You might want to think twice before going to heat up that plastic covered stew from last night.
Along with a fridge, stove and TV, I am pretty willing to bet you have a microwave in your home. That is a pretty safe bet as 95% of Americans own a microwave oven.
An Accidental Invention
Many things around us today have come about as a pure fluke such as post it notes, the Slinky, and Kim Kardashian’s career.
The Microwave falls under this category as well.
Percy L. Spencer was an electronics genius who served during World War II. On a tour, one of his laboratories he stopped for a moment in front of a magnetron, not the villain from Transformers but a large tube that drives radars. The tube’s ability to heat was noticed from a melting chocolate bar that was in his pocket.
To see if it was genuine heat, Spencer tested a bag of popcorn kernels that ended up popping all over over the room.
Seeing an Opportunity
This phenomenon might have just been regarded as an amusing experiment to Percy, similar to people dropping Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke; however he had over 150 patents to his name and saw a possibility.
The first microwave oven stood five foot six inches tall and weight 750 pounds.
The microwave found a place early on in restaurants, rail cars and ocean liners as a means to cook large quantities of food.
It would take decades though before the microwave oven was developed as beneficial and affordable for the average family.
Cooking With a Radar Box
Make no mistake, a radar box is exactly what a microwave oven is. A microwave cooks food with oscillating electromagnetic energy that are very similar to radio waves but move back and forth at a much greater speed.
Where a normal oven’s heat slowly penetrates through food, microwave oven heat immediately reaches molecules around an inch below the surface of the food.
Microwaves produce non-ionizing radiation and there are studies that show that this can affect changes in your blood and heart rate along with microwaved food causing certain type of intestinal and stomach cancers
What specific things can be compromised by using a microwave?
Microwave ovens have to go through much more extensive testing and safety procedures these days so manufacturers will say the health risks are greatly reduced. Convenience is paramount and people will understandably try to save time when possible, but here are 5 things you are better off never putting in a microwave oven.
1. Breast Milk
A key benefit of providing a newborn breast milk is being able to introduce the baby to powerful bacteria-fighting agents that are contained within the milk.
The Journal of Pediatrics ran tests on 22 samples of frozen breast milk heated in a microwave on either low or high heat and found that breast milk heated on high heat showed greater E-coli growth. This was 18 times higher than the milk heated without a microwave.
The samples microwaved at lower temperatures dramatically decreased isozyme activity as well as promoted the growth of harmful bacteria for babies
Broccoli is no stranger to the microwave as it is one of the most common quick heated vegetables around.
Any form of cooking is going to destroy some nutrients in food. Steaming is the most gentle and still causes a loss of around 11% of the antioxidant content of broccoli.
Cooking broccoli in a microwave with a bit of water lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants.
3. Frozen Fruit
This has always been a big time saver. Buying frozen foods is actually not a bad idea as the flash freezing process can help preserve the nutrients of the fruit. Fruit immediately starts losing nutrients the moment it is picked. This is why frozen fruit or veg from the other side of the country can have a higher nutrient profile than local organic produce that might have spent more than a week in storage, transit and then on shelves.
Russian studies in the late 70’s revealed that defrosting frozen fruit in a microwave ended up converting beneficial glucoside and galactaside into carcinogenic substances.
The Russians also continued studies into the early 90s that showed immunological effects of microwaves.
Frozen fruit is best thawed in a fridge or simply on a counter top at room temperature.
4. Defrosted Meat
Some microwaves rotate and some do not, which can lead to uneven distributions of cooking and thawing.
Frozen meat is a tough thing to have to defrost in a microwave, as it can take so long that it becomes very easy to start cooking it. Edges of meats can start to cook and turn brown while the inside remains frozen.
When that meat gets to the 40-140 degrees fahrenheit level bacteria begins to grow and multiply. If the meat is not immediately cooked you are looking at a pretty contaminated piece of meat.
Japanese researches found that meats cooked longer than 6 minutes in a microwave also lost half of its vitamin B-12 content.
The best thawing tips are to let it defrost in a fridge overnight or thaw under cold, running water.
5. Dishes Covered in Plastic Wrap or in Plastic Containers
There are a lot of takeaways from this, but a very key one is to not microwave anything with any form of plastic around it. When you heat foods covered in plastic you can create carcinogens.
Heating these plastic wraps or containers can release harmful toxic chemicals directly into your foods. Some of the chemicals that can be derived from plastics are:
- polyethylene terpthalate (PET)
Related to the breast milk issue above, it seems smart to not heat up any form of plastic baby bottle in a microwave.
Wrapping It All Up
Big changes in safety and design have definitely taken place in the manufacturing of microwave ovens. The companies that sell these products will be quick to point out the safety measures that were taken in their product’s creation.
Of course these companies will say that though, they really do not have a choice when sales and revenue are the bottom line.
The point is to try and prepare foods as traditionally as possible and eliminate or at least drastically reduce the use of microwave cooking.
Our time saving measures can actually end up causing us more problems in the long run.
Featured photo credit: Ethan via flic.kr