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Microwave ovens and healthy eating

How do a microwave oven and food cooked or heated in it affect our health?

Cooking in the microwave is very convenient because it is very fast, convenient, and simple. The first microwave oven for home use was sold back in 1967, but they have been used for commercial cooking since the 1950s.

Today, microwave ovens have been an integral part of most kitchens for many years, but many people still believe that microwave ovens produce harmful radiation that is harmful to both people and food and reduces the nutritional value of products. Namely, they believe that food cooked or heated in a microwave oven is not as useful as if it were fried, boiled, stewed or steamed.

In this article, we will look at how microwave ovens work, how they affect the quality of food, and what impact they have on our health.


How do microwave ovens work?

Microwave ovens convert electricity into electromagnetic waves called microwaves.

These waves accelerate the movement of molecules in food, causing them to vibrate, rotate, and collide with each other – resulting in heat.

Just like our hands get warm when we rub them together quickly.

Microwaves mainly affect water molecules, but they can also heat fats and sugars – only to a slightly lesser extent (compared to water).


Unlike the oven, where the entire oven is heated and the heat enters the product gradually from the outside to inside, the microwave heats only the food – all at once (both outside and inside).


Is microwave radiation harmful?

Microwave ovens produce electromagnetic radiation, and to many people, the word “radiation” is associated with radioactive radiation, atomic bombs and nuclear disasters.

Microwave ovens produce non-ionizing radiation, which is the same type of radiation emitted by, for example, cell phones, only much stronger and localized inside the microwave oven.


Remember that light is also electromagnetic radiation, i.e. not everything denoted by the word “radiation” is bad 😊.


All microwave ovens are equipped with metal screens that prevent radiation from escaping from the oven. Door glass is also made of a material that shields electromagnetic radiation.

In addition, electromagnetic radiation decreases rapidly with distance. If you are more than 30 cm from the microwave oven, the radiation will not reach you, even if the protective screen is damaged.

But we don’t use damaged electrical equipment, do we?


The effect of a microwave oven on the nutrient content

Any cooking method reduces the nutritional value of the product. Exactly which nutrients will be lost and how big their loss will be will determine:

  • Cooking temperature.
  • Cooking time.
  • Cooking method (for example, during cooking, water-soluble nutrients are dissolved in water, and if it is drained, vitamins and other nutrients dissolved in it are also poured out).

In a microwave oven, the cooking time is usually short, and the temperature is lower compared to traditional cooking methods – food is usually not heated to 100 ° C or more.

For this reason, when cooking in a microwave oven, more nutrients are preserved compared to boiling or baking.

Read more about how the cooking method affects the number of nutrients HERE.


In any case, the microwave oven reduces the nutritional value no more than other cooking methods.

Some studies show that antioxidants in vegetables are better preserved if they are cooked in a microwave oven or baked.

The only research (that I was able to find) showing that when cooking in a microwave oven, something is lost more than with other cooking methods was that when cooking garlic in a microwave oven, some compounds are destroyed faster than when frying.


That is, with some exceptions, cooking in a microwave oven preserves nutrients as well as cooking in the traditional ways, or even better.


Cooking in a microwave oven reduces the formation of harmful compounds

One of the advantages of a microwave oven is that the cooking temperature usually does not exceed the boiling point of water.

Consequently, fewer harmful compounds are formed in the food.

A good example is bacon, which is one of those foods where nitrosamines can form during cooking.

During processing, nitrites are added to meat, including bacon. Nitrites destroy bacteria and thus prolong the shelf life of meat. Unfortunately, if this meat is cooked at high temperatures, for example, when frying, nitrites in meat can turn into carcinogenic nitrosamines.

A study conducted in 1989 showed that cooking bacon in a microwave oven leads to the least formation of nitrosamine of all the tested cooking methods.


How harmful substances get into microwaved food?

Despite the described advantages of the microwave oven, substances harmful to our bodies still sometimes get into the products when cooking or heating them in the microwave oven.

This has nothing to do with the cooking method itself, but with:

  • What containers we use when cooking or warming up food.
  • How long we cook.

What containers do we use?

Metal dishes should not be placed in microwaves – so ceramics, glass and plastic remain.

Ceramic and glass dishes are usually fine.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with plastic containers. Many plastics contain hormone-disrupting compounds and can therefore harm our health.

A good example here is Bisphenol-A (BPA), which, although prohibited for use in baby products, can be found in many plastic products – bottles of water and other drinks, various types of plastic containers, etc.

Studies have linked bisphenol-A to an increased risk of cancer, thyroid disease, and obesity.

When cooking or heating food in containers containing bisphenol-A or other substances like it, they can get into food and then into your body.

Accordingly – when cooking in a microwave oven, it is better to use ceramic or glass dishes.


How long do we cook?

Cooking speed is one of the main advantages of a microwave oven, but it can also cause problems.

Because the cooking temperature is lower and the cooking time is shorter, and sometimes the food also heats up unevenly, microwave cooking does not kill microbes and other pathogens as effectively as traditional baking or boiling.


Key takeaways

Microwave radiation cannot change the chemical composition of food. This means that when we use a microwave oven and eat food cooked in it, the microwave oven cannot cause us any harm.

But there are other factors that can affect the quality of microwaved food, such as:

  • The quality of the products themselves.
  • Plastic containers.
  • Cooking time.

All cooking methods reduce nutrients, but microwaving generally preserves nutrients better.

Cooking in a microwave oven can reduce the formation of harmful compounds that form when cooking at high temperatures.

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