Posted by: Chris Maloney | November 26, 2013

What Does Nuking Your Food Do? Microwaves and Cancer.

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When any one of us says to another: “I need to go nuke my food,” are we really doing bad things to ourselves? Are microwaves terrible things or simply another heating device?

Let’s start with the most gruesome science.  What does microwaving do to you?  We don’t have human studies because microwaving people isn’t allowed.  But we do know what happens to mice exposed to two hours of microwaves over thirty days.  I assume they didn’t get these microwaves all at once, but even so blood levels changed and inflammation rose. (study here) When you continue the irradiation for the entire life of the rat, you see increases in the immune system and eventually increased deaths in the rats.  The article on that study makes a lot of connections to all of us being inundated with various forms of irradiation. (article here).

But does cooking with microwave ovens hurt the food and us?  Analyses from the ’80s found no real differences. (study here , here, and 2012 here) Taste was similar in different meats, although the edges of meat are nicer in a conventional oven (crunchier- study here).  Fatty acid concentrations in fish change depending on the species of fish, but microwaving did not consistently do worse than other cooking methods. (study here) Wild European plants actually increased their antioxidant levels after microwaving, which was superior to boiling. (study here) A number of common vegetables fared better being microwaved or baked rather than fried or boiled.  (study here)  Compared to grilling, microwaving chunks of beef before putting them on the grill reduced the amounts of carcinogenic compounds (study here).

The reality is that microwaving isn’t that great for food until you start comparing it to grilling, frying, deep fat frying, and boiling.  In all those circumstances, microwaving is a superior cooking method for retaining nutrients.  Compared to baking and steaming, not so much.

But the real take home is that you can probably safely heat your water for tea in a microwave (as safely as taking your hot water out of an aluminum heating station).  Anyone who knows differently needs to do some human or mouse trials showing just how bad microwaving is for you, because what I found was that it was comparable and sometimes superior.


Responses

  1. What you write about the dangers of microwave foods is nonsense.I am a microwave scientist with over 50 years of experience in research and development of many microwavable food products, industrial microwave heating processes, medical devices, and much more. I am also highly respected author of numerous scientific articles related to microwave heating in peer-reviewed journals, and have taught courses on microwave science and technology all over the world for over 40 years. There are no physiological dangers from eating food that’s been heated or cooked in the microwave oven. This is been shown over and over again by researchers in numerous universities and their papers in highly respected peer-reviewed scientific publications.

    Some of the other things you point to or also nonsense, such as the Russians banning microwave ovens in 1976: this never happened, my colleagues in the microwave community did an in-depth study of this with their Russian and Eastern European counterparts and found that this is unfounded and untrue. Studies you suggest from Switzerland and other places are also without foundation in the scientific community and have been challenged and overturned in every single case.

  2. Dear Robert Schiffmann,

    I question whether you read what I wrote or are simply reacting to other people. I reported initially on studies of rats exposed directly to microwave radiation for hours at a time. Both are studies that are on Pub Med in the peer-reviewed literature. I then followed up by reporting on a number of studies that show microwave radiation is a far safer and possibly more nutritionally conservative method of cooking than many others. I ended my blog entry by noting that I feel much better about microwaving than I did when I began researching. Since you are the expert and you’ve taken the time to vent, could you take a moment and describe why you think it is that “nuking” became the common vernacular for applying microwaves to food? Was this just a terrible marketing ploy gone wrong, or really good negative branding by the conventional oven industry?

    The links I provided are simply that, links that pertain to the same subject and do not constitute an endorsement of their veracity. I am fascinated about the 1976 “banning” and how that particular story got legs. Have you written on that or is there a book or article you can point me to for more information?

    Cordially,

    Christopher Maloney, N.D.


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