Cooking Techniques & Preparation

Is Microwaving Food Harmful to Health?

Elsie Goycoolea
By Elsie Goycoolea. Updated: June 3, 2018
Is Microwaving Food Harmful to Health?

People have mixed opinions on whether the microwave should be kept as a useful kitchen appliance or if it must be thrown away into the recycling bin to be given a better life. Microwaves are not only used to reheat leftovers; but people are choosing these over other appliances to defrost food products, cook quick frozen meals or even prepare full meals from scratch in just a few minutes. The downside of microwaves is that they tend to dry out the food, steal out all the flavor and render those chicken pieces almost inedible. Could our microwaved food be harming our health?

In this OneHowTo article we answer the question: is microwaving food harmful to health?

  1. Microwaving science
  2. Nutrient damage argument
  3. Radiation argument
  4. Food packaging argument

Microwaving science

Before tackling whether microwaves are a safe appliance let’s explain how does a microwave work. Comparable to radio waves, microwaves use shorter lengthened waves that specifically target water molecules. These molecules have a positive and negative charge that will attract to each other. The waves make these molecules vibrate to build up thermal energy.

Is Microwaving Food Harmful to Health? - Microwaving science

Nutrient damage argument

It is argued that microwaves will heat up food too much and too quickly. That is why you often only need a few minutes to heat up your meal and it takes much longer if you heat it up in the oven or on the stove.

There are certain nutrients such as Vitamin C that tends to get damaged when exposed to heat, this means that there could be some potential loss of Vitamin C even when using alternative forms of cooking to prepare broccoli. Given that the microwave exposes food to heat for a shorter time may actually give microwaving an advantage.

When you are reheating food in the microwave you may have heard that you should add a little bit of water to prevent the food from drying out. Water actually pulls out some of the nutrients in the food that leaching out into the cooking water. Cooking methods that use limited water may help preserve more vitamins and minerals.

Radiation argument

A hefty argument concerning microwaves is the level of radiation emitted by microwaves. As radio devices, microwaves use shorter lengthened waves that are substantially less harmful that longer waves such as X-rays and Gamma rays. For the latter you are required to be aware of protective measures set in place.

Usually, modern microwaves will have an integrated protective layer that will ensure that only very little radiation escapes from the appliance. Studies have indicated that it is generally safe to use a microwave and that harmful rays are weaker the further you stand from the device. This means that if you want to increase your safety guarantee, make sure to step away from the microwave while you are heating food.

Food packaging argument

Beyond radiation and nutrient damage, perhaps the most concerning aspect of using a microwave to reheat or cook food has to do with food packaging. For convenience, many brands sell ready-to-eat meals that can be heated in the microwave in the same plastic container that it comes in with.

These plastic containers often contain harmful chemicals such as BPA, benzene, toluene, and polyethylene terpthalate (PET), which may leak into the food when heated. Some of these chemicals have been linked to hormonal disruption and cancer. If possible use a glass or ceramic container when you use the microwave to reduce your plastic footprint.

Is Microwaving Food Harmful to Health? - Food packaging argument

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Is Microwaving Food Harmful to Health?