Is Microwaving Food Bad for Your Health?

Is microwaving food healthy?” “Why do some 8fit recipes utilize the microwave?” “If I only have a microwave in my dorm room or office, can I still make nutritious meals?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one asking these microwave-related questions. Lucky for you, our team of 8fit nutritionists put their brains together to answer these common queries and debunk any microwave myths.

Is microwaving food bad or safe?

First, let’s define microwaving. Microwaving involves cooking food at a very high temperature for a short amount of time using radiofrequency (RF) radiation. RF radiation is a non-ionizing form of radiation at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Simply put, this means that it produces only enough energy to move molecules around, but not enough to change them.

When you pop food into the microwave and press “start,” it causes the water molecules in the food to vibrate, which in turn produces heat. According to the American Cancer Society, microwaves don’t use x-rays or gamma rays, so won’t make your food radioactive, and won’t change the chemical or molecular structure of the food. Cancer Research UK also agrees that it’s safe to use microwaves, as long as you follow the instructions for proper use.

Any type of cooking (boiling, frying, roasting, etc.) changes the nutrient composition of food. Think back to a time when you cooked a vegetable like broccoli. You may have noticed that the water turned green. The water-soluble vitamins leach into the water during the cooking process. This is why we often recommend steaming as one of the best options for cooking vegetables as there is minimal loss of nutrients.

microwave broccoli

What is radiation?

Radiation is all around us. There are natural forms including the sun, outer space and soil. Manmade forms include your phone and computer, radio and television signals, heaters, security scanners, and microwaves. Radiation exposure over time may cause cancer and other health problems, but the risk of getting cancer from exposure to small amounts of radiation (like from the microwave) is low.

Heating food in the microwave: Side effects

If you’re wondering if preparing vegetables in a microwave is unhealthy, we can reassure you that microwaving food doesn’t negatively impact nutrient compounds, including vitamins. Some nutrients break down when they’re exposed to heat (vitamin C is probably the best example), but because microwave cooking times are shorter, heating food with a microwave does a better job of preserving vitamin C and other such nutrients.

Benefits of microwave cooking

Microwave cooking vegetables has actually been shown to produce some of the lowest antioxidant losses when compared to pressure-cooking, boiling or frying. Microwaving your food is also proven to be one of the best cooking methods to retain nutrients. It preserves more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method.

Pro tip
Baking and microwave cooking may be your best option for cooking fish or meat, since it doesn’t require added cooking oils.

Microwave dangers

When it comes to using a microwave in the healthiest way possible, there are a number of dangers to watch out for. Before we dive in, no, microwaves don’t cause cancer but the packaging on microwave meals might. Here’s what our nutritionists uncovered:

  • Avoid heating baby food in the microwave. It’s not safe to heat breast milk or baby formula in the microwave because microwaves often heat unevenly, so the contents may be hot even if the bottle feels cool.
  • Defrost only on the defrost setting. When defrosting your food, make sure to set your microwave to “defrost” or “50% power” in order to make sure your food is safe. If it heats too quickly, the outer edges may become cooked, while the inside remains frozen.
  • Read labels on microwave meals. Many microwavable foods (think TV dinners) contain large amounts of sodium and preservatives. The packaging that many of them are sold in contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Especially when heated in the microwave, the high temperatures cause these chemicals to be absorbed into your food. One of the most dangerous chemicals found in packaging is BPA, which disrupts your hormones and leads to disease including infertility, mental disorders, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
  • Say “no” to plastic wrap. Pre-packaged foods aren’t the only dangerous ones. If you wrap your food in plastic wrap or plastic containers, the chemicals from the plastic can leak into the food. When you are using the microwave, switch to safer alternatives such as glass or porcelain.

Microwave meals from the 8fit app

The 8fit app has a number of microwave meals that you can cook at home. If you don’t have the app yet, sign up here, download it and peruse the 8fit recipe book. Type these recipe titles in for a quick meal when you don’t have — or don’t want to use – the oven or stovetop.

Breakfast: Banana & cinnamon pudding recipe

8fitters love this easy breakfast recipe from Coach Alba. Simply mix eggs, banana, peanut butter, oats, water and cinnamon in a bowl and cook for 1 minute, 30 seconds. Stir, then put it back in the microwave for another 1 minute, 30 seconds. How’s that for a quick, simple breakfast?!

coach-albas-porridge-microwave-eggs

Lunch:  Microwave potato with vegetables & salmon

This recipe is full of all the good stuff — healthy fats, protein, carbs from vegetables.  After you cook the veggies in the microwave, all you need to do is toss them with smoked salmon, olive oil and spices before chowing down.

microwave_potato_with_vegetables_and_salmon_recipe

Dinner: Tuna, artichoke & basil stuffed potatoes

Make microwave potatoes look fancy with this dinner recipe. While the potatoes cook in the microwave, you can work on your filling of tuna, yogurt, basil, drained artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice off the top, scoop out some of the potato flesh, add it to your tuna mixture, then stuff it all back in.

tuna_artichoke_and_basil_stuffed_potatoes

Anytime meal: Microwave sweet potato with Greek yogurt

Sweet potato and Greek yogurt might sound like an odd combo, but we promise you’ll like it. As the sweet potato cooks in the microwave, mix crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper into Greek yogurt. Let the potato cool, then serve everything together with salad greens.

microwave_sweet_potato_with_greek_yogurt

The real deal about microwave cooking

In general, always aim to have variety in your diet by including some raw fruits and vegetables. When you do use the microwave in your home, dorm room or office, aim for glass or porcelain containers and follow the microwave instructions. Focus on heating simple, quick meals instead of packaged and processed ones.