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.
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.
Read more about the origins of Mind the Microwave here.
Other Mind the Microwave Posts: