I’ve visited a lot of homes in my day and in most of them, there’s a microwave. But for those who may not be able to purchase or afford one, there’s really only one other reason they have for not owning one. “These microwave ovens cause cancer. I don’t want that radiation in my house.” While it sounds like a logical explanation I’m here to tell you that science disagrees with you.
Debunking the Myth: Microwave Ovens and Cancer
Many a Kenyan home own a microwave oven mainly because of the convenience it offers. However, despite the widespread use of microwave ovens, some people have lingering doubts based on the safety of microwave ovens.
They believe that cooking food with microwaves somehow makes food less healthy by taking the nutrients out of the food. Adding to that speculation, because of the radiation and waves, they believe it can cause cancer too.
That has led to many homes throwing them out or just not buying one. So, is cooking with microwaves harmful? Is microwave food healthy? Well, to answer this, let’s first understand microwave radiation.
What is Microwave Radiation?
Microwaves are a form of “electromagnetic” radiation. They are waves of electrical and magnetic energy moving together through space.
Electromagnetic radiation spans a broad spectrum from very long radio waves to very short gamma rays. Microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are similar to radio waves but shorter.
Keep in mind that light is also electromagnetic radiation, so clearly not all radiation is bad.
These waves are quite selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical within the food. Thus microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy. This is similar to how your hands heat up when you rub them together.
That said, let’s get right into it. Microwave ovens do not cause cancer. Contrary to popular belief, there is no established research that proves a link between the use of microwave ovens and the development of cancer.
Microwaving food Might Actually be better for you
According to Havard Health, Vitamin C is perhaps the clearest example. Because microwave cooking times are shorter, cooking with a microwave does a better job of preserving vitamin C and other nutrients that break down when heated.
As far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value. During boiling, the nutrients leach out into the cooking water. For example, boiled broccoli loses glucosinolate, the sulfur-containing compound that may give the vegetable its cancer-fighting properties.
However, one study found that just 1 minute of microwaving destroyed some of the cancer-fighting compounds in garlic, while this took 45 minutes in a conventional oven.
But in summary, all cooking methods reduce the nutrient value but microwaving generally preserves nutrients better than other methods.
In as much as they do not cause cancer, there are still things you should look out for.
- Just to be on the safe side, don’t press your face against the window. Keep your head at least 30 cm away from the oven. Radiation decreases rapidly with distance.
- Do not see metal in microwaves: Glass, paper, ceramic, or plastic containers are used in microwave cooking because microwaves pass through these materials. Metal and aluminium in microwaves is a big no-no.
- Some plastic containers should not be used in a microwave oven as well. This is because they can be melted by the heat of the food inside. The see-through thin plastic materials should not be used. Even polyethene is a risk too
- Microwave radiation can heat body tissue the same way it heats food. Exposure to very high levels of microwaves can cause a painful burn. Handle food well with kitchen mitts or kitchen towels when taking them out of the microwave oven.
Science is always evolving and other discoveries are found on a daily basis. Any new evidence will be added to the article should anything change.
But the bottom line, microwaves are a safe, effective, and highly convenient cooking method. Will you start using that microwave now?