There are still a lot of myths surrounding microwave ovens and the food cooked in them.
Amana Corporation introduced the first countertop microwave oven, invented by American engineer Percy Spencer, in 1967. Vietnam, civil rights and flower power were the topics of the day. Ah, times have changed! But microwaves have had amazing staying power, and practically every household uses one to at least reheat the morning coffee.
However, the device is still misunderstood by many who worry about exposure to microwaves and whether or not food that comes out of the units is as good for you as what emerges from a traditional oven. Most of us don’t really understand what microwaves are, making us doubtful about how they work. Rest assured your little microwave oven is safe… and the food coming out of it may actually be more nutritious than anything else you cook!
How It Works
It’s no wonder people are suspicious of the lowly microwave oven when they hear it works by exposing food to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. That sounds vaguely like atomic fission to most laymen, but it turns out microwaves are next door neighbors to the ones that bring you radio programs. That’s right, they’re very similar to the waves powering your car’s radio.
Microwaves agitate the polar molecules in food (mostly the water molecules) to rotate, producing thermal energy. Polar molecules are simply those with positive and negative poles. Microwaves are fast and efficient heating foods with a high moisture content over the outer one to one-and-a-half inches. Microwaves don’t penetrate well into thicker pieces of food, so cooking may be uneven. To remedy this, simply allow the cooked food to rest after cooking is completed to allow the heat to travel through the item.
Does the Food Become Radioactive?
Um, no. And just to brush up on science, light is visible radiation. In fact, most microwaves are used for TV broadcasting, ocean navigation and telecommunications. The reason eggs and hot dogs will explode in your microwave is because they heat unevenly and steam can’t escape, not because a nuclear reaction is taking place!
Now for the really good news. Since some nutrients, such as vitamin C, break down as they’re exposed to heat, the quick cooking times from microwaves can actually help preserve them. And if you think steaming your veggies on the stovetop is better for you, think again. The water absorbs some of the nutrients. In fact, broccoli will retain more glucosinolate (a cancer-fighting nutrient) by cooking it in a microwave than boiling or frying it.
All this is not to say that microwave ovens, just like conventional ovens and stoves, don’t come with risks. You can burn yourself just as easily on hot food from a microwave oven as any other, and if you don’t cook your meat through, you could expose yourself to bacteria or other organisms.
But most of us don’t use a microwave for a lot of cooking. This is because most microwave ovens are useless for browning and caramelizing food, which is the best part! They just don’t get hot enough, except when we’re talking about very fatty foods like bacon which can reach much higher temperatures than boiling water.
While you now know why real chefs won’t be using microwaves for much on reality cook-offs, they’re perfectly safe for you to use at home. Go ahead, heat up that chili! And add a side of veggies while you’re at it. It’s alright to feel a little smug about the extra vitamins.
Click below for the other articles in the September 2019 Senior Spirit
Health – Do You Need Protection from Cell Phone Waves?