The Truth About Microwaving Foods: Is it Bad for Your Health?

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Last Updated on June 10, 2021
Annabelle

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

are microwaves bad for you

The microwave. That handy appliance that reinvented the way we cook foods. It hit the kitchen after World War II, and we’ve never looked back. It is the one appliance that you can find in just about every kitchen, dorm room, hotel room and office break room. It is a wonder of modern technology.

The problem with the microwave is that there are lots of questions about how they work, and if they are actually causing you more harm than good. It is easy to see how people are concerned, microwaves don’t really use heat to cook food, and that science can prove to be a little confusing, and scary. 

So the question many people ask is, does a microwave have impacts on my health? It’s a fair question, and one that deserves a clear answer.

The answer to this question – No. Microwaves do not harm your health.

To help better explain this answer, we will offer some explanations on how microwaves work, some of the benefits to using a microwave, and debunk some myths about using your microwave.

1. The Microwave – The Basics

kitchen counter

So the microwave as we know it today was developed by American engineer Percy Spencer in 1946. It uses the same technology that was developed for military radar systems during World War II. Fittingly the first microwave was called the “Radarange”.

The microwave works by using electromagnetic radiation to create a molecular reaction that produces heat. This process is called dielectric heating. The benefit of this process is that dielectric heating is very uniform, and when high water content foods are exposed to dielectric heating processes they warm or cook very quickly, without burning. 

The microwave revolutionized the way we cooked. In the 1950s the TV dinner hit stores, and pretty soon families were eating fast and easy dinners right from the microwave. Since then, we’ve learned how to cook complete, fresh, healthy meals in the microwave. Yet, there are still questions about how safe they actually are.

2. But It’s Radiation, Won’t That Hurt Me?

Microwave

The real concern about microwaves is that they use electromagnetic radiation to cook foods. That word, “radiation” is what concerns people the most. And for good reason, radiation as we normally think about it, comes from things like uranium, radium and plutonium. And that kind of radiation can harm us.

The kind of radiation that is used in microwaves is similar to the radiation that comes from your cell phone. It is non-ionizing so it is safer for your cells and body. To protect you from this radiation, your microwave is insulated with metal shields and a metal screen over the window to keep the electromagnetic radiation inside. Microwaves are designed to use this energy source without causing harm. So, go ahead and enjoy that bag of microwave popcorn. It is perfectly safe to eat.

Still not convinced that electromagnetic radiation isn’t safe? Well remember, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation, and you live with lights every day.

3. The Benefits of Microwaving Foods

Microwave

Believe it or not, there are some benefits to microwaving foods. Some go along the line of convenience; some are actually ways that your foods will be healthier. So let’s look at some of the benefits of using your microwave.

  • More Nutrients in Food – Don’t be fooled. Cooking your food, no matter the heat source will break down some of the nutrients in your foods. However, microwaves actually break down the least amount of nutrients. Why? Because microwaves cook food so quickly that there isn’t enough time exposed to heat for nutrients to break down. So, when you microwave your veggies, they are actually better for you.
  • Great for Sauces – If you need to make a sauce, melt butter or chocolate, or in general deal with foods that may get lumpy or separate when warming. These kinds of foods do well in the microwave because again, quick, uniform heating eliminates under or over cooked areas.
  • Less Harmful Compounds – This is the cool thing about microwaves. They won’t burn your food. Why is this so great? Well, burnt food is far more hazardous to your health than the electromagnetic radiation from your microwave.

    You see, when foods burn, or even when you brown foods, you change the structure of the carbon in the foods. This chemical change can form compounds like hydrocarbons and nitrosamines that are known to cause cancer.

    A good example to use is bacon. Cooking bacon, even if it isn’t burnt creates nitrosamines. Studies into this process have shown that microwaving bacon actually creates less nitrosamines than cooking in a pan.

  • Quicker – If you’re looking to save time, or are needing to make a healthy meal in a hurry, the microwave is a great solution. Cooking times for foods are substantially shorter in the microwave. A good example is a baked potato. In the oven a fully cooked baked potato takes at least an hour. In the microwave, 15 minutes.

4. Tips For Safe Microwaving

Microwave Lunch Explosion

So, now that you know that microwaving your food is safe, and may actually be better for you than other cooking methods, let’s give you some tips for making it really safe.

  • Don’t use metal in your microwave. This is pretty common knowledge, but just a friendly reminder.
  • Make sure that you are fully cooking foods. While the microwave is super convenient, undercooked food is still questionably from a food safety perspective.
  • Be careful when heating liquids. Microwaves don’t boil the same way as the stove does. Liquids can actually explode from their container and cause serious burns.
  • Only use microwave safe plastic containers. Otherwise glass containers are the best option for heating food in your microwave.
  • Don’t forget to use oven mitts when removing food or dishes from the microwave. Dishes can get hot, and your food will be hot. This will protect your hands from burns.
  • If your microwave isn’t working right, or if the door doesn’t shut well. It’s time for a new microwave.