Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Minding the Microwave: Research Notes

May 7th, 2009 · 14 Comments · Science of Nutrition

There are two reasons often cited for avoiding the microwave: loss of nutrients in food and radiation emitted from the appliance. Both are incredibly up for debate. In fact, after Google searching for information on the former, the vast majority of the articles found claim that the microwave does NOT in fact destroy nutrients, but is a healthy way to cook vegetables. (Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

In spite of all that information, there are still a number of sources out there (1 2 3 4 5 and Nourishing Traditions) that claim that the microwave causes changes in the makeup of food so severe that we ought not be messing with them.

Today we’ll discuss in part the research on nutrient destruction. The bottom line in all of this is that you must cook your veggies with as little water as possible, at the lowest heat possible, and for the shortest time possible. Almost everyone agrees that this is the way to retain the most nutrients, as heat and water are generally the destructive factors. More heat for longer periods of time kill more nutrients. Microwaving sounds like the way to go here. On the other hand, if the structure of your food is unrecognizable to your body, all that doesn’t matter.

As you read, if you think the claims are credible, remember to go here to sign on for Mind the Microwave in May, a commitment NOT to get rid of your microwave or swear off using it, but just to be aware of other ways of cooking and reheating food. Leave a comment at the invite post and enter your minutes saved per day in the sidebar counter.

My husband, who is a pretty normal, cultural, skeptical-of-radical-ideas-kind-of-a-guy, puts the question of “to use or not to use” this way: We may not know, now or ever, whether microwaving our food is harmful. But we’re sure that NOT using the microwave isn’t hurting us. Put as only a (male) engineer can: simple, to the point deductive reasoning.

Reason Number One to Avoid the Microwave: Research on Breastmilk

I remember being pregnant with my first, teaching school, and bending down to peek at my lunch in the staff lounge microwave. My principal, the most conscientious male I’ve ever met, walked in and ‘tsk tsked’ me seriously. He gestured that my belly with baby should not be hanging out in front of a microwave.

Possibly true.

After having that baby (who is healthy with no extra extremities or digits!), I learned how to reheat breastmilk safely. The research is pretty widely accepted that one should NEVER heat breastmilk in a microwave, not just because of the tendency to get “hot spots” in the bottle, which affects formula users too, but also because the microwave denatures the breastmilk. “Denatures” is a great word that means “kills nutrients” or “makes less healthy”. In breastmilk, the microwave causes a loss of antibodies and possibly vitamins.

Let us turn on our cognitive powers for a moment – you know, the mind? The thing you used to exercise all the time before you had kids? If the microwave denatures breastmilk and you’re willing to spend all that (annoying) time twirling a bottle in a bowl of hot water to heat the milk, what about other foods heated in the microwave? For the sake of comparison, let’s just stick to liquids, since I don’t know that I can extrapolate the research credibly onto solid foods as well. It would make sense to me that the microwave would also potentially denature healthy stocks and broths, milk, or sauces that I’m reheating, especially those with active enzymes or antibiotic powers (stocks, garlic, yogurt).

I have a bunch of pots that work great on my stove. It doesn’t take the attention to reheat a bowl of soup or a pot of spaghetti sauce that a bottle of breastmilk takes, and I usually don’t have a screaming baby to feed who has to wait. Maybe heating soups and sauces on the stovetop isn’t as big of a hassle as it seems like in my head…

Remember what my husband says. If you can handle washing an extra pot, give it a try this week when it’s time to reheat liquids. Head on over to sign on for Mind the Microwave in May!

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money. If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Read more about the origins of Mind the Microwave here.

Other Mind the Microwave Posts:

  • The Bad Part

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    14 Comments so far ↓

    • EcoYogini

      This was fantastic, researched and balanced. My fiance and I were talking about the exact same thing- which to believe?? Seems there are extremists on both sides.

      I agree with your balanced approach, we rarely use our microwave, maybe twice a month. Just cuz we don’t have to :)

    • Rosy

      I put my microwave in the closet and haven’t used to to cook with in about 5 months. I don’t take any longer to cook, and I enjoy my reheated food much more. I do use the microwave at work, but like I said the enjoyment is on the lower end of the scale than if I harassed them into getting a toaster oven.

    • FoodRenegade

      Great post! I love the way you reason.

      I’m still straddling the fence when it comes to my microwave, too. I don’t “cook” food in it, but it sure is handy for reheating some things or keeping pots clean.

      Thanks for sharing this post in today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival!

      Cheers,
      KristenM
      (AKA FoodRenegade)

    • Michelle @ Find Your Balance

      I rarely use my microwave ever since I experimented with macrobiotics a few years ago. Turns out, I don’t really need it. A pot works well in most cases :-)

    • Brittany

      When you reheat multiple servings on the stovetop, it can actually save time. I can heat a whole pot of soup on the stove in much less time than if I heated each bowl individually in the microwave!

      Katie Reply:

      Yes! One of the unexpected benefits! Did you sign up for the challenge? :)

    • Carrie

      Thanks for the balanced research, Katie. I have to say, though, denaturing proteins isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s basically scientific talk for “cooking” them. You want your breastmilk warmed, not cooked, especially because there are active proteins like antibodies, as you note. It’s probably just easier to heat to below cooking something on the stove, but for when you want something cooked, denaturation happens on the stovetop or microwave.

      Katie Reply:

      Great point! Put that way, “denaturing” just a normal part of our day. :) There are potentially other changes that happen in the microwave, though. I’ll see if I can wade through the rest as the month goes on!

      bailey Reply:

      This is why even a raw diet is that much better so we don’t “denature” any part of that natural good stuff God intended for us to have in food!

    • Tanya Brown

      I have been wondering about the microwave ever since my now 12 year old was breastfeeding and I was told not to put the milk in the microwave. What? The microwave can change the nutritional value of breastmilk? I have wondered for the last few years if it is safe to use all the time. After reading your many posts on the subject I went the extreme way and got rid of it. Well, it is in the carport while I see that I can really live without it. 3 days and we are just fine. Thanks for all the research you do.

      Katie Reply:

      Wow, I am amazed! My microwave is still in my kitchen…just not a very well-used item anymore. Glad my Internet wanderings are of help to you. :) Katie

    • Edith

      I just came across your website, while looking for some interesting vegetarian dishes to try.

      I do hope that you’ve abandoned the “microwave conspiracy”. As an engineer, your husband should be familiar with physics. A simple perusal of a high school physics text book will explain microwaves in sufficient detail to allay your fears. They are dangerous in the same way that fire is dangerous, or a hot burner on a stove is dangerous.

      I also hope that your readers will acquaint themselves of at least high school level science. We’re living in an increasingly scientific world, and it behooves all of us to sit up straight, and pay attention in school. If we all did that, we would be less susceptible to nonsense masquerading as “science”.

      In the cold hard light of facts, none of the “anti microwavers” would survive. All in favour of facts, say ‘Aye’!

      Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

      Edith,
      Honestly, it’s been a really long time since I even reconsidered this subject. I mostly don’t enjoy nuked food, so I just don’t bother. How do we explain people whose bodies have reactions to mic’d food, even when they don’t k now it’s been in a microwave?
      Thanks,
      Katie

    • Fight Back Fridays May 8th | Food Renegade

      […] Community Gardens11. Shannon (garden plans for 2009)12. charlotte (vaccine risk symposium)13. Kitchen Stewardship (Do Microwaves Denature Food?)14. The Chicken Coop-Making Water […]

    Welcome!  Meet Katie.

    I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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