Microwave Cooking: Safe or Unsafe

I have been on an intellectual teeter-totter preparing for this blog on microwaving foods. I am really quite surprised which end of the board I am left on. I have consistently vacillated on my comfortableness regarding using a microwave for years. For instance, for many months I will use it unabashedly, (although I do usually stand a couple of feet away during use); then I will go through a leery-of-it-again phase, at which time I dig my teapot back out to heat water for my tea, and use a saucepan and toaster oven again to heat my leftovers. I do this for a while, then I get lazy, careless, expedient, or smart, however you want to look at it; and I start using my microwave again, warily at first, then full throttle. Until my microwave pendulum swings again.

So, I decided to make up my mind about it this time, research it, and be scientific about it. Well, I came to find out that there is not a lot of research to be found, especially recent research, even though I have access to the latest peer reviewed journals. I had really thought this would be a slam-dunk, and was very disappointed to find out that is was not.

However, I will share on what little I could find. There was one study done in Spain over ten years ago with broccoli, which showed that steaming did not destroy any of the nutrients, but all of the antioxidants in the microwaved broccoli were destroyed (1). However, I read criticism that the microwaved broccoli had too much water added to it during cooking. Then another article in Natural Life (2005) reported on several studies. One done in the early 1990’s at Stanford University showed that breast milk heated on low in the microwave adversely affected the nutrients; one of them was lysozyme, which is important for combating bacterial infections. IN 1989 Lancet medical journal included a study, which maintained that microwaving baby formula converts the molecular structure to substances that are synthetic and harmful to the kidneys and the nervous system. Another study was done in 1989 by Dr. Dans Ulrich Hertel. He used the blood samples of 8 human volunteers taken before and after eating microwaved food. He claims that it showed a decrease in hemoglobin, white blood cells, and HDL, the good cholesterol (2). Some have suggested this study could be criticized for having such a small number of people tested.

In addition, the anonymous author of Natural Life May/June 2005 issue claims that microwaved broccoli loses 74-97% of the 3 major antioxidants while steamed broccoli loses only 8-11%. This author also states that the Soviets banned microwave ovens in 1976 (but they have since overturned the ban) due to 60-90% of vitamin and mineral content loss in foods. In addition the Russians discovered chemical alterations in microwaved food caused it to be carcinogenic and caused a reduction in immune function.

Then I went to big names in the health field for kind of an informal poll. Basically, I googled their name and “microwave” and looked at what came up. To use or not to use, here are my results in no particular order:

Terry Wahl’s, MD—No. Plus food tastes worse.

Mehmet Oz, MD—OK, but stand several feet away and use only glass and ceramic dishes.

Julian Whitaker, MD—OK, but advocates steaming vegetables for maximum nutrients, and must use proper container.

Andrew Weil, MD—OK, but he only does for defrosting and reheating leftovers. States that microwaving bacon lowers the carcinogenic nitrosamines, which is good. Also states that he does not “cook vegetables or anything else in the microwave” (so I guess just reheats?).

Chris Kresser, LAc—OK, but does not use himself out of preference.

Joseph Mercola, MD—No. No. No.

Mark Sisson—OK, but use common sense.

William Davis, MD—OK, apparently, because he has microwave recipes.

Steven Masley, MD—OK, apparently, because he also has microwave recipes.

Barry Sears, MD—OK, has lots of microwave recipes.

This is certainly not a huge list, just a smattering of people that first popped in my mind. And there were a number of others that I didn’t add because I could not determine their opinion on the subject. Not that any of them are experts on the subject, it is just interesting that 80% of them think using microwaves are an okay thing.

I find it super odd that there has not been more recent research on this subject. I would like someone to volunteer to do a study. I will even let you publish it on my blog. I am suggesting something like obtaining 300 new mice, feeding 100 only microwaved food, feeding 100 only steamed food, and feeding the last 100 raw food. And see what happens.

Until that takes place, we will have to kind of wander in the dark hoping that we are making the right choices.

I will try to sum this topic up, which might be difficult, being the microwave schizo that I am. Just before starting my research a few days ago I was like 80/20 against microwaves, but a couple of weeks before had only been 60/40. Just as the totter was climbing up and up, it peaked after a couple of hours of research and started its fall. Then began an ascent on the opposite side. So, now I am probably a 30/70, 30 indicating my continued wariness of the microwave, to where I would not use it for breast milk, baby formula, or cooking, but will use it for barely heating leftovers. I will also never use plastic containers to cook in, nor will I stand too close when it is on. And I will never use a microwave to heat blood that I am going to transfuse like the nurse in Oklahoma did which killed a patient, but that story would make this article too much longer.

I hate to end on that note, but I am teetered out.

 

  1. Anonymous. I’d appreciate having your view on microwave cooking. I am confused …Natural Life; May/Jun 2005; ProQuest Family Health pg. 6.
  1. Randerson, James. New Scientist 180.2418(Oct 25-Oct 31, 2003): 14.

 

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2 Responses to Microwave Cooking: Safe or Unsafe

  1. Janet says:

    Sally Fallon says, no, no, no! Most health conscious people say no. I got rid of mine years ago and I just learned to cook without it. Our food is mostly GMO already; the last thing you want to do is zap the remaining nutrients out of it by microwaving.

    • Vanessa says:

      Thanks for you comment Janet. Should I know who Sally Fallon is? I cannot say I remember hearing of her. I know a lot of, as you say, “health conscious people say no” to microwave use, but that was the very basis of that blog. Are there evidenced-based reasons not to use remains to be my question.

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