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Microwave Cooking – Does It Kill Nutrients and Damage Our Health?

By Jiri Kaloc

Microwaves are fast and you don’t have to be a chef to operate them. But for some reason, it just feels like it’s probably not that healthy to reheat or cook foods in them every day. They have to be safe due to regulations but do we really understand the long term effects of microwave use? Let’s look at what research says about it.

It doesn’t destroy nutrients

Surprisingly, microwaving might even protect certain vitamins. When cooking for extended periods of time in water, nutrients are slowly leached from the food. So, unless you use the water for soup, you’re losing valuable nutrients. This doesn’t happen with microwaves as they are fast and don’t require added water. Of course, some heat sensitive nutrients like vitamin C will be partially lost but that’s true for all cooking methods.

But how safe is it?

The potential danger of microwaves comes from the radiation they produce. However, there is no convincing data indicating a direct negative impact of microwave ovens on human health. Also, the cumulative amount of electromagnetic radiation we are exposed to from microwave cooking over a lifetime is less than from mobile phones. The thing is, we are exposed to many things like power lines, airplane flights, computers, fridges, etc. and we don’t yet know what the cumulative effects will be over the long term. But on a positive note, microwave cooking forms fewer nitrosamines and AGEs (carcinogens) on meats than conventional cooking methods.

It depends on what you put in

Radiation aside, perhaps the biggest threat of microwaves lies in what we tend to put in them. If microwave is what allows you to regularly make popcorn, pre-made meals, etc., then it’s allowing you to damage your health yourself. But microwaves can be useful too. For example, if you want to reheat leftovers from a meal you made after shopping at the farmers market, the down sides are pretty minimal. Or it can be a helping hand in your real cooking as you can see in this video.

How to use a microwave safely

  • Keep your microwave in a place where you don’t move around often.
  • Don’t heat up food in plastic containers.
  • Cover your food to achieve uniform cooking and let sit a few minutes after microwaving.
  • Microwave food only as long as necessary, with little to no cooking water.

How to live without a microwave

  • Use alternative reheating methods (steaming, stir-frying, baking) they are not as slow as you think.
  • Eat leftovers cold. Many meals are tasty that way too. Each time you reheat, no matter the method, you are going to lose nutrients.