Are Microwave Ovens Damaging Your Health?

Are Microwave Ovens Damaging Your Health - Seniors Today

Medically, there’s no evidence to prove that microwaves are harming your system

Almost every home has a microwave, and it has proved itself an incredibly convenient appliance in the kitchen. But people are still debating whether they are zapping the nutrients out of their meals.

Is microwave food healthy? Should you get ready to dump your appliance in the trash?  No, according to the World Health Organization, when used correctly, there’s no cause for any concern  in terms of a microwave’s radiation.


How it works

Understanding how microwave ovens work can help clarify some doubts. Microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are similar to radio waves but shorter. These waves are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical — one end positively charged and the other negatively charged. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.


When Used Incorrectly, It Does Cause Nutrient Loss 

Some research has shown that vegetables lose some of their nutritional value in the microwave if the appliance is not used correctly.

“For example, using a microwave to cook broccoli can remove 97% of its flavonoids (plant compounds with anti-inflammatory benefits), if you add too much water. That’s a third more damage than done by boiling. However, shorter cooking times (microwaving the broccoli for one minute) doesn’t compromise nutritional content and in fact is better than boiling or stove cooking the vegetable”- says an article published by Harvard Health. Boiled broccoli loses glucosinolate, the compound that may give the vegetable its cancer-fighting properties. 

Is steaming vegetables — even microwave steaming — better? In some respects, yes. For example, microwave steamed broccoli holds on to more glucosinolate than boiled or fried broccoli.

But enough about broccoli-in general, if microwaving is a preferred method, the optimum time will be different for different vegetables. Some nutrients break down when they’re exposed to heat, whether it is from a microwave or a regular oven. Vitamin C is perhaps the clearest example. But because microwave cooking times are shorter, cooking with a microwave does a better job of preserving vitamin C and other nutrients that break down when heated.


Certain Plastics Are A No-No

The reality is that almost all plastic containers designed to hold food, leach chemical that disrupt hormones. Phthalates are one of the most commonly used plasticisers, added to make plastic more flexible and often found in takeaway containers, plastic wrap and plastic water bottles. You are probably aware by now that they disrupt hormones and play havoc with our metabolic system. The news gets worse for children- phthalates can increase blood pressure and insulin resistance, which increase the risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes and hypertension. Exposure to phthalates has been linked with fertility issues, asthma, and ADHD. The best ways to minimise risk is to use microwave safe materials like ceramic.

 If you do use plastic containers, avoid any that are losing their shape, since old and damaged containers are more likely to leach chemicals. And DON’T microwave food with plastic wrapping!


Re-heating Risks

Even if you avoid plastics, the other potential risks of heating food in the microwave include uneven heating, and the high temperatures used.

First, consider using microwaves to reheat, rather than cook, food, as it may cook unevenly. In fact, even when you reheat you may have noticed that depending on the portion of food that’s heated, there will be some parts that are hotter than others. Hence with cooking temperatures will be different in a cross-section of the food. It is hard to achieve a completely uniform temperature, especially with raw meats and foods.

It is important to note that reheating food comes with risks, too. Food must be heated until it is 82C (176F) throughout to kill any harmful bacteria – and because bacteria can still grow each time food cools back down, you shouldn’t reheat a meal more than once. 


Can You Get Cancer from Microwaves?

The answer is no. The radiation in microwaves, it is completely harmless. Microwaves use low frequency electromagnetic radiation – the same kind used in lightbulbs and radios. When you put food inside a microwave, it absorbs these microwaves, which makes water molecules in the food vibrate, causing friction that heats up the food.

Microwave ovens emit relatively low frequency waves which are contained inside the appliance only.  In fact, microwaves are part of the electromagnetic waves that we’re exposed to daily. 

When you bake a cake, you’re exposed to electromagnetic waves and infrared energy from the heating elements of the traditional oven. Even people exchange radioactive waves between each other. 

“Unlike X-rays, microwaves don’t use ionising radiation, which means they don’t carry enough energy to detach electrons from atoms. You have to break chemical bonds to damage DNA. This is the chief way radiation kills – it mutates cells and causes cancer,” says Timothy Jorgensen, associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University’s Medical Centre.

He adds, “Concerns about microwave radiation were largely settled in the years after the microwave oven was first invented, Jorgenson says. Why do people fear microwave ovens, but have no issue with the nearby nuclear power plant that provides electricity for their kitchens?” (1)

Microwaves have long been deemed a safe kitchen appliance, in fact many years of research have allayed the fears raised from using them – but that comes with caveats, according to research. Its safest to heat food for short amounts of time in appropriate containers.  And, experts are still raising concerns about how the plastic packaging we use in the microwave can disrupt our hormones, and subsequently affect our health.  But that is another concern – the downside of using plastic. Overall, it seems the microwave is a marvel of engineering, a miracle of convenience — and sometimes nutritionally advantageous to boot, so, as long as you use it correctly, its super convenient and there’s not much to worry about.


References – (1)

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