From classing it as a nuclear weapon to the machine of death, the microwave has certainly had its fair share of blame as a cancer causing, hormone impairing instrument. There are even online 'professionals,' claiming that the microwave can emit harmful radioactive waves that not only poisons your food, but can fry your brain if you stand too close...
In light of this, it's important to ask the question:
"will your food be glowing in cancerous radioactive properties unseen by the untrained eye and will using a microwave be harmful to your health?"
When we think of the word “radiation” we often think of people dressed in protective yellow radioactive suits holding dangerous glowing substances. But you have to understand not all radiation waves are harmful. Take right now for example, you’re either reading this blog from your phone, laptop or computer. Did you know right now you are being exposed to a form of radioactivity as we speak? And what if you have the radio on in the background, again radiation is in full works within your home, car and work. Quickly go look in the mirror, are you glowing yet?
All joking aside, the type of radiation we are speaking of is what’s classed as “non-ionizing radiation.”
Here is the definition given for “Non-ionising radiation.”
“A type of low-energy radiation that does not have enough energy to remove an electron (negative particle) from an atom or molecule. Non-ionizing radiation includes visible, infrared and ultraviolet light; microwaves; radio waves; and radiofrequency energy from cell phones. Most types of non-ionizing radiation have not been found to cause cancer.”
(source: The National Cancer Institute.)
See that, visible light. So, every time you expose yourself to a visible light you are going to be exposing yourself to a form of radiation. In light of this, that means the moment we were born in the hospital, we were exposed to a form of non-ionizing radiation. Every time we took a photo of that beautiful picturesque sunrise (ultraviolet), we were exposed to a form of non-ionizing radiation. The Microwave is also classed as a form of non-ionizing radiation.
In accordance to this energy scale from radiative ways, ranging from high-energy and harmful radiation sources (ionizing) to low-energy radiation sources (non-ionizing), the microwave is seen as emitting less frequency per wavelength than the visible, infra-red and ultraviolet light.
So now we see what type of radiation is emitted from a microwave and that it’s no different to the sun or visible light, let’s take a look at what happens to your food when you cook it in the microwave.
What about Microwaving Food?
Microwaves generate an electromagnetic form of radiation at a precise frequency (oscillating electric field) necessary to ‘excite’ the water molecules via motional movement in food. This motional movement of water molecules (kinetic energy) created within the in food generates heat. So basically, the radiation from the microwave vibrates the water molecule in food at such a rate that it forms heat that cooks your food from the inside out. That’s why often your food stays on after being in the microwave but the plate you cooked it on stays at normal temperature. If there are no water molecules in the plate it simply cannot heat up.
That’s basically it in a nutshell. There is no bombardment of nuclear radiation (none from alpha, beta and gamma rays) so no additional radio nuclides or particles are added from the microwave to the food you cook. Cooking food in a microwave is completely safe. If you were to microwave your food and then hold a Geiger counter up to it (a tool used to measure the level of radiation exposure), you’ll get nothing more than you would have before you microwaved it. So it’s perfectly safe to eat.
But if I stand close to the microwave will it also cook me? I’m mostly water.
Answer no. Unless the microwave is really old, broken and has a leak, the electromagnetic energy especially in newer microwaves are contained within the microwave. Look at the energy chart again, the wavelength of a microwave frequency is between roughly 3 to 15cm within the box. However if you do find yourself hugging your microwave a lot, depending on how excited you are to eat your food you might want to see a relationship counselor.
What about the claims that microwaves degrade the nutritional value of food?
As with any form of cooking, nutrients within food will be lost in the cooking process. A study was done on a microwave where researchers cooked a garlic and a broccoli for a minute. They found that the majority of the nutrients was lost in the cooking process similar to that of boiling garlic and broccoli.
HOWEVER, when you look at how the study was conducted, the researchers had cooked the broccoli and garlic in water whilst it was cooking in the microwave. So of course, it would be similar to boiling it especially when microwave heats the water molecules up that would boil away a lot of the nutrients found in food. When the study was done again without adding water, then minimal amounts of nutrients were found to be lost. So just don’t add water to your food when microwaving it in order to maintain nutrients unless you are also going to consume the water as well as part of your food like soup and stews.
So why is there bad press that microwaving has an impact on your hormonal levels? Like creating oestrogen?
This comes down to what utensils you use to microwave your food in not the microwave itself. Yes it’s true, some utensils like plastic and Teflon on the stove can release harmful toxins on the body when exposed to heat. This is why you should never drink from a plastic bottle when left in the sun. One of the many serious toxins plastics and Teflon pans can release is called ‘xenoestrogen’ that are a chemical form of estrogens that mimic the estrogen hormone that they can bind to estrogen receptor sites with potentially hazardous outcomes.
This can cause infertility, reduced testosterone and a ton of other hormonal imbalances within the body. So my advice, always cook in microwave safe non plastic containers, like pyrex glass. Even if the plastic says BPA free, there may still be other harmful toxins like BPS or worse within them to cause you issues later on down the line.
Hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had regarding microwave cooking. Now I must dash, im in the middle of nuking… I mean microwaving my popcorn. Stay tuned weekly for more of my Wellness blogs regarding fitness, health and nutrition.