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Microwave: Friend or Foe?

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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 at me: “DO NOT use the microwave!  It is the devil!  It can kill you!” (She went on and on.)

Her creepy outburst didn’t cause me to stop using “the devil” (It did, however, cause me to stay away from that store!)  But it opened 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 grandma who lived to be over 100.  (But 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 (i.e. don’t turn into the scary lady from my story).

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Published on December 16, 2009

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61 Comments

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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’?

    Enjoy!

  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!
    -Katie

  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.

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