We have always found ways to make everyday tasks easier. One such activity, without which we can’t sustain daily life, is cooking. And for the longest time now, microwaves have been the dominant machine when it comes to quick and easy cooking. Some of us use it for our morning coffee, a few for making crisp vegetables and others to bring up some much-needed popcorn before a night flick.
This gives rise to a very alarming scenario as recent research shows that these machines aren’t as universally safe as they are made out to be. A quick run up about the topic on Google or any of the other search engines we’ve got around these days brings up concerns such as radiation leakage, destruction of nutrition in food and heat and plastic interaction (since plastic melts at higher temperatures).
Before we move on, let’s brush up our knowledge of how the machine works.
What goes on inside a microwave?
Microwaves technology consists of an electron tube called magnetron. This tube produces electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength a little shorter (“micro”) than that of a normal radio wave. This tube emits waves that cause water molecules in food to vibrate, which then goes on to produce the heat that cooks food. Needless to say, this is the very reason why foods with high water content cook at a rapid pace inside a microwave. Furthermore, so many of us make the mistake of thinking that food in a microwave cooks from the inside out. Truth be told, microwaves don’t enter food well enough, causing dense or thick food such as meat to have cold spots. The solution for the same is to allow the food to rest so that it can cook throughout.
An in-depth analysis of microwaves gives us the following:
- Microwaves are used primarily for TV broadcasting, radar for air and sea navigational aids, and telecommunications including mobile phones.
- They are also used in industry for processing materials, in medicine for diathermy treatment and in kitchens for cooking food.
- In a unique aspect, microwaves undergo the processes of reflection, transmission, and penetration of the objects that they come in contact with
So is microwaving really a debacle from a nutritional standpoint?
To those who are highly concerned with nutrition (which most people should be), microwaving is a close contender with steaming when it comes to healthy cooking. Vegetables can be cooked very quickly with little to no water, a striking similarity with steaming.
The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry illustrates that greens such as Brussels sprouts retain their cancer-fighting phytochemicals and color best when microwaved. And there are many more studies such as the one above that back up the scientific benefit of cooking through a microwave. However, if there is one study that dethrones microwaving as the healthiest method of cooking, it is one that was done by Spanish researchers in 2003. It was found that broccoli kept in a bowl with water and cooked for a long time destroyed most of its flavonoids. While that is true, the research is a little out of place as keeping the vegetable in a bowl of water makes it akin to boiling. The latter method of cooking has shown to result in the nutrient loss as it is.
The definitive way to get the best out of your vegetables is to wash, pat dry and then go on to keep them in a microwave safe bowl. What this does is mimic the process of steaming, resulting in a bunch of crisp and yum veggies.
All that being said, the concern about the microwave scenario is more on the food than the machine itself. Processed microwavable food is usually subject to much chemical introduction. Benzene, toluene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), xylene, and dioxins (known carcinogens), are some of the chemicals that are present in packaged microwaved food. And while heating this food for consumption, there is a vast possibility that the above-mentioned chemicals will penetrate the food. Moreover, processed food that is stored for long period themselves has a host of chemicals to improve their capacity of preservation leading to a greater danger in consumption of such food.
As if that wasn’t enough, one of the greatest dangers omnipresent in food storage these days is BPA contamination. The consequences of BPA exposure are numerous. Some of them being abnormal hormone activity, infertility, low libido, cardiac disease, mental disorders, allergies, high blood pressure, and weight gain. One thing becomes obvious, though, we are getting more out of the food than we’re asking for and that isn’t even on a positive note.
The issue of food safety can never ever be overemphasized. Being the very root of everything we do on daily basis, it is necessary that we take an intricate look into the matter. In an oven, the composition of the food, that being density, water content among other things are the variables that manipulate the rate of heating. As has been mentioned before, evenly cooked food means that there are far fewer possibilities of germ exposure that is the result of undercooked food. The nutritive value of food cooked in a microwave oven and a conventional oven are the same, the only difference being that microwaves penetrate deeper into food making them cook faster and an efficient machine at that.
The greatest myth surrounding microwaved food is that they become radioactive. Truth be told, microwaves are very similar to light in the way that they function. When you turn it off, the energy ceases to exist altogether.
Microwave safety and thermal safety: You need to know about them
The design of a microwave usually ensures that there is little to no leakage of microwaves that are the result of usage. Also, leakage through the glass door is taken care of by design that accrues to international standards. So microwave usage is mostly safe, right? Yes and no. If the right kind of measures isn’t in place, the above-mentioned form of usage can be counterproductive. Dirty, damaged and/or modified oven can be a beacon of microwave leakage. Therefore, it is imperative that good condition is something that is maintained on a regular basis by users.
Checking that the door closes properly, evaluating the form of the safety interlock among other things can be a sure shot way to ensuring safe usage of these machines. Moreover, avoiding usage completely in case of damage can go a long way in assisting the idea of a safe, risk-free environment. Always make sure that the microwave oven is fixed by a qualified engineer. Any mishandling of parts can go on to counteract the steps we take for our safety.
Coming to the body harm that can be caused by microwaves, there are quite a few issues we need to be looking after. Exposed tissues tend to absorb microwave damage leading to increased heat in them. The eyes and testicles are especially sensitive to such conditions. However, the kind of exposure we’re talking about here is long term and an unlikely circumstance for most of us.
Another important aspect considering exposure is thermal safety. Improper handling of apparatus that has been put into microwaves, can result in severe burns and tissue damage. Moreover, contact with the internal environment of the oven post usage can bring out the aforementioned consequences as well. Most of us do know that metal interaction inside an oven can lead to dire results threatening not only the functioning of the microwave but the safety of those around the object as well. This is because an explosion may lead microwaves to go up in flames if not handled properly. Always remember that it is always safe not to cook foods such as eggs or chestnuts in a microwave, as the composition of the latter may cause the food to implode. Last but not least, superheating water in an oven has caused countless cases of burn injury. So it is imperative that people be extremely careful when dealing with the same.
There are a plethora of issues that accrue to microwave exposure. Among these, it is believed that they can influence heart rate. Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University, as a result of his continual research, found that the 2.4Ghz radiation of a microwave can have drastic influences on the body. While most of these accrue to international safety standards, the rapid nature of influence that microwaves cause is the real cause of concern. Erratic heartbeat and variability are the common most problem surrounding the issue. If chest pain is something that goes on a regular basis, it is time you ditch the microwaved food. That said, however, research such as this is subject to much variability. Further research and understanding are needed to back the legitimacy of the same.
Some similar study results have been put down below:
- Cereals and milk were found to be carcinogenic as a result of cooking in a microwave.
- Intricate research in a Swiss laboratory found that microwaving food caused an increase in cholesterol content. Moreover, among red blood and white blood cell reduction, an increase in radiolytic compounds was also noticed.
- Also, the most striking one is perhaps the fact that food that microwaved food was found to have lost up to 97% potent antioxidants.
- Microwaving meat for sanitary ingestion also had a negative by-product. That is an increase in the common and well-known carcinogen, d-Nitrosodienthanolamines.
- Russian and Japanese studies have shown how food can lose nearly 60% to 90% of its food value when cooked or heated in a microwave oven. Significant portions of Vitamins B, C, E, and essential minerals have been found to be lost.
Can plastic leak into your food?
Microwaving with anything that has not been specially made for the machine, is playing with fire. So unless you’re a hell bent risk taker, it’s better to play on the safer side and stick only to microwave safe material. Paper towels without dye, non-decorative glass that is thick, parchment and wax paper are all safe for usage in the machine.
The greatest concern: Do microwaves emit radiation?
We live in a technologically advanced and digitized society, a boon for making our lives easier, a bane for the harmful radiations they bring into our lives. Everything from the cell phone in your pocket, to the laptop you take from home to work, is a beacon of radiation. Coming to the topic we are most concerned with right now, that being microwaves, strict limits have already been established about the radiation they emit by the Food and Drug Administration. Having said that, the radiation emitted by these objects is far below the limit that can disturb human physiology.
The super cautious lot of us can just step away from a microwave to the level of normal exposure drops dramatically the further away we are. Moreover, when microwaves are devoid of power, they cannot emit waves and the pre-created energy does not stay in the food or the oven. While there is no clear science to back up any kind of damage done to human bodies by microwaves, many are concerned that long-term exposure to radioactive devices can be dangerous. In a world where we’re surrounded by devices and/or objects that emit radiation, it is safe to say that the least of our problems is the minuscule amount given off by microwaves if there is any concern at all that is.
What can we establish from all of this?
Microwaving can be an easy and convenient way to get your food up to mark. With cautious use and a well-repaired machine that is in good working condition, you’re good to go! Just remember that most of the food you eat must be healthy, unprocessed delicacies that are low in salt, to make sure you’re in optimal health.
It’s important to get the best technicians who can repair your microwave if it’s not working properly. Also, timely check on the condition of your microwave makes it safer to use.
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