How Do I Know If Microwaving Food Is Safe and Healthy?

For a while now there have ongoing debates as to whether microwaving food is safe and healthy or does render foods devoid or their minerals and essential vitamins. The purpose of this article is to lay to rest all the stigma attached to the subject. This is better comprehended with a deeper understanding of how particles are heated in a microwave. According to Harvard Medical School, “Microwaves cook food using energy waves that are similar to radio waves”. These waves are shorter in length by comparison. The waves present mainly affect water molecules. They also affect other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical. Which are molecules that are on one end positively charged and the other negatively charged according to the study.

A number of myths surround microwaves. You may have heard that microwaves increase cancer risk or the far fetched ‘microwaves make your food radioactive’. Less common ones include that of ‘any non-metal dish is safe for the microwave’. While metals are a big no-no when it comes to heating food in a microwave, there are alternate materials one can use.

A 2011 study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that estrogenic activity (EA) can cause health issues. The EA found comes from plastic products. Microwaving plastic, in most cases, even BPA free or microwave safe plastics speeds up the break down of the container.

Microwaving food? Is it safe or harmful?

Does Microwave Radiation Harm You?

Firstly, microwaves are not radioactive but electromagnetic. This means that your food CANNOT become radioactive. Varied opinions exist about ‘the effects of radiation produced by microwaving food’. There is no research indicates that the harm is evident, only plausible. There is some evidence to suggest that microwaves are a preferred cooking method in some cases due to the increasingly short duration of exposure to heat. However, it is imperative that your containers are microwave safe and plastics need to labeled as safe to use. While plastic does release a certain amount of chemicals they fall way within the safe to consume limit according to the Institute of Health and Consumer Protection.

Nutrient Value with Microwaves

It is important to note that certain nutrients break down when exposed to heat such as water-soluble vitamins that include vitamin C and certain B vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, along with minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. This happens irrespective of the heating process. Whether on a stove or in a microwave, the loss can range from 15%-20% of the nutritional value.

Hence, the scientific community understands that microwaving food is not the culprit for destroying nutritional content in foods. It the process of heating that causes breakdown and loss. However, research does show that certain foods are absorbed better when cooked. For example, eggs are a 180% more digestible source of protein when cooked. Also, steamed broccoli holds more glucosinolate than its boiled counterpart. The compound is responsible for giving the green hero it’s cancer-fighting properties.

Short and Uneven Cooking May Not Kill Bacteria

When it comes to cooking your food it is important to ensure that heat is spread out evenly. Ideally, you want to microwave/ cook your meal at the right temperature. The safe zone is at 80 degrees Celsius or close to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. If the dish is deep try mixing it up if possible for better uniformity. A microwaves heat usually penetrates up to 1.5 inches. This can be risky when cooking thicker slices of meat and poultry. Uncooked meat increases the risk of food poisoning. For best results, use a microwave in conjunction with a stove or hob. After half cooking your meat feel free to toss it in a zip lock bag for the remainder.

Short Cooking Preserves The Highest Amount Of Nutrients

Perhaps the greatest concern if you are someone who spends heavily on organic produce. Uncooked and unprocessed foods are known to possess the highest amount of nutrients. This puts into perspective why certain people choose to adopt the lifestyle of consuming food raw. The age-old grandmothers’ philosophy from ‘ground-to-hand and hand-to-mouth’ still finds its way into many modern healthy-eating books. However, this lifestyle and palette may not be possible for everyone. So, at the bare minimum to try and limit the amount of time your food is cooking. Health tip: Use a minimal amount of water when cooking your vegetables to avoid losing out on the water-soluble minerals. Try and consume the water left in the utensil after cooking if possible. When cooking meat add the aujus back on to the dish (I promise you it tastes fantastic).

Microwaving Food Is Safe and Healthy

Ways To Eat Healthier and Safer

If health is your priority along with feeling good mentally and physically then pay close attention. It is important to remember if you are underweight or overweight it is not due to nutrients dying during the process of cooking. Here are some general pointers to eat better.

For People Who are Overweight
  • Reduce the calories consumed during the course of your day. Use the calorie counter mentioned above.
  • Increase protein intake to roughly 35% of your total calories. Protein and carbohydrates translate to 4 calories per gram. On the other end, fats make up 9 calories per gram. Protein not only helps fuel your muscles and recover but keep you feeling full for longer.
  • Add vegetables and fruit to your list of snacks, the concept behind ‘healthy eating’ is simple. Eat foods that are low in calories so you can consume a greater volume feeling full.
  • For example, a hundred grams of carrot consists of 41.35 calories. On the other hand, 100 grams of cashew nuts comprises 553 calories. If you are on a 2,000 calorie diet a handful of cashews CANNOT leave you feeling satiated for long.
  • Create a caloric deficit between 200-300 calories from your current maintenance coupled with resistance training and watch your weight drop. Ideally, you want to lose no more than 500g to 650g of weight per week. Anything beyond is considered extreme and impacts hormone levels and alters your mood, usually the number one reason people give up on a diet.
  • Use the best digital kitchen scale in UAE to measure your food so that you do not consume more than required.
For People Who are Underweight
  • A caloric surplus is required to gain weight. This means eating 200-300 calories over your maintenance weight.
  • A protein rich diet along with a good resistance training program can help you build a strong frame.
  • Since fats are higher in caloric value consider eating more almonds, peanut butter, almond butter, and olive oil in case you have a small appetite. It can help you reach the desired caloric requirement without feeling stuffed.
  • Consider buying the best juicer in UAE ( I recommend the Nutribullet) to help you make calorie dense shakes. Consider adding full-fat milk, bananas, skinned almonds, peanut butter, a scoop of protein powder along with some frozen berries. This can give you a tall glass amounting 500-700 calories based on the quantity used.
  • Try and consume foods like full-fat cottage cheese, lean beef, and avocados instead of junk food when gaining weight. Micronutrients play a major role in overall health and cannot be substituted.

Microwave Myths Debunked

  • It is best to choose a cooking process suited for foods that are a staple in your diet. Be it simmering, boiling, frying, poaching or grilling. Research how you should prepare certain foods
  • Invest in microwave-safe containers to microwave food in a safe and healthy manner or use glass and ceramic materials to heat your food.
  • Expose your food to heat for the shortest amount of time
  • Microwaves DO NOT make your food radioactive.
  • In some cases, microwaving food is safe and healthy, and proven to be the better cooking method to opt for

In the end, microwaving food is safe and healthy. Choose a good microwave to address your cooking and reheating needs in an easy manner. For those seeking a healthier lifestyle, implement the points above to derive greater nutritional content from your meats and veggies. Bon Apetit!

Danesh Engineer
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