I want to be healthy, but I have heard that I must first make over my kitchen. Should I begin by removing my microwave? I’ve heard that a microwave not only destroys nutrients, but the x-rays may cause cancer. Should I keep my microwave? — Sharlene M., Email
I’ve heard people say the microwave causes cancer or that it creates free radicals and may possibly leave dangerous compounds in foods. None of this is true. The microwave is one of the safest and most practical cooking tools in the kitchen. Unfortunately, because of many radical groups, Internet sites and lack of knowledge, the microwave has gotten a bad rap.
The biggest concern I have with microwaves is the mess left when I cook tight-skinned or shell foods and the water inside expands and bursts through. Or when I microwave a bag of popcorn and get burned when I open it. The microwave was launched because of World War II technology. In short, a scientist at Raytheon, a defense-technology company in the United Kingdom, was working on a radar vacuum called a magnetron in about 1946. He discovered that microwaves produced by the magnetron had melted the chocolate bar in his pocket. Over the next 20 to 25 years, this technology was advanced and, by the late 1970s, microwave ovens were in wide use.
Modern-day microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate and produce heat. This heat causes the outsides to cook first, followed by the interiors. I know it’s more common for people to say microwaves cook the inside first, but it’s the opposite. The reason most people think the inside cooks first is because the interiors of foods can get much hotter than the outside layers if there’s a lot of water in the middle.
I do agree with those who believe that, when you microwave a food, you destroy nutrients. The fact is this: All cooking destroys some nutrients. What you may find inviting however, is that, when you microwave, you literally end up with more nutrients than with other methods. One of the reasons most people think the microwave destroys nutrients is because of a study in Spain in 2003. This study concluded that broccoli lost a lot of nutrients when microwaved. What the study didn’t voice loudly enough was that researchers used five ounces of water to cook five ounces of broccoli. That’s more like boiling, which does deplete nutrients. When you microwave veggies, use only two or three tablespoons of water.
Lastly, there is no truth to the accusation that microwaving is “nuking” food. The term “nuke” is more of a joke. Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation, like light and electricity. There are absolutely no X-rays in a microwave oven.