For years, people have alleged that microwave ovens destroy our food and emit dangerous and damaging radiation. But, in fact, no evidence exists to support that theory!
Let’s debunk some of the myths surrounding these convenient kitchen gadgets and replace them with a healthy dose of truth! Besides being perfectly safe, microwave ovens are both more environmentally friendly than a conventional oven and they have the added benefit of being great in a pinch! Especially when you want to use them to re-heat some Modern Paleo chicken and potatoes or Gluten-Free Gumbo!
Let’s looks at some microwave myths and explore why you don’t need to fear your microwave!
1. Myth: Microwaves destroy nutrients
Reality: Foods heated or cooked in a microwave oven have no reduction in their nutritional value any more than those cooked or heated with conventional methods.
More specifically, there are no significant differences in the Vitamin C, riboflavins, or protein-bound amino acids in microwave-heated food (10,12). A 2012 study also found that microwave heating is a safe alternative to HTST pasteurization, with no significant differences found to either the amino or fatty acids that were measured (3).
In fact, microwave cooking may actually allow foods to retain a greater amount of their essential vitamins and minerals than conventionally cooked food, since no water is added and the process is faster (11). It has even been proven that food heated in microwaves provides greater chlorophyll stability than that of conventional heating (2).
2. Myth: Food cooked in microwave ovens is toxic.
Reality: There are no adverse health effects or dangers associated with microwave cooked food compared to food, which is conventionally cooked (6).
Some have specifically argued that microwaves denature proteins making them toxic. Wrong! That is a misconception in regards to what “denaturing” actually is. Denaturing is when a “protein has unfolded and lost its three-dimensional shape, but all of the amino acids in the protein are still bonded together” (7). That does not mean it has changed or is toxic!
Actually, in general, all heat denatures proteins. That means cooking by any means activates the same denaturing process (4,7). Changes in pH levels have the same effect. So, as you can see, this is not an issue tied directly to microwave ovens.
The toxic dangers actually come from the chemicals in the plastic wrapping covering so many microwaveable meals on the market today. Simply transfer your food to another microwave-safe dish and heat without the plastic!
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3. Myth: Microwave ovens leak radiation and endanger your health
Reality: It has been proven that human exposure to low-level radio-frequency energy (RFE), such as using a microwave, produces no significant adverse health effects. (5, 9)
A 2013 study showed that the in no instance of the microwaves tested, did any radio-frequency leakage (measured at a distance of 1 meter) exceed the safe limit set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (8). It was determined that the radio-frequency emissions from microwave ovens were not enough to cause damage to human health (8).
Furthermore, the FDA regulates that microwave ovens are to emit no more than 5 milliwatts (mW) of microwave radiation per square centimeter measured at approximately 2 inches from the oven surface (11). It’s also important to note that microwaves dissipate quickly the more you move away form the source, even as little as 20 inches. And at that distance, a little less than two feet away from the microwave, the measurement of microwave radiation is roughly 1/100 of the regulated measurement at just 2 inches (7). So step away form the microwave when in use!
Finally, to put the amount of radiation emitted form a microwave in use into perspective, functional medicine expert Chris Kresser, points out that, “Having a cell phone in your pocket on silent mode exposes you to roughly the same level of microwave radiation as standing one meter from your microwave while it’s heating food” (7). So, if your real concern is radiation exposure, your cell phone is a bigger culprit than your microwave oven!
A Microwaveable Summary
Microwave ovens do little different to our food than what is done through traditional heating methods. Also, it has been scientifically proven that no significant adverse health affects can be tied to human exposure to such low-level radio-frequency energy (RFE) as comes from using a microwave oven. (5) Not to mention, microwave ovens are more energy efficient than a traditional oven, as only the food is heated, not the entire cavity of the oven itself (11)!
Of course, the choice as to whether to use or avoid microwaves is entirely up to you. And while I am a huge proponent of reducing all of our exposure to toxicity and anything that may damage your health, it’s important to understand what the true dangers actually are. Using your microwave oven in a safe manner is not one of them.
As with any appliance, take common-sense precautions while operating your microwave oven. Always follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions and:
- Do not stand directly next to the microwave while it is in use.
- Stand at least 2 feet away from it while it is in use.
- Always make sure the door is firmly closed before operating.
- Do not use microwaves with broken doors or damaged latches, as this could allow microwave radiation to leak while in use.
So if you love the convenience of a microwave oven – and maybe want to use it to heat up some Modern Paleo leftovers – then have no fear!