Should you be concerned about cooking your food using a microwave oven?
Over 90% of homes in the U.S. have microwave ovens used for meal preparation. Because microwave ovens are so convenient and energy-efficient, compared to conventional ovens, very few homes and restaurants are without them. In general, people believe that whatever a microwave oven does to foods cooked in it does not have any negative effect on either the food or them.
It would seem that IF one should have health concerns about microwaves, they could be found at 2 possible levels:
As you move away from a microwave oven, the level of any leaking microwave radiation which might be reaching you decreases exponentially. For example, a person standing 20 inches from a microwave oven would receive approximately 1/100 the amount of microwaves received at 2 inches.
However even the Food and Drug Administration admits that much is unknown and much research is under way on microwaves and how they might affect the human body. It is a known fact that microwave radiation can heat body tissue the same way it heats food. Exposure to high levels of microwaves can cause painful burns.
Less is known about what happens to people when they are exposed to low levels of microwaves. To find out, large numbers of people who had been exposed to microwaves would have to be studied for many years. This information is not available.
How do microwave ovens work?
Let's first look at how microwave ovens work. Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic energy, like light waves or radio waves. In our modern technological age, microwaves are used to relay long distance telephone calls, TV programs, and computer information across the globe or to an orbiting satellite in space. Microwaves are good for transmitting information from one place to another because microwave energy can penetrate haze, light rain and snow, clouds, and smoke. But the microwave is most familiar to us as an energy source for cooking food.
Every microwave oven contains a device called a magnetron, a tube in which electrons are affected by magnetic and electric fields in such a way as to produce micro wavelength radiation at about 2450 Mega Hertz (MHz) or 2.45 Giga Hertz (GHz). This microwave radiation interacts with the molecules in the food.
In microwave ovens, as these microwaves generated by the magnetron bombard the food, they cause the polar molecules to rotate at the same frequency, millions of times per second. The molecules within the food - especially the polar water molecules, but also amino acids, lipids and proteins - are forced to align themselves with the rapidly changing alternating electrical field. They oscillate around their axis in response to a reversal of the electric field which occurs billions of times per second. This oscillation creates considerable intermolecular friction which results in the generation of heat.
All this agitation creates "molecular friction", which heats up the food. This unusual type of heating also causes substantial damage to the surrounding molecules, often forcefully deforming them or tearing them apart.It is this friction and heat which can destroy the fragile structure of vitamins and enzymes in the food.
Microwaves from the sun are based on pulsed direct current (DC) which don't create frictional heat, while microwave ovens use alternating current (AC) creating frictional heat.
A microwave oven produces a spiked wavelength of energy with all of the power going into only one narrow frequency of the energy spectrum. Energy from the sun operates in a wide frequency spectrum.
The microwave oven issue: not as clear-cut as most of us assume
Microwaves can seriously deplete the nutrients in food. It's not surprising that microwave heating of food results in losses of nutrients because all heating methods have a similar effect. However, microwave heating appears to produce the greatest losses.
Microwaves may also cause pathological changes in our bodies. Once the structure of a food is altered, it is unable to perform the desired function in our bodies. Clinical studies have shown that microwave heating of milk or cooking of vegetables is associated with a decline in hemoglobin levels. Will that kill you? Probably not. Is it good for you? I doubt it. These reductions may contribute to anemia, thyroid deficiency, and rheumatism.
It is assumed that no chemical effects can be detectable in microwaved nutrients. Hwever, histological studies (1) with microwaved broccoli and carrots have revealed that the molecular structures of nutrients are deformed by high-frequency reversal of polarity, even up to the point of destroying the cell walls, whereas in conventional cooking the cell structures remained intact.
Microwaving may even result in the development of new, hitherto unknown substances. The microwaves-induced reversal of the polarity causes the cells in the nutrients to become destructively polarized, possibly allowing for the creation of free radicals (1). All free radicals have a strong tendency to cause reactions. They can interact with enzymes thus causing a disruption of biological processes.
In addition, through induction the food itself becomes a carrier and secondary source of technically generated radiation. Studies (2-3) regarding the luminous power of luminescent bacteria indicated a significant association between the amount of microwave energy in the test foods and the increased energy in the blood serum of test persons who ate that food. The luminous power of luminescent bacteria exposed to serum from these test individuals was significantly greater than that of those individuals who had eaten conventionally heated food or raw foods. This led the authors of the study to the conclusion that such technically derived energies MAY be passed along to man inductively via the ingestion of microwaved foods(2-3).
In 1973, 2 American scientists, P. Czerski and W.M. Leach (4) proved that microwaves cause cancer in animals.
A group of scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California discovered that microwaving breast milk at high temperatures (72°C to 98°C) caused a marked decrease in activity of all the tested anti-infective factors. E. coli growth at >98°C was 18 times that of control human milk. Even at 20°C to 25°C, E. coli growth was 5 times that of control human milk. Because microwave radiation leads to a significant loss of the immunological properties of milk, the authors of the study concluded that microwaving is definitely "not a suitable heat treatment modality for breast milk".(5)
Their study on the effects of microwaved food on human beings in comparison to conventionally prepared food showed that food which had been cooked in a microwave oven caused significant changes in the blood immediately after ingestion by the test individuals.(2-3)
When it comes to using a microwave oven in your kitchen, my recommendation would be to:
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I've been researching nutrition for over 30 years!
Ask me any nutrition-related question, for free via Skype video, everyday from 11AM to 11:30AM, Central Time. More info here.
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(1) SCHRUMPF, E. / CHARLEY, H. (1975): TEXTURE OF BROCCOLI AND CARROTS COOKED BY MICROWAVE ENERGY. - J. FOOD SCIENCE, 4O: 1 025-29.
(2) BLANC, B. H. / HERTEL, H. U. ( 1992): COMPARATIVE STUDY ABOUT THE INFLUENCE ON MAN BY FOOD PREPARED CONVENTIONALLY AND IN THE MICROWAVE-OVEN.
(3) BLANC, B. H. / HERTEL, H. U. (1992): H.ANDE WEG VOM MIKROWELLENHERD! - RAUM & ZEIT SPECIAL NR. 6, EHLERS, SAUERLACH.
(4) CZERSKI, P. ET AL. ( 1 974): INFLUENCE OF MICROWAVE RADIATION ON THE HAEMATOPOETIC SYSTEM. IN: BIOLOGIC EFFECTS AND HEALTH HAZARDS OF MICRO WAVE RADIATION. - POLISH MEDICAL PUBLISHERS, WARSCHAU.
(5) QUAN, R. ET AL. (1992): EFFECTS OF MICROWAVE RADIATION ON ANTI-INFECTIVE FACTORS IN HUMAN MILK. - PEDIATRICS. 89 (4): 667-69.
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