Microwaves And Nutrition: Is Nuked Food Unhealthy?

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Microwaves have been a staple in homes for decades. Although their convenience cannot be disputed, some people may wonder if cooking food in the microwave can make it less healthy or even unsafe. Although it has been used for years, some skepticism still exists on whether cooking food in a microwave destroys the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in the food. The good news is research seems to indicate nuking your food will not make it any less healthy than using conventional ovens.

How Does The Microwave Heat Foods?

In order to understand why cooking or reheating food in the microwave does not make it less healthy, it is important to have a general concept of how microwave ovens work. Microwave ovens use electromagnetic energy waves to heat food. The energy waves move or vibrate extremely quickly, which is what causes the heat.

The energy from the electromagnetic waves penetrates the food faster than heat from a conventional oven, which is why food is heated so quickly. The energy also penetrates the food from the inside out, as opposed to a convention oven or stovetop, which cooks the food from the outside in. All of these factors allow the food to be cooked or heated with less exposure to heat than a conventional oven, which actually helps it retain nutrients in many instances.

Microwaves And Nutrient Levels

The misconception that foods cooked in a microwave are less healthy rather than foods cooked in a conventional oven has been around since microwaves gained popularity. The belief may be that nutrients in food are destroyed by the radiation given off from a microwave; however, that appears to be a misconception.

According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the bottom line is microwave ovens do not appear to destroy nutrients any more so than cooking in a conventional oven, In fact, in some cases, more nutrients were retained when food was cooked with a microwave. Although most of the research on microwave cooking involves vitamins in vegetables, studies also indicate proteins, minerals and lipids do not appear to be significantly affected with microwave cooking.

Microwave Tips

According to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, it appears the longer foods are exposed to heat, the more nutrients they lose. It also appears the cooking temperature and the amount of water used in cooking are what decrease nutritional content. Due to these findings, there are a few things you can do when cooking in the microwave to decrease the amount of nutrition lost during cooking:

  • Use minimal amounts of water. When you are cooking vegetables in the microwave, the water added can absorb some of the nutrients. Although a little water may be needed, be sure not to overdo it. Frozen vegetables usually do not need any additional water. Fresh vegetables can usually be cooked in a tablespoon of water.
  • Don’t overheat food. The longer the food is exposed to heat, the more nutrients may be lost. Keep in mind it is essential to cook food thoroughly to avoid contamination from bacteria without overcooking it. Using a cooking thermometer and following microwave cooking directions can help.
  • Be sure to arrange food evenly. Microwaves can cook food unevenly, which can cause bacteria to remain on food, while other parts of food can become overcooked. Using a rotating turntable in the microwave will allow food to cook evenly. Stirring food after it is cooked halfway can also help it to cook evenly.

Benefits Of Microwave Cooking

Not only does microwaving food not appear to be any worse than other cooking methods, but there can be a few benefits as well. One of the most obvious benefits is cooking time. Certain vitamins, such as vitamin C, are affected by longer exposure to heat. If you use a microwave to heat a vegetable, it is heated quickly, which allows less exposure to heat and more nutrients retained.

The convenience of cooking nutritious foods in the microwave may also cause you to eat them more frequently. For instance, you can place some vegetables in the microwave with a little water, and in a few minutes, you have nutritious food that is ready to eat. Easy preparation can go a long way in helping you eat healthy foods.

Bottom Line

Is it important to understand, some vitamins and minerals are lost when exposed to the heat from cooking, although it does not appear microwave cooking is any worse than other methods of cooking food. Just be sure to follow recommended cooking times. The bottom line is – if you want the convenience of nuking your food in a microwave, it will not make food unhealthier than using a conventional oven, and it may even have some added health benefits.


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