The Controversy over Nima: Disruptive, Divisive, and Delightful
At Nima, we believe there is a new and better way to empower people with dietary restrictions, food sensitivities and allergies to know what’s in their food. This method aims to empower people when and where they need it most — at the dining table. Our devices have benefits that lab tests and the alternative at-home testing kits weren’t designed for.
The innovation of Nima is an easy-to-use device you can take with you anywhere. It provides an on-the-spot reliable data point before you even take a bite of food. There’s nothing like it on the market now, and when you create a completely new category of products, as we have, you’ll often be viewed as disruptive, sometimes even divisive. Often, you’ll also create something delightful and remarkable.
When I started Nima, I couldn’t eat gluten, dairy, egg and soy and was continuously exposed to these hidden ingredients at mealtime, especially when eating out. Before developing the product, I talked to a wide variety of people, from medical professionals and food testing experts to potential consumers. I got a sense that giving the average person the power to test their food, especially for people used to testing food in a lab, was going to be disruptive. At the same time, I felt strongly that this tool was necessary in order to empower people with better data about their food when they needed that information the most — at the dining table.
People are getting exposed to foods that make them sick, and the information we receive about our food is unclear and imperfect.
People continue to get exposed to foods they are actively trying to avoid and need better tools to help navigate eating safely.
- Packaged foods and labeling are imperfect. There are services that continuously test packaged foods in labs to hold companies accountable for label adherence, and they charge consumers for their reports. Undeclared food allergens are consistently as a top reason for food recalls.
- People are getting exposed to foods they are trying to avoid. For instance, the average amount of gluten found in people leading gluten-free diets is over 20 times more than what is considered a safe level.
- Cutting foods out of your diet is stressful and hard. According to a study by the US National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health, the treatment burden of celiac disease (cutting gluten out of your diet), is perceived as similar to the burden of patients with end-stage renal disease on dialysis. Think about that — the burden to treat celiac disease with a gluten-free diet is comparable to the burdens of treating end-stage renal disease through continuous blood filtering or a kidney transplant.
Changing a habit you have built over the years (eating!) is very intimidating. Before Nima, when people were diagnosed with a food-specific diet to treat a health issue, they had menu item descriptions, food labels, and website reviews to make decisions. We know there is a better way to navigate this transition and also maintain and improve your quality of life.
Research affirms that Nima improves users’ overall quality of life.
A recent study from Columbia Celiac Disease Center found that 90% of participants considered Nima easy to understand, helped them follow a gluten-free diet, gave them peace of mind and was useful. Among the adult participants, it was also shown to significantly lower rates of depression and improve overall quality of life. In teens, Nima improved gluten-free diet adherence. You can read more about the findings on our blog or in the published study.
One of the most surprising responses to Nima is the tendency for people to hold the product to claims that we don’t make.
Nima claims our accuracy in a range of PPM (greater than or equal to 20ppm for gluten and greater than or equal to 10ppm for peanut), and have always been in a range. If you want a specific PPM number, Nima is not the tool for you. More here on why we chose those limits of detection for gluten and peanut.
Depending on your needs, Nima might not be the right tool for you. Nima isn’t right for you if:
- You expect to know the exact ppm level for the sample of food you are testing
- If picking up less than 20ppm of gluten or 10ppm of peanut is problematic because it’s too sensitive
- You expect 100% guarantee that the food will be safe based on your testing
- You expect the pea sized sample to be representative of the entire meal you are going to consume
Critics are frustrated that Nima is not 100% accurate at certain ppm levels. When people assess Nima based on specific ppm levels, they are again missing the point and the daily applications of the device.
There is also a chance that Nima will detect gluten less than 20ppm or peanut less than 10ppm. Some have criticized the device to be too sensitive. To us, we designed this device to be a screen, and why we don’t look at specific ppm levels. This is a tool to help you navigate a diet that is challenging and a huge life adjustment (and burden, close to that of a kidney transplant).
Nima can be an excellent tool for you (and the thousands of people who are using it daily), if you understand that:
Nima is a checkpoint. You go through all your typical processes: talk to waitstaff, research menu items, carry any medical equipment you need to stay safe when eating and as a last step, let Nima take the first bite before you do to have one additional data point. It will not guarantee everything you eat will be safe, but it does provide one additional screen you didn’t have before.
Nima provides a binary yes or no. It’s highly accurate but not perfect, as it only tests a sample of your meal. However, a gluten-positive response is a reliable red flag. When comparing Nima’s performance to lab tests for gluten, there was a 97.5-99% chance that if the sample tested positive for gluten, it contained 20ppm or more. When comparing Nima’s performance to lab tests for peanut, there was a 99-100% chance that if the sample tested positive for peanut, it contained at least 10ppm of the allergen. If that metric is acceptable to you, Nima is a great fit.
This level of confidence is acceptable to Dr. Stephen Taylor, an unbiased leader in food allergen diagnostics from the Food Allergen Research and Resource program, who lead Nima’s validation studies. He concluded that “the portable, handheld Nima gluten sensor functions reliably to detect gluten residues at appropriate levels in a range of different foods. The foods were deliberately chosen to represent the wide range of products that might be available as gluten-free options.” In his opinion, use of the Nima device would protect the health of gluten-sensitive consumers, as long as it’s properly used on foods with reasonably uniform gluten distribution.”
Nima doesn’t claim to be perfect, but we do have scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals to back up our claims.
Nothing is quite perfect. Even results for food testing in labs show extreme variability in detecting allergens in foods. You can see how two widely accepted food lab tests give radically different results when testing foods prepared at 20ppm for gluten. This journal article from the AOAC evaluated lab testing findings for undeclared ingredients (gluten and allergens) in packaged foods, and cited, “The variability in gluten quantitation associated with the antibody used in ELISA is well known and could also contribute to the disparity in the prevalence of >20 ppm gluten in foods between surveys.” Finally, you can read more about the variability in lab testing here.
We’re committed to improving our product, but you can’t improve if you start at perfect. And if you wait to start at perfect, you may never actually get going!
I am so inspired and motivated by the stories we hear from users every day:
- When labeling isn’t clear, and you were going to take a bite
- When you are told that the fryer is dedicated, but you want one additional checkpoint before digging into those fries
- When that bun may look too good to be true
Recently, one of our users wrote that Nima saved her life. Lauren, a Nima peanut user wrote,
“I just wanted to say thank you so much for creating Nima; it might have saved my life today. I went to a local pub, checked the allergen menu and from that picked out a meal that was specifically peanut-free. I still informed the waitress who then informed the chef, but when I tested the meal, it came back positive [for peanut]. I alerted the staff who checked their ingredients and realized there were peanuts in the sauce that they weren’t aware of. They have now changed their allergen information and are checking everything.”
In addition to the dining side companion, Nima is starting to debut in kitchens as well. College dining halls are starting to test their food with Nima, as well as restaurants and restaurant chains. Nima in the kitchen provides chefs and food service providers one additional checkpoint, as well as an auditing tool.
In the last 5 years of developing this device, I have found joy and inspiration in knowing that we are doing something revolutionary, that I welcome being called a disruptor. Those are the people and companies that change the world.
The stream of positive stories we’ve heard from users, the millions of data points that have been generated by our product, and the support and wisdom of this growing community fuel our drive to keep researching, growing and improving.
We are committed to enabling a better way of living, empowering individuals with reliable data to make more informed decisions at mealtime, when they need that data most.