Mention the word “microwave” to some people, and you’ll soon discover they’re adamant that the cooking method wreaks havoc on human health, destroys food nutrients, and is the lazy way out of preparing meals. Then again, other people swear by the microwave, saying just the opposite is true and their use may even play a role in saving the environment and reducing energy bills.
What should you believe, then? Here are more details about the pros and cons of microwaving.
The issue of nutrient loss in foods
It’s not uncommon to hear that the microwaving process seems to severely alter the natural state of foods. In turn, what you ingest isn’t nearly as healthy as it could be; that fresh bunch of chopped carrots is brimming with good-for-you nutrients when eaten raw or simmered on a stove top, but microwave them and some experts say it’s goodbye to vitamins and nutrients.
A prominent publication in a scientific journal called Food Chemistry reinforces this, noting that microwaving does indeed have an impact on vitamin content when compared to eating certain foods in their raw state. However the article points out that technically, any kind of heating or cooking diminishes vitamin content.
So, can microwave ovens really be destroying your food in the way some people claim? According to a different study published in the Journal of Food Quality, just the opposite is true. Researchers showed that microwaving foods actually preserves vitamin content more so than conventionally cooking foods, due to the fact that the ingredients are cooked completely, but for a shorter amount of time.
Microwaves and the human health debate
Many people automatically link microwave use to causing cancer and other serious health problems. However, Caroline Kaufman (a registered dietician nutritionist who works in Los Angeles) suggests that rather than causing disruptions to health, microwaving meals may actually help prevent such disruptions.
“Microwaving meat before pan-frying or grilling can substantially reduce the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals […] which cause cancer in animals, and may be linked to colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer in humans,” she explains.
Still, several people are reluctant to microwave foods based on findings (past and present) in which the process has been linked to causing health issues. There are anecdotes about babies become ill because of parents who heated baby food and formula in microwaves, and instances in which patients needing a blood transfusion actually died after the blood they received was microwaved by hospital staff. In the latter instance, it was argued that the blood caused by microwaving compromised the system by altering the body’s physiology.
Microwave to help save the planet and reduce your energy bills?
There’s also the question of whether or not microwaving is harmful to the environment.. After all, if it possibly plays a role in altering vitamins in many of the foods you eat, it would stand to reason that it has impacts other areas as well. However, experts suggest that the impact is not negative.
Indeed, when it comes to energy use, there’s lot of evidence in favor of microwave use. It’s estimated that conventional cooking methods (e.g. stove and oven) are energy zappers, taking a great deal of time to cook food. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 60% of conventional ovens are powered by electricity, not gas, and that they are energy efficient when compared to standard microwaves. For example, a conventional oven works at a high wattage—about 3,000—while a microwave operates in the range of about 600 to 1,650.
So efficient are microwaves that a University of Bristol study determined that cooking chicken in a convection microwave led to a 30% saving over cooking it in a conventional electric oven. Another study found that cooking one portion of potatoes in a microwave used 9.5 times less energy than when cooked in an oven.
It’s also suggested that microwaving can reduce indoor air pollution and cut energy bills since they generate significantly less heat throughout the house than ovens. In all of these instances, they’re said to be a greener choice.
However, there’s a counterargument that many of the packaging used specifically for microwave-ready meals may not be environmentally friendly and that the waste from the thin, plastic coverings that are removed before heating are unnecessarily generating excess garbage.
Weigh all aspects and cook accordingly
Every person is different when it comes to thoughts about microwaves. Perhaps you enjoy their convenience, or maybe you avoid them because you don’t care for the taste and texture of food that comes out of them.
As with many contentious issues, it’s good to be aware of the pros and cons of various life choices and to make decisions based on what best fits your thoughts and personal needs.