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Microwave: Friend or Foe?


The first time I ever heard that using a microwave was “bad for you” was a few years ago, in a little health food shop.

I was explaining to the store clerk how I make a certain recipe, and when I got to the part about using the microwave, she turned white as a ghost and literally screamed: “DO NOT use the microwave!  It is the devil!  It can kill you!”

While this didn’t cause me to stop using a microwave, it did open my eyes to the possibility that microwaves might not be as safe as I’d thought.

So are microwaves harmful?

Some studies say they are.  However, some studies say coffee is bad, some studies say soy is bad, some studies say using cell phones causes cancer.  Then there are other “some studies” that say all of this isn’t true.

People use microwaves every day—people like my great grandmother who lived to be over 100.  (Then again, my grandma only used microwaves for a very short period of her life, as they obviously hadn’t yet been invented when she was a young girl.)

What to believe?

One could drive oneself crazy trying to figure it all out!  And that’s not healthy either.

So until there is conclusive evidence that microwaves are dangerous, I’m going to look out for my mental health/sanity first and keep using mine.

What are your thoughts on the safety of microwaves? 

Debate me, debate each other, debate yourself if you wish… just keep it respectful.

Published on December 16, 2009

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  1. JCD says

    I figure if microwaves have passed all the super-strict safety tests to be used on the International Space Station, they must be pretty safe. NASA is highly concerned about radiation levels, so if microwaves were truly horrible, they wouldn’t be using them.

    However, we don’t have a microwave at home. My husband doesn’t like them. And while I’m rather indifferent, I won’t be trading in my toaster oven any time soon.

    And… just to throw it out there, microwaves do change the chemical compositions of some foods. That’s unavoidable. Just like baking a cake solidifies it. I’m not too sure about what happens on a molecular level though – I’m not a chemist – but I’m curious to learn more.

    Some tips for those with concerns: stay at least 1 metre away from the microwave whilst in use, buy a good quality one with a good door seal – that’s the key, and wait two minutes after microwaving something before you eat it.

  2. Jessica @ How Sweet It Is says

    I don’t use the microwave too much. I remember growing up my mom and grandma always telling me that it made foods ‘gummy.’ They always reheated things in the oven. I have always stayed far back from the microwave because I heard that the radiation can harm you. Who knows?! Like you said – everything these days has been deemed ‘bad.’ Like everything else, I’m sure it’s ok in moderation. 🙂

  3. brandi says

    I’m not sure what to think – I don’t use it all the time, so I don’t think it’s that bad. and, if there were such bad things happening from using it, you’d think we would know by now! People use them all the time, you know?

    love the ginger boys 🙂

  4. Pam says

    We use one, but I have heard all the same things before also! I say follow your gut! he he!…no pun intended…lol!

    Katie…did you know that today is ‘National Chocolate Covered Anything Day’?


  5. Radioactivegan says

    in case anyone is interested, as I understand it microwaves heat food by releasing microwave radiation with wavelength on the order of the size of a water molecule. The radiation excites water molecules and other polarized molecules to heat the food; a lot of this water is lost in heating, which is probably why microwaves can make food “gummy”.

    one nice feature of microwaves is that it does not directly heat plates and other cookware. Any heat on your plate is coming from the food, not the microwave radiation, so plates, bowls, etc. tend to be cooler than the food. As someone very susceptible to burns, I like this 🙂

    so to throw in my two cents — i like my microwave. i don’t use it everyday, but i use it when i need to/want to without worrying about it.

  6. Jessica says

    I have a microwave, but I mostly only use it when I’m in a hurry. Otherwise, I make my oatmeal on the stovetop and reheat leftovers in the toaster oven. As far as micros being healthy or not, I think it’s a case of “everything in moderation”.

  7. Lara says

    I have yet to see any credible research that shows they are dangerous. Articles on “holisitc”health websites do not = credible research.
    For many foods, microwaves are the best way to cook to preserve the most nutrients.

  8. molly says

    I use it all the time for convenience purposes. It’s not something that concerns me – If something definitive comes out (just like it did for cigarettes), I would obviously stop.

  9. Janna (Just Flourishing) says

    I think using a microwave from time to time is fine.

    You hear so many conflicting studies and ideas. Some people say microwaving causes food to lose all nutritional value, some people say that microwaves preserve nutrients in food.

    I say, if it’s convenient for you, use the microwave.

    Don’t be a slave to ‘wave… ha… but use it when you need it. You’ll be JUST fine 🙂

  10. kandkfood says

    I think microwaves can be useful because they cook things so rapidly and I’ve heard (read?) that this can be better in terms of nutrients. I don’t have a study on hand to back me up though! On the other hand, whenever I use the microwave I try not to stand in front of it or even near it. This is due to my stepmom telling me the radiation coming out of the microwave would cause brain tumors. Way to scare a kid! Though I have no idea if this is accurate, I’ve never stood in front of the microwave since!

  11. Abby says

    I totally use my microwave.. I try to use the stove, though, if at all possible (ex: soup tastes better, to me, heated through on the oven than in the micro). I try not to stand like super close or like stick my head in it or anything! lol

  12. Crystal says

    Microwaves creep me out bottom line. I grew up with one, had one in my first place, and got a new one for my wedding- and I got rid of them all.. Well I donated them… let someone else use that crap!

  13. Jo says

    I use my microwave a bit (and use the one at work a LOT) but prefer cooking in the oven or on the stove, purely because I think it tastes better.

    However…. I must say I just don’t think about whether its bad or not, I mean EVERYTHING seems to be bad for you – one minute its good, the next its bad, then good again…. blah blah blah… you can’t believe anything anymore (I’m a bit jaded!!). I still take my vitamins in the morning even though they are supposed to bad for me now, I drink too much coffee, tea, red wine and eat too much chocolate – oh wait – they are going through “good” phases at the moment? sure that will change tomorrow.

    Want to hear a classic – a (dippy) friend of mine was told that you shouldn’t heat milk in the microwave because it doubled the fat content and she therefore point blankly refused to use a microwave at all because she was convinced it was true and that it might apply to other foods I tried to tell her that it wasn’t true but she was convinced and in any event it wasn’t worth the risk!!

  14. taleoftwovegans says

    While I don’t necessarily think that microwaves are the greatest things to be using everyday, I suspect that they are totally spectacular compared to all the wireless signals everyone uses these days (I’m pretty sure that in 30 years we’ll all have brain cancer). Still, I don’t have a microwave. Mostly, because sticking a pot on the stove to heat stuff up really isn’t a big hassle for me. And, it’s fun to say that I don’t have one. (I’m weird like that) 🙂 -Eve

  15. the vegster says

    I don’t much like using microwaves, whether or not they kill more nutrients than stove top cooking, or are good/bad for you. I don’t like the way things microwaved taste, or the texture. I must prefer my conventional oven or convection/toaster over 🙂 Unless I’m absolutely in a time crunch and am wanting something super quick (like Amy’s frozen indian dinners …mmmm!!) after coming home from a long day at school I will use the microwave, but that’s once in a blue moon. I don’t even use it to heat water – I use my kettle. I guess my long ramble in sum is I’m a stove-top/oven girl.

    VeggieGirl is right though, moderation is key – don’t use the microwave for everything.

  16. Carolyn says

    I love my microwave, could not live without it…and use it multiple times every day…. BUT…i also have one of those little microwave monitor things that are about as big as a small box of matches… Sits on the counter in front of the microwave at all times and at should register a little blink.. if anything naughty is escaping. I often will pick it up and run it around the seal while something is cooking, just to pass the cook time, and to keep peace of mind… Would never be without that little tester..

  17. Cassie says

    Microwaves aren’t bad in my opinion, but then again, I’m no scientist. However, I believe that ANYTHING can be bad for you if you believe it is. Like your examples: coffee, soy, using cell phones…it’s all the same. If you focus on the negative parts of life, that’s what you’re gonna get. If you expect to get sick from using the microwave, chances are, you will. I just try to let all that stuff go and use my intuition. If I feel like making my oatmeal in the microwave or heating up a veggie burger in there, I’m going to. I really believe it’s the stressing about crap that gets people sick, not the actual so-called bad thing.

  18. Sünne says

    When I was younger I never thought about how microwaves could possibly be dangerous. Then, about two years ago, another person whose lifestyle I thought of as very healthy told me he didn’t use microwaves because they “stole” all vitamins and stuff from the food. I immediately stopped using the microwave.

    Some time ago, I started using it again – for the melted banana trick – but other than that rarely use it.
    For those of you who think it was dangerous for your health (I did, too): There’s a doctor in my family and he regularly uses the microwave …

    The Ginger Boys are hotter than any microwave for sure 😉 !

  19. joy says

    I have really mixed emotions when it comes to microwaves. When my Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer and going for chemo they told us no microwaves no margarine. The specialists said that the micro waves that make microwaves work kill the nutrients in the food so that it was just empty calories and that wasn’t what she needed. However, for me when I am up for eating something I can’t wait or I will talk myself right out of it so I do have squash from the microwave and cauliflower and popcorn (though I have a bowl I cook it in and not the other kind)

  20. Kati says

    I’m pretty much always a no-nuke girl. I’ve always thought microwaved food tastes kind of funny, even as a kid. My parents thought it was weird that I didn’t want my food reheated in the microwave – and this was long before I knew anything about “healthy eating.” So, that being said, we don’t own a microwave. The only time I use one is when we’re traveling and need to heat something up in the hotel room.

    I like what Cassie said above me, though, and I agree. I think it’s often stressing about things that makes people sick, not necessarily the things themselves.

  21. Jessica says

    Microwaves hmm. I threw my parents out when I moved in with them after graduating from college because I thought they were the devil. Did not use one for MANY years, I just moved into a new apartment and that came with a microwave, and I use it now in moderation. To each their own 🙂

  22. Quix says

    I use it as little as possible, just because I think food tastes better from a pot, a pan, the oven, or the grill (which is also supposed to cause cancer…sigh). However, if I’m just making myself a snack of frozen veggies or heating up some leftovers at work/need to eat quick, I’ll use it. It’s actually in an awkward place in the kitchen right now so I have to think twice about it, hehe.

  23. Jenny says

    there are some things that I’ve learned to accept that I will never know the truth behind them – so I choose not to care (microwave and coffee being too of those things) and just use/drink ’em anyways. I couldn’t survive without my micro. Afterall, how on earth would I be able to make my melted bananas? those are crucial 🙂

    p.s. can I ask Gingie if he wants to joy the “Ginger Boy” band 😉 ?

  24. Melinda says

    Microwaves, just like everything else is fine in moderation. if everything you ever eat and ever do revolves around the microwave you will have serious problems. But if you heat something once in awhile in there you are likely going to be just fine. I have a degree in nutrition and public health and at no point in time have I ever learned in school or read from a scholarly source that the microwave will harm you. You may lose some nutrients, but you will likely loose more boiling. Steaming and the micro are good as you will loose less this way.

  25. Bianca- Vegan Crunk says

    I love my microwave. I live off leftovers since I’m always cooking big meals for little ole me. And I microwave in (gasp) plastic containers all the time. I’ve considered that I should at least switch to glass containers, so the plastic doesn’t leech chemicals into my food in the hot microwave…but haven’t made that switch yet.

    I am weary of those 1970s microwave recipes, where you cook an entire meal in the microwave. When I was kid, my mom would occasionally break out the Microwave Cookbooks and while the food tastes fine, that kinda weirds me out. But I think they’re fine for re-heating.

  26. Chrysta says

    interesting topic for sure. Im on the fence. I mean honestly I use my micro everyday. I do it for convience. And when im at work there is just the micro to heat things up. I try to eliminate as much toxins from my life as possible but I think you can go waaay overboard. Listening to all these studies can make ya go crazy! So i just pick and choose. I choose to not use harmful cleaners in my house and choose greener and more natural products, i eat organic, i wear organic and all natural lotions and perfumes but yes I still use my microwave. So well I do what I can. Although, I’m still not convinced that using the microwave will cause harm. I just don’t microwave my stuff in plastic. Just glass. But I dont really see anything wrong with it. I think the air pollution where i live is a way bigger problem than my micorwave! 😉

  27. Sarah A says

    I had a conversation about microwaves with my Chem professor when I was an undergrad. An oven (or other traditional heat based cooking/heating source) conducts heat into the food. A microwave causes the object itself to produce heat. The waves produced by the microwave enter the food and excite the water molecules already present in it. This is also why metal is bad for your microwave since the molecular structure of metals is much more densely packed with electrons (which reflect the waves) and were the waves able to enter, there wouldn’t be sufficient water molecules to excite. Basically, microwaves work by directly altering the food structure on a molecular level…which is actually quite disconcerting. That being said, I add so much soymilk to my coffee that I end up reheating it most mornings. In the microwave. *sigh*

  28. erintakescontrol says

    My Mom always told us to ‘nuke’ something to eat when she was not going to be home to cook for us. In my mind, nuke leads to nuclear, like nuclear weapons, like atomic bombs, like radioactive waste. Scary! The only purpose a microwave serves in my home is as a counter-space-waster. I can’t remember the last time I used it! I will occasionally use the one at work, only because we don’t have an oven or stovetop! I try to bring foods that don’t require heating for lunch, but sometimes, I want something hot for lunch and it’s all I’ve got to work with.

  29. Melissa says

    Hey Katie! Kudos on the mucho thought provoking post! My philisophy is that too much of anything will kill ya so life is all about balance. People experience little amounts of radiation every day from all the elecriticy and toxicness produced by our industrial world so I feel that using a micro on occasion wont cause any more damage than walking out your front door but if someone is standing there watching it like a TV for multiple hours a day while it is running it may cause some harm in the long term. But I mean if we think about it, our computers give off similar radiation as well and I’d say that probably 99% of the population on earth spends X amount of hours on a comp a day so…everything in moderation is my motto. 🙂

    Personally, I choose not to use the micro to save electricity and I feel it makes things weird consistancies and makes things “chewy” and zaps the life out of my vegetables that I don’t like. I also just prefer doing everything the hard and old fashioned way lol I use it for defrosting on occasion but I swear by my toaster oven and I eat mostly raw these days anyway so I personally don’t find much meed for it.

    Have a great day!

  30. Mahealani says

    I use my microwave every single day. I also got my BA minor in genetics so I like to think I’m pretty well informed of appliances that will degenerate your body.

    Microwaves send very small waves of radiation out that accelerate water molecules in food. The fast jostling of the water molecules creates heat (which warms your food) and that’s basically all they’re designed for.

    That being said, yes, you lose moisture through this as you can see by any bubbling or steam after it’s done which is why the texture is so greatly changed. This act of accelerated water can be forceful, destroying cell walls in plant matter and can in some cases lead to the degeration of certain enzymes.

    Older microwave models leaked radiation, which is why you were told not to stand in front of them. The amount given off, even by an older machine, has never been proved to cause problems in the body. For people going through chemo or radiation for cancer, it can be recommended “just in case” to stay away from microwaves, without any real evidence to support it.

    I use my microwave mostly for heating up leftovers, other than that I love the hob or the oven. I could never find the appeal in toaster ovens, they confound me! I’m definitely not worried about adverse nutritional effects, especially since i don’t prepare vegetables in it. And while my microwave is tucked in a corner, i’ve definitely stood smack in front of it, face down, watching the annual easter Peep jousting tournaments.

  31. oc2seattle says

    There’s so much information and myths about microwaves I can’t fairly assess whether they’re safe or not. I do know I would be having cold lunches at the office without it and that is enough to make me a fan.

  32. Kayla says

    I use the microwave everyday. It saves on washing up, saves on time and saves on energy. I only cook for myself, so it seems silly to waste all the extra energy the oven would use. I mainly use it to cook oatmeal, vegetables and reheat leftovers though.

  33. lz says

    I have mixed feelings about microwaves. I grew up in a family that insisted against the microwave because of certain harmful properties from the waves. However, I think that microwaves are a quick and convenient way to heat up foods that otherwise might be a pain to warm. Thus, while I don’t use the microwave too often and prefer the stove as a heating means, I don’t mind using the microwave once in a while to heat something up quickly.

  34. Demelza says

    As so many people have commented, I too think microwaves are okay in moderation. And despite whether using one is “bad” for you or not, there will still be people who use them anyway (same as with the discovery of skin cancer correlating with tanning beds, red meat correlating with moderately elevated risks of several different types of cancers, and the findings that fried, grilled, and smoked meats generate carcinogens as they cook–lots of people still use tanning beds and eat red/fried/etc. meats).

    Limiting the frequency of your intake and the quantities of the foods mentioned above, microwave usage, etc. minimizes your intake of carcinogens, which are dose related.

    Personally, I don’t use the microwave too much because it seems like foods cooked on the stovetop/in the oven taste better (for whatever reason). And as for all the talk about cancers, I just sort of smile to myself and wait for more conclusive evidence to the matters because it seems like EVERYTHING supposedly causes cancer nowadays.

    …Oh, I guess I’d better watch myself.
    That sort of talk probably causes cancer. xD

  35. Daria @ Daria Can Cook says

    I don’t have a microwave, but because of space constraints in my kitchen. Our toaster oven is more versatile. It’s conceivable that microwaves are harmful, but then again so are most things if you use them too much. I don’t think a little microwaving now and again will be the death of anyone.

  36. Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga) says

    They’re really not safe. BUT…I use it anyway 🙂 The holistic and natural community has shunned them for a million reasons. Who knows how much of it is truly prove-able. But there’s plenty of “research” that says they aren’t safe. However, like everything in life, we all have to draw our line in the sand somewhere. Some people would never dream of eating food that’s not organic and they would never drive anything by a hydrid car. Me? I eat non-organic food AND use my microwave. But I also am crunchy when it comes to parenting. It’s all a give and take and I Try not to obsess 🙂


  37. Carolyn says

    One more thing.. Will never microwave any food in any type of plastic… only glass…

    Not sure why i feel so stongly but that whole plastic issue scares the heck out of me…

  38. Tiffany S. says

    I’m pretty sure whatever I die of, it’s not gonna be from the microwave.

    Though I do worry when I stand right in front of it or in front of the cracked one we have at work.

    I just figure the odds are something else is gonna get me first (AND you will ALL post the world’s longest memorial blog in my honor with the caption, “It wasn’t the microwave”).

  39. Meg's Gut says

    I used to think that using microwaves were really bad for you and that they could cause cancer. I would feel anxious every time I used one.
    My science teacher then informed us that the amount of ‘microwaves’ coming out of the appliance did less harm to the body then the UV rays coming out of the sun.
    Meaning that the sun could cause more damage to the body then a little microwave.
    I like how easy and convenient microwaves can be, although food that is warmed on the stove/oven tastes way better then that of a microwave.
    I just like how microwaves can defrost foods quick and if you’re too lazy to heat up the stove to warm soup or milk up, the microwave takes a very quick time!

  40. Mona says

    I don’t see how they can be safe? Like I don’t think the door of the microwave can really hold back all of those micro-waves. but was is so bad about the microwaves????

    when i microwave just like the commenter kandkfood I like stand far away and I DONT look at it. haha i heard that if you don’t look at the microwave you’ll be fine….maybe the microwave is self conscious

    i’m making fudge babies this weekened!

  41. Heather Eats Almond Butter says

    I won’t lie. I fear the microwave. Ours broke last year, and we never fixed it. I didn’t use it anyway, but my husband prefers nuked sweet potatoes to oven-baked as he doesn’t like it to get all syrupy and sweet…there’s a crazy man story for ya, and don’t even get me started on his ability to cover everything in socks. Leaves his socks everywhere!!! Still love him though. 🙂

    Just don’t know if all those microwave rays our good for our body. My theory is better safe than sorry, and using the stove-top for the melted banana trick works just as well. Trust me on that one. 🙂

  42. Jessica @ Fit & Clean says

    I don’t know much about the whole microwave controversy, but I use it everyday…I have 3 kids, so it really makes things convenient. And with the cost of food nowadays, it makes it easy to reheat leftovers.

    Every time I make something with chocolate now I think of you 🙂 I made chocolate-banana oatmeal this morning!

  43. Jess says

    I go back and forth on this one – I’m impatient so I love the efficiency, but most foods do taste better/have a better texture when done in the oven or on the stove . . . Plus it’s more messy than my oven. Everything bubbles over and splatters; it’s kinda gross.

    As for safety, I don’t know what to believe, but I lean toward trying to cut back on my usage of it, or be out of my (minuscule) kitchen when I do. I’m not very good with that but I’d like to be.

    Also, food I throw together in 10 min using the microwave is never as satisfying to me as a meal I spent the time and effort on. My head’s not in it when I microwave.

  44. daintyvegan says

    We have one but I never really use it unless I need to heat up milk for cocoa.. lol. I personally don’t quite like the taste of foods done in the microwave so when I finally get my own place, if it doesn’t have a microwave, I won’t be bothered in the least.

  45. Pure2raw-twins says

    I use a microwave for my last resort, I really try not to use it though! Though, for some people I know that is all the have and that is fine. People just have to figure out what works best for them and their personal preference I guess. Though, I would prefer if no one used one for energy purposes and health.

  46. River - The Crafty Kook says

    LOL! The Ginger Boys does sound like a boy band! You’re too funny! 😀

    I always use the microwave to melt chocolate and to make puddings and custards. There is no way I will stand in front of the stove stirring something constantly. I don’t really cook meals in the microwave, but I do heat things up in it occasionally. Mr. Kook cooks his morning oatmeal in there every day! 🙂

  47. kathleen says

    I don’t have a microwave in my apartment and I get along fine. I’m not really against them, I just don’t really need one.

  48. Naomi (onefitfoodie) says

    I go on and off with the micro, some weeks this is where I will make my oats other weeks I prefer the stove top, I guess it depends, but I do love it for reheating my coffee or frozen goods! 🙂 I am a micro fan, you could say!

    ginger men-GREAT band name 🙂

  49. Bekah says

    I prefer stove top cooking- but when in doubt, microwave works. For a faster, no clean up source. I do think their are certain negative things about microwaves- and duhhh, the stove is probably better for you, but I’m not scared of it (like coughHEABcough is) hehehe

    Also- the microwave was made for convenience but its since become more of a necessity for people allll over the world, and not a lot of people cook anymore! (Shame) So in that sense, I don’t like microwaves, But do I use it? Yes. Am I stoked for my microwaved oatmeal when I move into my dorm this January, yes. 🙂

  50. Katie says

    I had an internal debate about whether to get a microwave when I got my own place. I didn’t need it, sure, but it is convenient to just heat up leftovers for 2 min in the same bowl (I store everything in pyrex; I DO believe heating plastic in the micro is bad) instead of dirtying extra dishes on the stove. The clincher for me was that microwaves use far less energy than stoves, even gas stoves. So, being an eco-eater, I go with the microwave when it is convenient (leftovers, oatmeal, sometimes eggs, frozen veggies). I like stovetop oats and eggs, but some mornings I just can’t be bothered to make all kinds of dishes. Heat, eat, and wash one bowl and fork? Yes, please!

  51. Alisa - Frugal Foodie says

    We didn’t have a microwave for years, and didn’t miss it. The last two places we have lived have built in microwaves, and while they can be convenient at times, I would rather go without. Not a microwave fan!

  52. Babette says

    About two years ago, my microwave started making weird and worrisome noise, and we threw it away. My boyfriend and I were already talking about getting rid of it, so we didn’t buy another one. We missed it a bit in the beginning, but now I never think about it. I use a toaster oven, and I find it very convenient to warm up food.

    There is a microwave at work though, and I must say I use it because I like warm lunches. I never stand near it though, and I wait until it has beeped completely and it has stopped before opening the door.

    Some studies say microwave ovens are bad for you, while some others say they aren’t. I say that precaution is always best, just like moderation.

  53. Marianne says

    I try not to get too worried about microwaves. We are exposed to radiation from so many sources, I seriously doubt that heating up some foods in a microwave is going to be what does you in. Sure, if you used it for hours on end, every day, and stood right in front of it the whole time, maybe? But let’s be honest – there is a new study every day saying that such & such is bad, then the next day such & such will be good. It all depends on the question you ask, and how you want to present the stats. I would also argue that not only has microwave design & functionality improved with time, but our safety standards have also increased. Think about all the baby things like cribs & car seats that used to be okay, only to be banned for being unsafe a few years later. We all survived those as well. The media likes to blow all of these studies out of proportion, and some people will always be against “technology”, because they feel they aren’t safe, even if they have no real evidence.

  54. Maddy says

    That’s a really great question of the day! I’ve heard so many different things about this question!
    Personally, I don’t use the microwave very often because my dad is a major health-nut and has always believed the microwave cooks the nutrition out of foods. Does the microwave cook the healthy parts of the food out of it? I have no idea! I just don’t use it because I’m “assuming” it does & because I don’t want to hear him go on and on about how bad the microwave is every time I use it 😀 PLUS a lot of the foods I have microwaved make the food kinda “mushy”, and I like most foods “crunchy”! lol :))))

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