Health

Microwaving Bad For Your Health? 13 Surprising Facts and Myths

Microwave cooking is healthy

What do sushi, searing steaks, sleepwalking, and microwave ovens have in common? They all have persistent misconceptions clinged to them.

Let me explain.

Contrary to popular thought, sushi does not mean raw fish. It means “sour rice”. Searing meat does not seal in moisture but may instead dry out your juicy steak.

And another fallacy, waking sleepwalkers will harm them. They may harm themselves wandering in the night but rousing them will not erupt them in a frenzy. Just as cooking in a microwave oven won’t harm you.

Microwave ovens (microwaves) are not the brain paralyzing, food from nutritional value depriving, miniature nuclear machines we are so often led to believe. In which we arrive at number one on this list.

1. Microwaves are not scary

You may have heard that when food is heated in a microwave its molecular structure is altered. Our body is then supposed to wrap the food in fat cells to protect itself. This, my dear, is baloney.

Microwave ovens do not corrupt DNA in such a ferocious way that our body doesn’t recognize it as food just as the pyramids weren’t build by aliens.

Even moreso, instead of endangering your health, microwave cooking, if done the right way does have some substantial benefits. In other words, it’s actually healthy.

2. Microwave cooking can be very healthy

Let’s counter the microwave scaremongering. Various studies show that if properly used, microwave cooking does not affect the nutrient content of foods to a larger extent than conventional heating.  In fact, in many cases, more nutrients are preserved when food is cooked in a microwave. This is probably due to reduced cooking time and because there are no nutrients extracted by cooking water.

All types of heating reduce nutrient count in food but the main aspects influencing the amount of nutrient loss are;

  • how much water is used in the cooking,
  • how long the food is cooked,
  • and at what temperature.

When you cook vegetables in a microwave you’ll typically use less water. Thus lose less heat sensitive, water-soluble vitamins, such as folic acid and vitamins B and C common in veggies.

Some examples.

  • When spinach is cooked conventionally it loses about 77% of its folate content but this is retained almost completely when cooked in a microwave.
  • Microwaved bacon has substantial lower levels of cancer-causing nitrosamines than conventionally cooked bacon.

Note: overheating food, in any way, is more likely to generate nasty substances.

3. A firesure way to nuke pathogens in your dish sponge

By microwaving it for two minutes you can kill 99% of the 10,000 bacteria that, on average, reside in your dish sponge. However, according to a US study in the Journal of Environmental Health, this proven effective way to sanitize your dish sponge is not recommended by firefighters because of the risk of setting fire.

4. Plants grow better on microwave boiled water

You may have heard of the infamous plant-watering-with-microwaved-water-experiment. A schoolgirl conducted an experiment in which a plant watered with microwave boiled water deteriorated and died whereas the control plant thrived.

Not only was this little experiment far from well-designed, it was repeated on Snopes. Conclusion of the Snopes experiment, two out of three plants appeared to grow better on microwaved water in the eyes of an independant, uninformed observer.

Disclaimer: Of course from both experiments no truly valid empirical conclusions can be drawn. I deliberatly chose to formulate it this way in order to address the nonsensical approach of this matter.

5. The Jelly Doughnut Misconception

Just as John F. Kennedy did not make a fool out of himself when he said, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, so do microwave ovens not cook food from the inside out. These are both common misconceptions.

In fact the microwaves lose power exponentially upon penetrating food due to the so called skin effect. The cooking starts on the outer layers with the molecules where water is present. This also is the reason that you’ll burn your lips on your bakpao bun while the inside is still frozen.

Since we are on the topic, microwave ovens are great to make Berliner pfannkuchen (a type of jelly doughnut with a marmalade or jam inside) in, as well as other types of pastry artisanry. For inspiration that will make you drool see fact 14 on this list.

6. Conspiracy theorists are right about mind control

Certain individuals, sometimes referred to as tin foil hats, are convinced that microwave cooking is not natural and dangerous. Even worse, they think that the “radiation ovens” cause brainwave disturbance with all kinds of negative psychological effects as a result.

For instance reduced concentration, memory loss, sleep disturbance, emotional instability, and diminished IQ are linked to the microwave oven and other sources of microwaves.

Some even think that artificial microwave transmissions are used for subliminal psychological control. They also claim to have proof for the brainwashing activities. Truth exposing copies of 1970’s Russian research documents on clinical experiments in this area however, are still to be retrieved.

Let’s think about it.

You know anyone who makes his microwave work overtime? Maybe your World of Warcraft playing niece? Or a friend who works at Frankie and Benny’s, heating hot dogs?

And, is she brainwashed? Does she complain about hearing voices in her head? Does he mutter nonsensical things all day? Ranting about how the government is out to microchip us and ship us off to motherplanet Mars?

There is some truth to this all though. There is a scientifically proven method to make people hear sounds by pointing radio waves to their heads. It’s called the Microwave Auditory effect.

There is also a non-lethal weapon dubbed the “telepathic ray gun” the US army has been experimenting with. Its purpose is to beam voices (or noise) into the heads of rioting mobs using microwaves.

But normal household microwave ovens? Come on. Admitted, you can never be sure. But in that case, the tinfoil hats are actually not such a good idea. Studies show that draping your head in tinfoil can actually enhance the effect of radiation. Those who want to be protected should use a fine-mazed metal helmet, not foil.

7. We all are supposed to be dead

The microwave door with its protective screen, basicallly a metal sheet with thousands of little holes in it, makes sure your noodles are heated without your face being cooked off while looking at it. This is necessary because of the heat that is released. Microwave rays however, are everywhere.

Microwave ovens use the same radiation as is used in

  • activation sensors for automatic doors (not all, some use infra red),
  • satellite communication by aircrafts and ships,
  • fixed traffic speed cameras, and much more.

Microwave heating is used in industrial processes for

  • drying and curing products.
  • For industrial cleaning, especially to decrease air pollutants,
  • to sanitize hospital waste,
  • enhance dry cleaning solvents,
  • and clean up polluted soil.

Even if you live in a cabin in Alaska you can’t possibly avoid them. They are moving through us as we speak. From 1 million watts from local TV transmitters to less powerful sources such as 25,000 watts from local FM stations or 100 miliwatts from your cell phone, we are continously exposed to 5-50 watts at around 2.2ghz.

No need to worry though. If microwave rays were as bad as they say they are we would long be dead.

8. The microwave oven was an accidental invention

In 1945, American engineer and radar electrician Percy Spencer was working on the magnetron, the power tube of the radar sets used to boost the radar’s sensitivity. When standing in front of the magnetron Spencer noticed that a candy bar in his pocket was melting.

Inspired by his discovery he and his co-workers tried using the radiation for cooking popcorn and an egg. Making popcorn proved succesful but the egg exploded in the face of one of the curious cooks.

9. The microwave did not make us fat (exceptions abound)

The microwave is sometimes identified as the culprit of the rise in obesity in the Western world. A more sensible view is that, although the microwave may play a part due to the ease of cooking less healthy ready meals, many other aspects are of influence as well.

For example the Second World War could be important because of the end of rationing, technology has made our jobs lighter, the introduction of the pc, the increase of sugar intake and so on.

10. Safety heating breast milk and infant formula with a microwave is disputed

A Stanford University study indicates that reported that microwaving frozen breast milk considerably reduced important disease-fighting capabilities present in human mothermilk. More specific, lysozyme activity and antibodies reduced potentially pathogenic bacteria increased.

Although some researchers claim that the adverse effects are difficult to asign to high heat alone others say that the fact that microwaves heat unevenly links to microbiological safety. Part of the milk is likely to boil before the rest has thawed. This makes microwave heating unpredictable especially when volumes less than four millilitres are involved, as was the case in aforementioned study.

Other studies lead to different conclusions. More recent studies found no major alterations in human breast milk. Some actually show a benefit to microwaving human breastmilk. A 2003 study found that microwaving breast milk was an effective way to prevent transmission of Chagas disease.

A Spanish research team concluded in 2002 that “microwave heating was no more detrimental to the milk than conventional heating and could thus be used for pasteurization purposes”.

Some researchers concluded that the “content of nutrients and antibacterial factors in milk are maintained unchanged provided the final temperature does not exceed 60°C”.

11. Why the urban microwave myth is still alive

The invention of the microwave oven is almost 70 years old. Microwave ovens became mainstream kitchen appliances in the late 1970s. But  myths are still as persistent as a pitbull playing tug-o-war. Why do such urban myths exist anyway?

According to folklorists it’s because we like stories. Especially with monsters in them. They make life more interesting. And when we encounter things we don’t understand, a urban tale is easily made. Because precisely when we don’t know what brings on something inexplicable, we have no trouble naming the cause.

It’s still like in the early days when thunder and lightning were caused by the hammer-wielding god Thor.

12. From a gourmets nightmare to praised appliance

The Amana Radarange was the first microwave to enter the consumer market in 1967. The models before that were so huge, they didn’t fit in an average kitchen. Retail price: $495 – which is about $3000 today.

The microwave was initially perceived as a gimmick that would destroy the fine art of cooking but a few years ago the kitchen appliance was voted as #1 technology in making people’s lives better. (Monitor research for making people’s lives better – Yankelovich Partners) By being voted number 1 it outstripped the answering machine and the ATM.

13. Microwave ovens are not miniature nuclear plants

Although people like to use phrases like: “let’s nuke some quesadillas in the microwave”, there’s no fusing or splitting of atoms and subsequently, no risk on a nuclear fallout. Not even on a very small scale. So no worries about a tiny Fukushima calamity in your kitchen. You won’t start to glow in the dark after a microwave cooking marathon.

To make matters more clear, the big difference is ionizing vs non ionizing radiation. So how does it work?

Microwave ovens use non-ionizing radiation whereas nuclear plants use potentially harmful ionizing radiation. A microwave makes use of so called dielectric heating. Electromagnetic energy is employed to generate heat by absorption of energy in the water, fats and sugar present in the food.

14. Microwave ovens let you cook like a cake boss

Not only does the favorite consumer tech device lend itself to make the most delicious, mouthwatering snacks. It also allows for very easy to use methods. Take for example these 18 microwave snacks you can cook in a mug.

And if that’s not enough for you, or maybe you’re just not a sweet tooth, then inspire yourself with these 30 things you can cook in a mug in a microwave.

 

All in all, if you look at the studies and use your common sense you’ll know that microwaving is not bad for your health. It is one of those persistent scaremongering myths roaming the internet.

One more thing, a microwave uses about 50% less energy than a conventional oven. Happy cooking.

 

Image credit: Anton Egorov.

 

 

 

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  • In fact the only real opposition to MW cooking is that it often doesn’t taste so good. This is because a lot of taste is in the carcinogenic browning of traditional cooking. Oh, and it often looks bland and reheated pizzas get soggy.

    However for jacket potatoes, baked beans and the best scrambled eggs, nothing beats a MW oven. And there’s less washing up.

    Good to see an article based on reality from someone who listened to his science teacher.