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Wave Off The Microwave?

The invention of the microwave in 1945 might have made Betty Crocker roll in her grave. But since then, over 97% of households, including mine, in the US have a microwave. They are fast, convenient, easy to use, perfect when you’re on-the-go or just-got-back-from-the-bar. But these focused beams of microwave emissions – are they safe, can they cause cancer, and will they cook my burrito cook evenly? Let’s find out…

Beep, Beep, Beep..DING! 

Q: How does a microwave heat food?

A: They emit waves of energy, micro-waves (electromagnetic radiation – EMR), that cause water molecules in the food to vibrate, this vibration releases heat energy, which then cooks the food. The water content of food is really critical, microwaves excite liquids more strongly, so liquid foods (e.g. fruit pie), will cook faster and more evenly than meat. 

Q: Can Microwaves Cause Cancer?

A: Yes, but, let me be clear. The microwave, the EMR can damage living cells and tissue. But your Microwave, the unit, cannot.  The reason is because the microwave oven is surrounded by strong metal boxes that do not allow the waves to escape. You’ll notice two features, the grid stuck to the back of the glass door – the holes are so small, they don’t let microwaves out, and an automatic turn-off switch that stops the magnetron, that produces the microwaves, when you open the door. 

Q. Don’t Cell Phones use microwaves?

A: Yes, but the waves carry a LOT less energy. Even if you put your cellphone directly on top of your frozen dinner, it wouldn’t release enough power to generate the heat require to heat for cooking, no matter how long you left it there. 

Q: Does it destroy the nutrients in foods?

A: No, actually most studies show that microwaving preserves more nutrients than traditional cooking methods. All heating methods will reduce nutrients, the key factors are – how long, how high, how much liquid is used in the cooking method. Microwaving is quick, the temp is generally low, and it requires little to no liquid. 

Q: How do I cook food properly in a microwave?

A: If the food has a lot of liquid, such as pies, soups, foods with sauces, or is not very thick, it will cook pretty evenly in a short time. But if it’s thick (e.g. burrito), then you want to increase the surface area, so cutting them into pieces, allows for it to heat quicker in a shorter amount of time.  Remember, the faster it cooks, the better, so leverage the way a microwave works. 

Q: What are key things to think about when microwaving?

Avoid Plastic Containers – many plastic containers have hormone disrupting chemicals like BPA or phthalates, they can seep into the food when heated. This goes for all cooking methods, do not use plastic!

Steaming Is Best – use a little bit of water, a steaming tray, and cover this will not only shorten the cooking time but help to preserve the moisture in foods.  Microwaving will dry out foods. 

Don’t Use For Old Food – we’ve all had the slice of pizza that has been left “questionably long” in the fridge, microwaves may not be as effective in killing bacteria and pathogens, because the heat tends to be lower.  So not that you SHOULD eat that slice, but if you do, throw it in the oven!