Most people don’t think twice about heating up leftovers, defrosting meat, or popping popcorn in the microwave. But what’s really happening to food when we microwave it?
While microwaves may be a convenient appliance found in nearly every modern household, research suggests that they present dangers that may be harmful to health.
How Does a Microwave Work?
Microwave ovens, originally sold as “Radaranges,” are kitchen appliances used to cook or reheat food by emitting microwaves, a form of electromagnetic radiation. This form of radiation is on the low end of the energy spectrum (second to radio waves). Microwave technology causes electromagnetic waves to pass through food, exciting the molecules and causing them to move and heat up as they respond to the microwave radiation.
As water molecules are excited, they are torn apart and vigorously deformed. This makes microwave cooking very different than other methods of cooking, such as oven-baking where heat is transferred from the outside environment inward.
Microwaves and Your Health
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 90 percent of American households own a microwave. Cooking with a microwave is as common as using a sink to wash dishes. But as microwave technology has evolved over the years, research on possible health impacts has been controversial and widely debated. Russia even banned the use of microwaves in the mid 1970s.¹
Studies have found that microwaved meats cause the formation of d-Nitrosodienthanolamines, a well-known carcinogen. Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer in living tissues. Microwaves also turn alkaloids from microwaved vegetables into potentially dangerous carcinogenic matter.²
Another area of concern involves the EMF (electro and magnetic field) radiation emitted by microwaves. A growing body of research indicates that EMF radiation may cause significant harm to the human body and DNA. Microwaves emit a large amount of EMF radiation. Christian Thomas, researcher and founder of EMF Academy, makes an important note about EMF exposure in regards to microwaves:
“Understand that whenever you use your microwave oven, you are exposing not only your food, but yourself to an enormous amount of EMF radiation. Depending on your proximity to the device, the radiation levels can be thousands of times more powerful than your cell phone or tablet.”³
To learn more about EMF radiation and potential health impacts, read our article here.
Research also shows that microwave use significantly reduces the nutritional value of food. One study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that microwaved broccoli lost up to 97 percent of antioxidants. Steamed broccoli, on the other hand, lost only 11 percent.⁴
Another study found that microwaving garlic for just one minute depleted allinase, garlic’s primary cancer-fighting ingredient.⁵ Studies have also shown microwaves reduce the amount of vitamin C in asparagus and deactivate vitamin B12 in milk.⁶
Although microwaves are a convenient option readily available in most homes, offices, dorms, and even hotel rooms throughout the modern world, they are, as research indicates, a less than ideal choice when it comes to human health and nutrient preservation.
We encourage you to think outside the (microwave) box when it comes to how you heat your food! Healthy alternatives include:
- The stove: Anything you reheat in a microwave can be reheated on the stove. Simply add a splash of water to the pan with the food, cover with a lid, and set on the stove for a few minutes to warm through. Hot soups, stews, and beverages are easily kept warm for long periods of time in a thermos or insulated mug.
- Toaster ovens: Heat your food using convection heat with a toaster oven (without having to fire up your regular oven!). Toaster ovens also have the ability to cook, brown, broil, and toast food as well, making them a more multi-purpose appliance that can easily adapt to various culinary uses.
- Air fryers: Though air fryers take longer to cook food than a microwave, they offer a unique method of cooking that results in a crispy and flavorful end product. Microwaves, while faster, result in lackluster flavor, texture, and loss of nutrients.
- Slow cookers: Slow cookers (or Crockpots) are a great appliance to reach for when you want to keep food warm for longer periods of time. They can hold food on the “warm” setting for hours, making them great for entertaining or days when your oven is at capacity with other dishes.
Life without a microwave really is possible. We encourage you to try out alternative heating methods and develop new habits that support your family’s health!