A New Wave: Should You Ditch Your Microwave?

Microwaves Can Ruin Your HealthConvenience often controls society to the point where people might think that it takes five minutes or less for a good meal.

As a Foods4BetterHealth reader, you know that’s not true. You know that a healthy meal contains proper nutrients from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Eating raw foods are a good source or nutrients, but what are we doing to the food we eat? Is heating your food in the microwave hazardous to your health?

I once had a part-time job cleaning houses, and I noticed that some houses had a fancy, expensive microwave, others had small conventional microwaves, and a retired couple didn’t have a microwave at all. If Goldilocks was in these houses, which would she find just right? Well, quite possibly, if she wants to keep as many nutrients as possible in her food—no microwave at all?

About 90% of Canadian and American households contain microwaves, according to 2010 studies. That’s a whopping $28.0 billion a year in retail sales, and that doesn’t even factor in the many businesses and restaurant chains that use microwaves as well.

One of my friends, a professional chef, doesn’t use microwaves at all while cooking. When he got hired as the executive chef at a resort, he immediately removed two microwaves in the kitchen before he began his position.

The tendency to cut bait with the microwave oven is a new widespread trend.

“We learned through various articles that the nature of food changes through the technology, having the potential to impact our physiology. We first thought we’d reduce how often we used the microwave, and we were mindful of the type of food we heated,” co-active coach practitioner Jeanet Lamoca said. “However, the temptation was too much, and we would still use the microwave too often. We then made the decision to get rid of the microwave and we have never regretted it.”

This brings to light an important question: why should a family, or anyone for that matter, disregard their so-called chef-in-a-box? Is there really a danger to using microwaves?

Do Microwaves Cause Cancer?

The microwave health concerns debate has claimed the “convenience heater” can cause cancer. This has been swirling around the heads of doctors, researchers, and the media for over 20 years.

Some publications indicate that eating microwaved foods are linked to stomach and intestinal cancerous growths. There is no solid evidence to support that microwaves cause cancer, although with a rapid increase of the colon cancer rate in the U.S., is it really just a coincidence?

Clearing the Radiation Confusion

A conventional microwave oven does not make food radioactive. Food irradiation is different than the technology used within typical microwaves. Irradiation uses gamma rays, which is a form of ionizing radiation with extremely high frequencies, whereas microwaves use non-ionizing radiation at a vastly lower rate. If gamma rays penetrated your food in the microwave, it would impact the water, and the cell structures, found in your food.

What Happens to Food in the Microwave?

What happens when your food gets zapped so it’s hot enough for your consumption? Do the nutrients deteriorate in your food while in the microwave? There are several studies that suggest microwave cooking may deplete nutrients in food:

  • Broccoli cooked in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants, according to a study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. By comparison, when the broccoli was steamed, 11% or fewer of its antioxidants were lost.
  • An Australian study in 2010 revealed that microwaves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating methods.
  • A Japanese study would reveal that when milk is heated for six minutes in the microwave, 30-40% of the milk’s B12 was destroyed.

Microwaves Don’t Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

In today’s society, preparing meals with fresh fruits, vegetables, and other fresh ingredients promotes a healthy lifestyle. Microwaves are machines that heat your food instantly, without much time or effort.

Much of what you will find discrediting studies, articles, or reports about microwave use will leave out the obvious fact that the microwave oven promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. If the issue with microwaves was only that it takes the nutrients out of the vegetables you put in there, that’s one thing, but the microwave is also a convenience tool to make and reheat many unhealthy foods. Inserting your TV dinner Salisbury steak or reheating last night’s pizza are definitely common trends among people with an unhealthy fast-paced lifestyle.

Other Health Concerns About Microwaves

Obesity and mental health issues can definitely be linked to eating an industrialized lifestyle, full of refined and highly processed foods—and the microwave itself is a symbol of this instant, fast-food lifestyle.

Swiss food scientist Dr. Hans Hertel conducted a small study, concluding that microwaving food results in increased cholesterol levels, decreased numbers of red blood cells, production of radiolytic compounds, decreased numbers of white blood cells (leukosytes) which suggests poisoning, and decreased hemoglobin levels, indicating anemia.

Loss of memory and concentration, emotional instability, and a decrease of intelligence are also cited side effects of eating microwaved food.

Also, Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University found “unequivocal evidence” that microwave frequency radiation affects the heart at non-thermal levels, which are well below federal safety guidelines.

The Food4BetterHealth Bottom Line

So, you’ve read this article for about five minutes now and the microwave debate is still not cooked.

How should you heat your food? It’s clear that microwave use is highly controversial and because there isn’t adequate support against microwaving, you will get many people giving their opinions on both ends of the dagger.

You should definitely avoid microwaving your food in plastic, as plastic chemicals leech into the food from the plastic packaging. The chemicals, such as DEHA, DEHP, MEHP or PET, can increase the risk of cancer. The best containers for microwaving include glass, Pyrex, or nonleaded microwavable ceramic.

As more people sway to a healthy lifestyle, their use of kitchen appliances may change as well, such as trading in the microwaves for a smoothie-making blender or a juicer.

When heating or reheating food, my preference is using the stove top, while steaming, or, on occasion, frying my food. Also, using the conventional oven or toaster oven are simple ways to heat your meals.

Sources:
Bosher, J., “COOKING UP Controversy, Are microwave ovens safe?” Alive: Canada’s Natural Health & Wellness Magazine, November 2010, Issue 337, page 98-100.
Haas, E. et al, Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2006), 480.
“Why Did the Russians Ban an Appliance Found in 90% of American Homes?” Mercola.com web site, May 18, 2010; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx.
Mercola, J., “Is This Common Kitchen Appliance Harming Your Health?” Huffington Post web site, Aug. 25, 2010; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/microwave-cancer_b_684662.html.
Nelson, N., “3 Ways to Heat Food Without a Microwave,” Shalom Mama: simplifying natural family wellness web site; http://shalommama.com/3-ways-to-heat-food-without-a-microwave.
“Radiation, microwaves and cancer,” Cancer Research UK web site; http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/cancer-questions/radiation-microwaves-and-cancer.
Thomas, W., “Cooked: The Dangers of Microwave Ovens,” Alive: Canada’s Natural Health & Wellness Magazine, May 2000, issue 211, 38, two pages.
Wayne, A., et al, “What Is Your Microwave Doing To Your Health,” Food Matters web site; http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/what-is-your-microwave-doing-to-your-health.
Adams, M., “Microwave ovens destroy the nutritional value of your food,” Natural News web site, Aug. 6, 2007; http://www.naturalnews.com/021966_microwaves_microwave_ovens.html.