Are Microwaves Safe or Dangerous?

When we get a call-out for a microwave repair, we often end up having this discussion with our customers. With all the scary urban legends, it is easy to understand why. Toxic and poisonous food and carcinogenic radiation leaking all over the place are among the most resilient myths capturing the people’s imagination. 

The truth is, however, that there are no and has never been any scientific evidence in support of these arguments. Indeed microwaves may not be the best way to prepare tasty and well-textured food but as you are about to find out, they are by no means a threat to your health. In fact, it microwaving some foods may actually be healthier! 

Before we start debunking the “deadly” microwave myths, let us have a look at its basic principles of operation. 

How Microwaves Work

The heart of the microwaves is the magnetron. It turns electricity into electromagnetic waves or as we know it - microwaves. What they do is make the food molecules vibrate, thus generating friction and heat. It is no different than the heat coming out from rubbing two surfaces together. 

Microwaves affect primarily liquids, but they also work with fats and sugars - just to a lesser effect. In the process, there is indeed radiation emitted. However, it is far from the deadly nuclear radiation we are used to be afraid of. It is by no means healthy or harmless, but microwaves have metal shielding that keeps the radiation intensity extremely low. Still, keeping your face away from the microwave window is a reasonable precaution. 

How Microwaves Affect Nutrition Values

Contrary to the common belief, in many cases, microwaves actually retain more nutrition values in comparison to boiling or frying for instance. Any thermal processing of food leads to nutrients loss, but microwaves cook at lower temperatures and for shorter periods of time. Therefore, less water-soluble nutrients are evaporated in the process. 

There are studies showing that microwave cooking along with baking preserves the most antioxidants. However, this is not true for all foods. For instance, microwaves destroy cancer-fighting compounds in garlic and some antioxidants in broccoli much faster than any other cooking method. This is the reason why breastmilk or any baby supplements should never be microwaved as they would lose key antibacterial compounds.

Important to note, because of the low cooking temperatures, microwaving may actually lead to less harmful compounds being formed in foods like bacon and chicken!  

Microwaves And Plastic Containers

Microwaving in plastic containers is the only real health hazard. Plastic contains hormone-disrupting agents like bisphenol-A that is often linked to different forms of cancer. When heated these compounds may end up in the food, especially if the plastic container is not labeled as microwave-safe.

Downsides

As mentioned, microwaves do not heat up the food as much as other cooking methods. As a result, they are not very efficient in killing bacterias. Heating your food for a longer period of time may make up for that but you should be careful when doing it with liquids. Microwaves may cause water molecules to explode, making a mess and burning you in the process.

Bottom Line

Microwaves are by no means the cancer-spreading killing machines many people tend to believe they are. Microwaved food may not be tastiest or the most delicious-looking one, but is often the most convenient option in our busy lives. Therefore, if you are ok with that, there is no real reason to give up on your microwave.