To Microwave or Not To Microwave

by Amy Stafford on May 25, 2012

I am sure everyone who reads this post has a microwave or has access to one.  We all use it day in and day out to cook our popcorn, our veggies, and whatever we can that will make our lives easier.

The question that keeps popping up in my life, is it bad for us?

A few months ago while I was at the gym, my trainer and I were talking about a recipe I had on the blog and he asked me if I “nuke” my veggies.  The answer was “yes”, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, you name it, I nuked it!

He and another trainer pounced on me and preached about if I was so worried about eating clean and only serving fresh vegetables that I was defeating the purpose by cooking my vegetables this way.  REALLY?  So I asked “why is nuking so bad?”

They told me in a very short answer, because it leaches out the vitamins and minerals that you are trying to put in your body by eating fresh produce.  “How” I asked.  Well, they didn’t really know the technical answer, but they gave me the gist of an answer.  HUH.  Well I am one of those that has to know they whys, and the hows, so, I came home and did a google search and was hit with tons of articles about this very subject.  I read through several and got a lot of mixed reviews on the topic, which is not unusual when you start asking about your health and technology.

Since then it seems all the sites that I like to visit about nutrition and eating clean and healthy have been posting an article about the microwave debate.

I found an article that really helped me make a little sense out of all the medical mumbo-jumbo.  I thought I would share a small exert here.

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Experience L!fe

By Matthew Kadey / 

The question I had to ask myself was does anyone really know what’s going on inside the oven once you shut the door? How healthy or unhealthy is “nuking” your food? And if we can’t live without our microwave ovens, what’s the best way to live with them?

People often say they are going to “nuke” their food, which is based on the common belief that microwaves reheat food by releasing radioactive energy. This is not, however, the case. Microwaves work by using a magnetron that converts electric power into waves of oscillating electromagnetic energy, often referred to as microwaves, that are similar to radio waves, explains Juming Tang, PhD, professor of food engineering at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. “These waves permeate food, causing the agitation of water molecules and charged salt ions, which produces friction and a quick rise in temperature to warm the food rapidly,” he says.

Tang goes on to say that this is why the cooking times with microwave ovens are shorter than with conventional ovens: The latter oven sends heat through food relatively slowly, moving radiant heat inward from the outside.

“In a microwave oven,” says Tang, “the air in the appliance is at room temperature, so the temperature of the food surface is cooler to the touch than food placed in a conventional oven, where the items are heated by hot air or by radiative heat.” The concern about microwaves, though, is that while they are heating your food, they are also zapping valuable nutrients.

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Okay so bottom line, I am losing the nutrients that I want to absorb in my diet.  Right?  Well….yes,
  • Japanese researchers determined that microwaving may convert vitamin B12 (a vitamin vital to proper neurological functioning, increased energy among many other things) in meat, pork and milk into its inactive form, rendering it somewhat useless.
  • Studies also show that heart-healthy phenolic compounds found in extra-virgin and virgin olive oils can lose some of their antioxidant capacities when exposed to microwaving, and that microwaving garlic can destroy its most powerful medicinal compound, allicin.
  • I also read that microwaving actually alters the food makeup so much that it then alters your blood. Some studies have shown that you can tell if a person has eaten food prepared in a microwave just based on their blood.  YUCK!
BUT, (am I boring you yet?)
A batch of other studies show that the news surrounding microwaving and nutrient retention may not be so bad after all, at least when compared with some other cooking methods — particularly boiling.

Basically boiling certain vegetables, like broccoli, causes more loss of nutrients than microwaving.

The debate continued, one research report says its fine to “nuke”, another research report says it’s not!  They all do seem to agree in the middle, that steaming your veggies is the best most nutrient way to cook them.  That cooking your food on a stove top is much healthier than eating a microwavable dinner.  That microwave popcorn is really not that great for you.

Bottom line according to little – old – me, use your best judgement. Try to steam if you have the time, if you boil, boil for as little time as possible, make your meals from scratch and if you nuke, you nuke, but try not to. When you cook and prepare your own food, you know exactly what’s going into it and exactly what’s going in to your body. You also take time, care and effort and the secret key ingredient, LOVE, into your dish. All this makes a difference and affects whoever is eating the food. Unwrapping a frozen dinner and throwing it into a box and pushing a button doesn’t exactly ooze ‘caring,’ ‘consciousness’ and love. It says fast and convenient. Which I totally get, but there also might be repercussions to taking short cuts and if so many people are starting to talk about the side effects, we need to pay attention and educate ourselves as best as we can.

Here is a list of  Microwave How-To from experience life

If you choose to microwave your food, consider the following tips to help you maximize safety and reduce nutrient loss.

1. Use only glass and ceramic containersA raft of data suggests that microwaving edibles in plastic can pollute our food with a hodgepodge of sketchy chemicals. For more information, see the “Pass on Plastic” sidebar.

2. Go Easy on water and minimize timeWhen microwaving fruits or vegetables, use little or no water, says nutrition professor Samer Koutoubi, MD, PhD. Also, use as little time as possible for cooking. “These steps will minimize the nutrient loss,” he says. “There’s no reason to add water to vegetables or anything else that already contains a lot of moisture naturally,” adds food science professor Barry Swanson, PhD.

3. Put a lid on itTo retain surface moisture, cover food with a microwave-safe lid or wrap, leaving it slightly ajar to let steam escape, says Cheryl Luptowski, home safety expert at NSF International, an independent public-health and -safety organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The moist heat will help destroy harmful bacteria and ensure uniform cooking.”

4. Out with the old Leaks from an old and abused microwave oven are possible if the oven door is damaged or doesn’t seal properly. Regularly check your microwave for such signs and replace if needed. Make sure you clean off any food where the door meets the actual microwave, since, over time, crusty food residue can cause leakage.

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You can usually find me in my garden, the kitchen, at the gym or spending time with my family. I love sharing recipes, gardening and exercise tips and stories of my backyard chickens and beekeeping.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Looking Out The Window May 26, 2012 at 8:32 am

Our microwave died, and we “refused” to replace it for nearly a year. We only missed it when we forgot to thaw meat, and we soon learned to work around that too. We learned that veggies really do taste differently in a microwave. Hot chocolate made on the stove tastes better and a whole list of other things. I am not sure of the science, but jiggling molecules to make heat probably does alter the food. When we remodeled our kitchen we put in a new built in microwave and have used it less than we would imagine. We learned it really isn’t necessary.

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AmySue May 27, 2012 at 9:04 am

I agree with you. You may need to be a little more organized and creative, but you can easily find the microwave not that necessary. I really only try to use it if I am in a jam.

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