Your Microwave Is Killing You... Just Kidding!
Author : Justin Nault
Your microwave... A harmless, time-saving, kitchen helper? Or a brain melting box of death oozing radiation through your eyeballs?!Ok, I’m being facetious. But I have to say, after a bit of research on the topic I’ve discovered that there’s just not much middle-ground when it comes to peoples’ opinions on microwaves. They’re either harmless or slowly killing us all. It’s almost like asking someone about chemtrails. You’re probably going to get one of two responses:
Response #1: “Huh?”
Response #2: “The government is using chemtrails for mind control and slowly lowering our IQ’s with poisonous gas to prevent us from learning the truth about aliens!”
From one extreme to the other.
I’ll admit, I’ve spent the last ten years or so entirely on the anti-microwave side of the argument. I’ve had plenty of X-rays and MRI’s done for sports-related injuries in my lifetime. I’ve seen how everyone scrambles to get as far away from the machine as possible before they press the button and cook my internal organs. It seemed logical to me that anything associated with radiation was dangerous and should be avoided. That being said, I can’t honestly claim I’m anti-microwave because if my coffee gets cold, I’m zapping that mug in the microwave, end of story.
My opinion of microwaves can be summed up pretty quickly:
- Don’t use a microwave for cooking.
- Reheating for brief periods of time is probably safe.
- The shorter the cooking time the better.
Now that I’ve dug a bit deeper into the issue, I can honestly say that my opinion hasn’t changed much...
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let’s talk about the theory that microwaves destroy beneficial nutrients in food. I have scoured the interwebs trying to dig up some definitive data on this, and my findings have been inconclusive. Here’s a quick breakdown of some intriguing studies I’ve found:
I did find one study, conducted in 2003, which showed a significant loss of antioxidants, mainly flavonoids, in broccoli after microwave preparation. The same study showed significant loss of flavonoids with conventional boiling methods as well.
Conversely, another study, conducted in 1995, states, “Several studies have shown that microwave cooking if properly used, does not change the nutrient content of foods to a larger extent than conventional heating. In fact, suggests that there is a tendency towards greater retention of many micronutrients with microwaving, probably due to the shorter preparation time.”
A 1989 study states that “Based on the information available in the literature, nutrient content and retention of microwave-cooked or reheated foods is equal to or better than the same product prepared conventionally.”
Another study of cooked vegetables found that 4 of the 7 studied showed a significant loss of antioxidants when conventionally boiled and no decrease in antioxidants when the vegetables were microwaved.
See what I’m dealing with here?! What the hell is going on? You can find data to support both sides of the argument. But take a close look at some of those studies and you may notice the same ridiculous trend that I did...
Most of the studies I’ve read that condemn the use of microwave ovens were conducted before 1995. The most vicious attacks on microwaves all seemed to take place before 1989. These studies are old. With the exponential growth of technology, I’d feel comfortable calling them completely obsolete. I’ll give you another example...
The microwave haters love to cite this so-called “fact” that Russia banned microwaves at one point. Here’s the thing... There is absolutely no proof whatsoever that this ever happened. A few simple Google searches will make it pretty clear that this ban is a complete myth. Not only that but even if this mythical ban had happened, they are claiming it occurred in 1976... Yeah, over 40 years ago. For context, take a look at an image of the first handheld mobile phone from 1973 and try to tell me we haven’t made significant technological advances since then.
It’s this kind of bull shittery that makes it hard to side with the vehement microwave haters.
Do Microwaves Cause Cancer?
I want to touch briefly upon another anti-microwave argument. Carcinogens. There’s a lot of talk of carcinogens being “added” to microwaved foods. But these chemicals don’t come from the cooking method itself; they come from the packaging the food is cooked in.
An analysis conducted by the Journal Sentinel revealed all sorts of nasty chemicals being released by supposedly “microwave safe” containers. That’s a huge problem, but you can’t blame it on microwaves. You can blame it on food manufacturing companies being stingy and not giving a shit about you. Plenty of ethical food manufacturers are aware of such problems and sell their products in safe containers. However, I suggest you avoid the issue altogether by never microwaving anything in plastic. As the article states, there is no such thing as safe microwaveable plastic.
In conclusion, I’m going to make some people angry here and say that I don’t see a problem with using microwaves. Why? Because I just can’t find definitive evidence that they are harmful. For that reason, I’m going to side with convenience. Let me explain...
What is the #1 reason why people fail to adopt a Paleo lifestyle? Time. They claim they just don’t have time, and it’s not convenient.
If I can get someone working 40 hours a week to make small changes to bring them closer to a Paleo lifestyle, the last thing I’m going to do is add yet another time-stealing obstacle. If using a microwave to cook a steam bag of vegetables is going to prevent someone from running to the McDonald’s drive-thru, I am all for it! I just refuse to tell my clients that they need to use a pot and stovetop to reheat a cup of coffee. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
When I take on a new client, my goal is not perfection; it is simply improvement. Convenient cooking methods make improvement a whole lot easier! I understand there are tons of experts and thought leaders out there telling you to throw away your microwave. I think their hearts are in the right place, but they are just making things more and more difficult for the average Joe.
My advice? Stop comparing yourself to Paleo Celebrities! I don’t care if your favorite Blogger doesn’t use a microwave. Saying you’re going to eat exactly like the top Paleo Bloggers is like saying you’re going to have abs like Shaun T, year round. It’s just not practical! These people get PAID to eat and train properly! Their entire lives and businesses are centered around it. For 99% of people, that is not the case. I dig deeper into the issue of convenience in my article, “Simplicity: Why Paleo Can Be So Overwhelming.”
Do I cook with a microwave? No, I don’t. I don’t think I have ever actually cooked a meal in a microwave. I cook my vegetables on the stove top with a pot, some water, and a steam basket. I cook my meats in a skillet or slow cooker. I brew my coffee with a French Press. I wholeheartedly suggest you do the same... You know, just in case. But I’m not going to condemn you if you’re eating healthy foods that you cooked in the microwave. I’m going to applaud you for making excellent nutritional decisions!
And I will still be nuking my coffee for 30 seconds when it gets cold because I’m busy spending hours researching nerdy topics like this one for your reading pleasure...
Recommended Additional Reading:
Phenolic compound contents in edible parts of broccoli inflorescences after domestic cooking: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.1585/abstract
Nutritional effects of microwave cooking: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00346659510088654
Retention of nutrients in microwave-cooked foods: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2775405
EFFECT OF COOKING ON ANTIOXIDANT CAPACITY AND PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS CONTENT OF SEVEN VEGETABLES: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-4514.2009.00316.x/abstract
BPA leaches from ‘safe’ products: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/34532034.html