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Is Microwave Cooking Healthy?

You may have some misconceptions surrounding microwave ovens and the health of microwaved food. The reality is that microwaves are a convenient and healthy way to cook food. Microwaves have similar effects on food as conventional ovens or stoves, and may even result in less vitamin destruction than conventional cooking methods.

Misconceptions

Because you've probably heard that microwaves cook food by using waves of radiation, you may be concerned they somehow render food unhealthy or radioactive. This perception is echoed in the common reference to microwaving food as "nuking" it. In reality, microwaves don't depend upon nuclear radiation at all -- the waves they use are closely related to heat waves. You can't make your food radioactive or unhealthful by microwaving it.

How Microwaves Work

A microwave oven functions by emitting energy that causes molecules in your food to vibrate. This is similar to the way that a conventional oven heats your food, but the waves emitted by a microwave oven are actually lower in energy than those emitted by a conventional oven. The vibrating molecules rub against each other, producing heat. This is similar to the way you can generate heat by rubbing your hands together -- heat from friction literally spreads through the food and cooks it.

Effect on Nutrients

Your microwave oven has no negative effect whatsoever on the major nutrients -- that is, the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats -- in your food. If you've heard that microwaves "denature" proteins, this is true. A denatured protein is one that's lost its shape, according to the book "Biochemistry." by Mary Campbell, Ph.D. and Shawn Farrell, Ph.D. Any cooking -- including microwaving as well as conventional methods -- denatures proteins. This does not affect the nutritional value, however.

Considerations

The vitamins in your food are affected somewhat by cooking, but this is true whether you cook food conventionally or in a microwave. Vitamin C, B vitamins and other water-soluble vitamins are heat-sensitive, so you'll always have fewer of these in a cooked food -- particularly in the case of vegetables -- than in an uncooked food, explains a 2004 article in the journal "Food Chemistry." Because microwaves cook food faster, however, they retain more vitamins in foods than most conventional cooking methods.

References (2)

  • Biochemistry; Mary Campbell, Ph.D. and Shawn Farrell, Ph.D.; 2005
  • Food Chemistry; Phenolics, Ascorbic Acid, Carotenoids and Antioxidant Activity of Broccoli and Their Changes During Conventional and Microwave Cooking; D. Zhang, et al.; December 2004

Photo Credits:

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.