I can already guess some of the sighs the title already evoked from the title….”Grrreat….what NOW?!?!” (This is often the response I get from my mom when I have a new “healthy” topic to enlighten her on…haha)
While the microwave oven has been a lifesaver to many meals prepared in a pinch on those days when you are lucky you remembered to put even your pants on, there are some issues to consider its use in your home. Before I spurt out my scientific findings, let me begin with noting I grew up with a microwave in my house, and in fact, I used to stand in front of it more than I stood in front of anything else. I was always amazed as to what was going on in that little box – for one minute, something could go from frozen to scalding hot….just with the simple press of a few buttons. Unlike a conventional oven that had to be turned on and preheated before use, the microwave oven seemed so magical to me (so magical, I would try and cook whatever I could shove in there without my mom finding out, and then stealthily discarding the remains in the backyard if the experiment went bad, which was often). I shudder now to think what I did to my body all of those years gazing into that rectangle of radiation. My best friend (since I was 4 years old!) had a microwave ban in her house and I always wondered why as a kid – her mother hated microwaves with a passion. As an avid cook, she would almost have a panic attack even thinking about using a microwave. “I would never use one of those! They are terrible for you!” I didn’t think at the time that something that would be bad for us would be allowed by our government (hah), so I just thought it was a neat novelty anytime I went over to my friend’s house and watched many delicious meals be prepared “the old fashioned way.” I recently teased my friend’s mom, telling her that she was onto something waaaay back when. Of course she looked at me with one of those, “I told you so” glances only an experienced mom could get away with using.
With that said, I even used microwaves on a daily basis up until about four years ago. As a busy teacher with a very tight schedule throughout the day and evening, I pretty much microwaved everything that needed heating. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Who actually had time to turn on the oven and wait for something to be reheated or cooked? Besides, all of those awesome frozen meals I bought for lunch everyday would not make it in a toaster oven, so the microwave it was. All of the meals I made had vegetables, and in fact, without preparing my food this way, I probably would have resorted to eating less-healthy/vegetable-less meals simply because I didn’t have time to prepare them.
I am not writing this article to make any of you feel bad who have used or will continue to use a microwave. Like anything I write about, I am simply trying to enlighten you with some research that poses new information for you to tuck into your brain so you can make an informed decision as to what you want to use it for. For me, I gradually chose to stop using my microwave after I phased it out of my food preparation (and much of it was a challenge to see if I could do it, which I found was pretty easy to do). We also did not have a microwave in our last home (or room for one), so it was pretty much not an option for us, and since we lived 2 years without one, we continue to choose not to use one.
So why all of the hype around using microwaves in the first place? Let me start by explaining that over 90% of American homes have microwave ovens used for meal preparation. Whether it be because microwave ovens are so convenient and/or energy efficient (they use about 50% less energy than a conventional oven) as compared to conventional ovens, very few homes or restaurants are without them. The microwave “radiomissor” was invented by the Germans for use in their mobile support operations, to be used for the invasion of Russia. By being able to utilize electronic equipment for preparation of meals on a mass scale, the logistical problem of cooking fuels would have been eliminated, as well as the convenience of producing edible products in a greatly reduced time-factor. After the war, the Allies discovered medical research done by the Germans on microwave ovens. These documents, along with some working microwave ovens, were transferred to the United States War Department and classified for reference and “further scientific investigation.” The Russians had also retrieved some microwave ovens and now have thorough research on their biological effects. As a result, their use was outlawed in the Soviet Union and the Soviets issued an international warning on the health hazards, both biological and environmental, of microwave ovens and similar frequency electronic devices.
Other Eastern European scientists also reported the harmful effects of microwave radiation and set up strict environmental limits for their usage. The United States has not accepted the European reports of harmful effects, even though the EPA estimates that radio frequency and microwave radiation sources in America are increasing at 15% per year.
Since microwaves have been approved for use in the United States for decades, people believe that whatever a microwave oven does to foods cooked in it doesn’t have any negative effect on either the food or them. The term “microwave” just doesn’t name a household device – microwaves are a form of electromagnetic energy, like light waves or radio waves, and occupy a part of the electromagnetic spectrum of power, or energy. (SOURCE: “The Hidden Hazards of Microwave Cooking”)
- Microwaves are very short waves of electromagnetic energy that travel at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second).
- In our modern technological age, microwaves are used to relay long distance telephone signals, television programs, and computer information across the earth or to a satellite in space. But the microwave is most familiar to us as an energy source for cooking food.
- Every microwave oven contains a magnetron, a tube in which electrons are affected by magnetic and electric fields in such a way as to produce micro wavelength radiation at about 2450 Mega Hertz (MHz) or 2.45 Giga Hertz (GHz). This microwave radiation interacts with the molecules in food. All wave energy changes polarity from positive to negative with each cycle of the wave. In microwaves, these polarity changes happen millions of times every second. Food molecules – especially the molecules of water – have a positive and negative end in the same way a magnet has a north and a south polarity.
- In commercial models, the oven has a power input of about 1000 watts of alternating current. As these microwaves generated from the magnetron bombard the food, they cause the polar molecules to rotate at the same frequency millions of times a second. All this agitation creates molecular friction, which heats up the food. The friction also causes substantial damage to the surrounding molecules, often tearing them apart or forcefully deforming them.
- Radiation, as defined by physics terminology, is “the electromagnetic waves emitted by the atoms and molecules of a radioactive substance as a result of nuclear decay.” Radiation causes ionization, which is what occurs when a neutral atom gains or loses electrons. In simpler terms, a microwave oven decays and changes the molecular structure of the food by the process of radiation. Had the manufacturers accurately called them “radiation ovens”, it’s doubtful they would have ever sold one, but that’s exactly what a microwave oven is.
Dr. Hertel was the first scientist to conceive and carry out a quality clinical study on the effects microwaved nutrients have on the blood and physiology of the human body. His small but well controlled study showed the degenerative force produced in microwave ovens and the food processed in them. The scientific conclusion showed that microwave cooking changed the nutrients in the food; and, changes took place in the participants’ blood that could cause deterioration in the human system. Hertel’s scientific study was done along with Dr. Bernard H. Blanc of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University Institute for Biochemistry.
In intervals of two to five days, the volunteers in the study received one of the following food variants on an empty stomach:
The same milk conventionally cooked;
The same raw milks cooked in a microwave oven;
Raw vegetables from an organic farm; (6) the same vegetables cooked conventionally;
The same vegetables frozen and defrosted in a microwave oven; and
The same vegetables cooked in the microwave oven.
Once the volunteers were isolated, blood samples were taken from every volunteer immediately before eating. Then, blood samples were taken at defined intervals after eating from the above milk or vegetable preparations. Significant changes were discovered in the blood samples from the intervals following the foods cooked in the microwave oven. These changes included a decrease in all hemoglobin and cholesterol values, especially the ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) values. Lymphocytes (white blood cells) showed a more distinct short-term decrease following the intake of microwaved food than after the intake of all the other variants. Each of these indicators pointed to degeneration. Additionally, there was a highly significant association between the amount of microwave energy in the test foods and the luminous power of luminescent bacteria exposed to serum from test persons who ate that food. This led Dr. Hertel to the conclusion that such technically derived energies may, indeed, be passed along to man inductively via eating microwaved food.
Other scientific studies led to the following conclusion and health concerns:
- Microwaving prepared meats sufficiently to insure sanitary ingestion caused formation of d-Nitrosodienthanolamines, a well-known carcinogen.
- Microwaving milk and cereal grains converted some of their amino acids into carcinogens.
- Thawing frozen fruits converted their glucoside and galactoside containing fractions into carcinogenic substances.
- Extremely short exposure of raw, cooked or frozen vegetables converted their plant alkaloids into carcinogens.
- Carcinogenic free radicals were formed in microwaved plants, especially root vegetables.
- Decrease in nutritional value, namely the loss of the important B-vitamins, and a decrease in the bioavailability (capability of the body to utilize the nutrient) of Vitamin C, E, and essential minerals.
- A loss of 60-90% of the vital energy field content of all tested foods.
Other concerns about microwaving food include what you microwave your food in – many times, dangerous chemical compounds are released from types of plastic and cookware that essentially are being transmitted to your food. The best advice is to microwave your food in glass or ceramic microwave-safe containers.
After conducting thorough research into this topic before I formulated my own ideas about microwaving, I realize that for many people, microwaving is one of the only ways to prepare food, so if cooking vegetables in a microwave will be the way vegetables are kept in a family’s diet, then by all means, I would support that. To test out my own experiment on how microwaves are thought to create “dead” water (as I used to boil water for tea all of the time in the microwave), I watered two plants (keeping everything else the same – plant temperature, sun exposure, location, plant type, etc.) – one with tap water and one exclusively with microwaved water. I hate to say it, but the plant watered with microwaved water died after about a week. This was enough evidence for me to gradually phase out using my microwave to see if I myself noticed a difference in how I felt. In all honesty, I felt more energetic (now this could be due to other factors, and eating more “raw”/uncooked veggies and fruit, which has higher enzymatic properties anyway). I thought at first using the stovetop or toaster oven would have been horrible in place of the microwave, but in all honesty, it was not bad. It may take a total of 5 extra minutes to re-heat something, which is worth it to me in the long run, especially now that my toddler is always in the kitchen and we try to cut back on as much electronic use in the house as possible anyway. I just pop my food to re-heat in a glass dish and warm it up in about 5 minutes. The food, I must admit, also tastes better. Sometimes, I felt like my food “melted” in the microwave and just morphed into something you’d find scraped off the sidewalk. I won’t lie, though – there are times when I am not at home and have used the microwave in a pinch to heat something up (granted, it’s been maybe like 5 times in the past 4 years, but still, I HAVE used the microwave). Like I mentioned earlier, my goal is not to make you feel bad or scare you into thinking what you have done or will continue to do has made you a bad person; I just found these studies interesting and actually have realized that more people I talk to use their microwaves less frequently, if not avoiding them. Just like the studies I researched saying how microwaving is something to be cautious of, there are plenty of studies out there supporting the opposite, stating that microwaving is completely fine, and if anything, a helpful way to get busy families to prepare healthier meals. Again, the decision is yours, which is completely your right as an informed adult; no judgment here! Whatever you may choose, microwave or not, here’s to healthy meal preparations for your family with lots of fruits and veggies on the menu.