Microwave ovens and microwaved food have a bad rep for being dangerous to our bodies. But are they really all that horrible that we have to stop using them? Here's what you need to know:
Does the microwave ruin the nutrients in food?
Cooking food in any method breaks down some nutrients; the heat damages the chemical structure of nutrients to some degree. But there are still plenty of them left. Another thing about cooking is that it also kills microbes that might have contaminated the food and made you sick.
So about microwave cooking, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, the editor-in-chief of Harvard Health Letter, says it's "one of the least likely forms of cooking to damage nutrients."
"The longer food cooks, the more nutrients tend to break down, and microwave cooking takes less time," he explains. That means food will lose more nutrients if you oven-roast it instead of microwaving it. And boiling vegetables is more likely to break down their nutrients than microwaving the greens.
But for the benefits of microwave cooking to take effect and for it to be one of the BEST ways to keep vitamins and minerals in your food, you have to do it right. If you're microwaving your vegetables, add a little water and cover the container tightly so you steam them from the inside. Don't put too much or else you'll overcook your them and remove a lot of the vitamins and minerals present.
Does microwaving food make it cancerous?
Microwaves cook food using energy waves similar to radio waves but shorter. These waves only affect water (along with other electrically asymmetrical molecules) and cause these water molecules to vibrate to quickly build up heat energy. That heat will cook your food in seconds. It doesn't make any change that any other cooking method doesn't do. That means your food will not be any more likely to cause cancer.
Is microwave exposure bad for our bodies?
If your microwave oven is a modern one and in good condition, it's safe for humans as long as you follow the instructions that come with the appliance. Dr. Komaroff states "There's no evidence that our exposure to the microwaves might somehow injure our bodies."
Is microwaving food in plastic dangerous?
If you use plastic that's not labeled "microwave safe," unhealthy chemicals like phthalates could seep into your food. Phthalates are thought to interfere with our body's metabolism, reproduction, and other functions of the endocrine system.
Look for the microwave-safe icon or the words "microwave safe." If you find them on your plastic container, then it's not dangerous.
How about in Styrofoam?
Some Styrofoam can be safe; just check the label.
What if the plastic container and the Styrofoam aren't labeled microwave safe?
Microwave food in glass or ceramic containters labeled for use in microwave ovens. Other safety precautions:
- Don't let the plastic wrapper touch the food when microwaving since the wrap can melt.
- Don't use old and cracked containers that have been microwaved many times.
- Don't microwave plastic bags.
- Vent the container by slightly lifting the edge of the cover.
- Remember that most takeout containers, plastic bottles, tubs, and jars are not safe to microwave.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter.