The Microwave May Be Eliminating Nutrients From Your Food By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com
The microwave has been a kitchen staple for more than 30 years. It's pretty darn rare that you come across a kitchen that isn't outfitted with one. And who doesn't love the microwave oven? It's great for heating up all sorts of foods and beverages. I don't doubt that many of us would be lost without our microwaves. Unfortunately though, there appears to be a growing body of evidence indicating that foods cooked in the microwave may be significantly less nutritious than conventionally-prepared foods. Moreover, some people say that overuse of microwave ovens to prepare foods may also be harming our health. Let's take a look at some of what's being said and see for ourselves.
We'll start with examining some of the microwave-related health hazards that have been reported in the news. Microwave ovens cook foods by blanketing them with low-level radiation. Specifically, they emit microwave radiation that heats polarized molecules within the foods or beverages. That's why they're able to heat things so quickly and efficiently. The good news here is that there doesn't really seem to be a lot of talk about this low-level radiation being particularly hazardous to our health.
There are a lot of people however, who point to health hazards arising from the use of microwave ovens—not from the microwaves themselves, but what they do to the containers in which we're heating the foods. For instance, a number of experts have said that there can potentially be bacteria hazards in food cooked in the microwave due to the fact that microwaves don't always heat foods evenly, resulting in so-called 'hot-spots' and 'cold-spots.'
When foods have cold-spots, bacteria may not be killed or sufficiently de-activated, potentially creating a health hazard. In foods that are particularly susceptible to bacterial contamination (e.g., Salmonella, etc.), this could be very dangerous, resulting in in salmonelosis or listeriosis through insufficient cooking. Some researchers say that foods with high salt content are especially vulnerable to uneven heating, resulting in more cold-spots than in less salty foods.
There have also been a number of articles published saying that using certain kinds of plastics or Styrofoam to reheat foods in the microwave causes them to leach carcinogens into the foods or beverages we're reheating. There is some debate though as to whether or not this is true. Some people say that putting them in the microwave causes plastics and Styrofoam to release toxic dioxins into the foods that are put in them. On the flip side though, there is a lot of research that says this isn't true. In any case, always check to be sure your food container says 'safe for use in the microwave,' just to be safe.
There is also a big debate regarding the degree to which microwaving foods saps them of their nutrients. Again, there are good arguments on both sides. On the con side, a study was published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture in 2003 that found that broccoli cooked in the microwave with a bit of water lost up to 97 percent of the beneficial antioxidant chemicals it contains. In contrast, steamed broccoli lost only 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants.
But on the pro side, a 2007 study that appeared in the Journal of Food Quality indicated that broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and frozen corn and peas cooked in the microwave retained more vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium than foods cooked using conventional means such as steaming or boiling. It's important to note that these two studies do not contradict one another since each examined different nutritional characteristics—one looked at antioxidants and another looked at particular nutrients.
However, the debate doesn't end there. Researchers also say that using the microwave results in the formation of radiolytic compounds, which are relatively unknown to man and nature. Because these compounds are new and unknown, we have no real way of knowing how they impact our bodies or our health. It might turn out that they are benign and harmless, but there's always the possibility that they can be harmful and dangerous. Only time will tell if there is a real danger from these compounds but until then you might want to take it easy on the microwave and not use it as your primary means to prepare meals or reheat foods. While it might be fast and convenient, overuse of the microwave oven in cooking could possibly be hazardous to your health.