insulting and demeaning. However, I do recognize that I’m in the position to afford capsules as a business expense.
One thing I’ve committed to doing is sharing the majority of my tests with my community here on my blog and on social media. Also, 90 percent of what I test is at the request of my community. I don’t charge anyone to see my test results.
Unfortunately, gluten-free foods costs more than regular food, and this is a problem. Instead of calling those that use a Nima Sensor privileged, focus on helping reduce the costs of medically-necessary gluten-free food. Some countries, like Italy, give vouchers to those with celiac disease to offset the high cost of gluten-free food. It would also be great if Nima Sensors were covered by insurance.
Nima Sensor used to have an app where everyone could document their test results. The app died when the company was sold to Medline and virtually went out of business. Today, Nima Sensor is under new management (NimaPartners.com) and the new owners have said they are working on bringing the app back so more people can experience the Nima Sensor for free.
The Canadian Celiac Association Doesn’t “Recommend” Nima
Something that really annoys me is the unfounded statement the Canadian Celiac Association has made against the Nima Sensor.
They say they don’t “recommend” the device because they don’t believe people are smart enough to use it given its limitations and the complexities of food testing. It’s an unfortunate that has not only damaged the Nima Sensor but also has damaged its reputation.
The truth is the Nima Sensor is not complicated once you learn how to use it, just like pregnancy tests are not complicated when used as instructed. Instead of knocking a community for being too stupid to use it properly, the CCA should focus on educating us how to use it safely and as a tool in our gluten-free safety toolkits.
The Nima Sensor can be so empowering to so many people. And if you’ve used it for years, you know it’s a device you don’t want to live without.
Nima Sensor vs. Gluten-Free Watchdog
The Gluten-Free Watchdog sends full products to a testing lab to find out if they contain gluten. You can pay the Gluten-Free Watchdog a $6.99 monthly subscription fee to see the test results of a handful of products she tests every month.
Once you pay your fee, she says you’ll receive approximately $2,000 worth of new testing data each month, highlighting to me just how EXPENSIVE testing can be if you don’t have a Nima Sensor. (I spend about $30 per month testing products for myself and my community and don’t charge anyone a fee to see the results.) She says this fee, along with sponsors, covers the costs of running the site.
I subscribed to the Gluten Free Watchdog and found the tests to be helpful, but truthfully, she tests products I would never eat and many I’ve never heard of. Plus, her tests say little about the actual restaurant dish or packaged food I’m about to eat whereas I use the Nima Sensor to test the exact food at the end of my fork.
Ironically, the Gluten Free Watchdog has come out strongly against the Nima Sensor, citing that Nima creates too many false positives (remember, Nima Sensor displays a “gluten found” message 56 percent of the time when the level of gluten is 10 ppm, and 35 percent of the time when it finds 5 ppm of gluten.) I guess people will have to take this advice with a grain of salt after weighing the pros and cons of the device, and the pros and cons of the costs of a Gluten Free Watchdog subscription.
Nima Sensor Errors
One of the most annoying parts of using a Nima Sensor is when it comes back with an error message. Sometimes, you can look at the back of the test capsule to see what the pink lines reveal, but this isn’t a reliable method.
The first pink line will show you the capsule worked, the second pink line reveals “no gluten found” while a third pink line reveals “gluten found.” Sometimes the third pink line is very faint.
If you get an error message, take a picture and send it to the Nima Sensor customer support email. They will issue you a credit or send you a new capsule.
Be sure to store your capsules in a cool, dry place to avoid error messages due to improper capsule storage.
Want Me to Address Another Pro, Con or Limitation?
Just when I thought I’ve been able to address all the pros, cons and limitations, someone comes up with another reason to love or hate the Nima Sensor (hence why I added the comment about “privilege” above). Let me know what you’ve heard because I would love to add to this article and make sure we’re spreading facts, not fear, about Nima Sensor.