Microwaves: Is there a dark side?

Microwave Safe – Part 2: What You Need to Know About the Microwave!

In Part 1 of the Microwave-safe series, we looked at the positive attributes that the microwave has. However, this small appliance is also riddled with controversy. In this post we will look at some common dissenting opinions regarding the microwave oven.

Food Composition:

One of the controversies surrounding the microwave is that it alters the actual composition of food. The concern is that this alteration produces toxins and carcinogens in your food. There is proof that certain plastics containing BPA’s, when used in the microwave, can leach chemicals into the food.  I turn to Professor Peter McIntyre from the Texas A&M University to tell us in his words about the changes about the microwave makes to food:

“When food is placed in a microwave oven, the electromagnetic fields from the oven induce electric currents within the water in the food. Because all of our food (like ourselves) is mostly water, this tactic is a pretty good way to generate heat uniformly throughout a serving of food. That is also why it is possible to heat food more quickly in a microwave oven than in a conventional oven, where the food must be heated from outside in. Microwaves do nothing more to food than heat it. There is no evidence that microwaves alter the composition of food or have any other detrimental effects.” [1]

Nutritional Value:

Another concern is that microwaving food changes the nutritional value.  Will microwaving my carrots reduce their vitamin content?  A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli cooked in the microwave with a small amount of water lost up to 97 percent of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants.

A Japanese study by Watanabe showed that just 6 minutes of microwave heating turned 30-40 percent of the B12 in milk inactive. This study has been cited by Dr. Andrew Weil as evidence supporting his concerns about the effects of microwaving. Dr. Weil wrote:   “There may be dangers associated with microwaving food… there is a question as to whether microwaving alters protein chemistry in ways that might be harmful.” [2]

It is important to mention that heating in all forms can alter the nutritional content of food. When you cook with water or other liquids some of nutrients in food can escape from the food and into the surrounding liquid.  Regardless as to whether you are boiling your veggies in a pot on the stove, steaming them, or cooking them in the microwave oven, the best way to avoid degrading the nutrients too much is by cutting down cooking time.

Electromagnetic Fields:

There is a concern about the electromagnetic field that is produced by the microwave and its effect on people.  A federal standard limits the amounts of microwaves allowed to leak from an oven in its lifetime to 5 milliwatts per square centimetre at approximately 2 inches from the oven’s surface. The limit is set as such because it is far below the threshold known to harm people. The Food and Drug Administration has the responsibility for carrying out an electronic product radiation control program and they enforce the standards of performance for electronic products to ensure the safety of the public. In order to do this the FDA tests microwaves in their own laboratory and evaluates the manufacturers radiation and quality control programs at their sites. Health Canada has the responsibility to carry out the laws and regulations set by the FDA.

Though the FDA believes there is no hazard or harm coming from microwaves they do continue to test and reassess microwaves and their impact. [3]

As varied as our personalities so too are our opinions when it comes to subjects of controversy.  Are you decidedly in one camp or the other?  Is the microwave good for you or is it just convenient? Is it bad for our health? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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