I clearly remember the first time my parents brought home our very first microwave. It felt like that tiny box could do almost anything from boiling an egg to cooking a full meal, all in just a few minutes. For the moms of the world this turned out to be blessing in disguise, giving them access to extra time.
The microwave has definitely gained some respect over the years .They’re more compact, more reliable and the most used appliance in the kitchen. More than 90% of Americans have one in their home, yet it seems to evoke a strong reaction from many people who think they are “nuking” their food. So what’s the reality?
Is microwaving bad for you?
Let’s first understand how a microwave really works.
Technically microwaves are a kind of electromagnetic radiation, but we will not use the word ‘radiation’ to describe them—as it scares a lot of people unnecessarily. Microwave ovens operate in the electromagnetic spectrum at about the same frequency as a lot of telephones—2450 megahertz. But they have more power output as compared to cell phones. That’s why the FCC tightly regulates their manufacture. They want to make sure they’re built well enough to contain all of the radio emissions.
So, microwaves are just high-frequency electromagnetic waves, and your microwave oven creates a high-intensity electromagnetic field to cook your food. But what are those waves really doing in there?
Microwaves do most of their work on the water in food, Water molecules constitute what are known as dipoles. A dipole is sort of like a bar magnet, with a positive pole and a negative pole. The oven’s electromagnetic field oscillates as it passes through the water molecules in the food, changing the polarity of the field and causing the dipole/water molecules to flip themselves in order to be aligned with the new polarity. Heat is created by the resulting friction of the water molecules reversing direction millions of times a second.
Conventional ovens rely on conduction to slowly spread the heat from the outside of the food to the inside; by the time the inside is cooked, the outside may be over-cooked. In microwave cooking, the energy reaches everywhere almost at once, resulting in more-or-less even heating. It’s like each water molecule is a little heater, heating the food; pretty cool right?
It is this method of heating that has become a key sticking point in some circles when it comes to the importance of health.
This fear can be handled in two questions:
- Do microwave ovens kill your food?
Well, it’s not worse than some other common cooking methods. Every cooking method can destroy vitamins and other nutrients in food. The factors that determine the extent are how long the food is cooked and how much liquid is used and the cooking temperature. Since microwave ovens often use less heat than conventional methods and involve shorter cooking times, allowing for greater retention of nutrients, they generally have the least destructive effects.
The most heat-sensitive nutrients are water-soluble vitamins, like folic acid and vitamins B and C, which are common in vegetables. Many vitamins are water-soluble, and a significant percent can be lost with cooking, especially overcooking. Similarly, many plant enzymes function as phytochemical nutrients in our body and can be useful to maximize health. They, too, can be destroyed by overcooking…
However, as most consumers manage to overcook their food by leaving it in the microwave too long or by using too high of a power setting; it seems more like the user’s fault than the microwave’s fault for killing the nutrients in the food.
2. Is Microwaving Bad for You?
Radiation emissions have been a big concern for consumers. However, the FDA regulates the amount of emissions microwaves can emit over an oven’s lifetime, to a level established as safe. As an additional precaution, the FDA requires two systems of backup security and monitoring to shut down the microwave if a system dysfunctions or a door opens while in use. The FDA suggests that consumers stand away from a microwave when it’s in use to significantly reduce microwave radiation exposure, and never to operate a microwave if the door or hinges are bent, damaged or improperly sealed.
As already discussed, compared with other types of cooking, microwaves use less energy and have been shown in some studies to retain food nutrients better. As long as foods are adequately cooked, warmed, or cooled enough before they’re consumed, food safety is a non-issue. So, continue to enjoy the convenience of this 20th century time saver, but do so wisely and safely.
Ultimately, whether you choose to “nuke” your food is a personal choice.
No doubt the microwave is a convenience; a time or “life” savor to many people, and a key appliance in helping you to eat a variety of healthy foods despite a hectic lifestyle; but people make decisions for different reasons.
Is microwaving, “nuking?” If that were true, then it’s no wonder people would be leery about using this appliance. I hear it all the time… “I don’t microwave,” don’t even have one.
So how are you making your choice?
1: Based on Science? The science says it’s one of the best cooking methods.
2: You may though, make your choice on a philosophical or emotional basis, “as” science, but this is not science.
The field of nutrition has countless so-called truths floating around that are not based in science, but rather emotional reasons. We make many decisions about our foods, the way we prepare and eat them for our health and enjoyment, every day, that are not the best, or close to it. That’s why we always review the science.
If you do choose to use a microwave, here are six easy steps to guide you toward your highest level of health.
- Start with high-quality whole foods (fresh or frozen)
- Use microwave-safe containers (glass and ceramic).
- Prepare foods using minimal water and cooking times to preserve nutrients.
- Include several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet every day as well. (Buying produce in season and at local farmers markets when possible makes it both affordable and delicious).
- Stand several feet away while you are cooking your food in a microwave.
- Be sure there are no cracks, and that the door and hinges all work properly.
Is microwaving bad for you?