Why We Don’t Use a Microwave

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Why we don't use a microwave and what we use instead
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I’ve gotten several emails lately asking about microwave safety and if we use a microwave at our house. Even with the natural birthing, dirt eating, barefoot playing, cloth-diapering and mud shampooing that goes on at our house, not using a microwave seems to be one of those things that is inexcusably crunchy.

Since I’ve pretty well established myself in the crunchy camp, I thought I’d finally share why we don’t use a microwave at our house.

The Main Reason

Half of the reason we converted to real food is the taste, and this is also half the reason that we stopped using a microwave. In my opinion, food cooked or reheated in the microwave does not taste as good! I had plenty of microwaved ramen noodle eating experiences (cringe) in college to form this opinion.

According to the daily green, microwaves work by:

“Microwave radiation is a form of non-ionizing radiation (meaning it can’t directly break up atoms or molecules) that lies between common radio and infrared frequencies. So it is not thought to damage DNA of living things, the way X and gamma rays do. Still, microwaves can obviously cause heating effects, and can harm or kill at high energies. That’s why microwave ovens on the market must operate at or below strict limits set by the federal government.

Most microwave ovens hit food with microwaves at a frequency of 2.45 gigahertz (GHz) (a wavelength of 12.24 centimeters (4.82 in)). The prevailing belief is that molecules in the food, particularly water, absorb energy from the waves through dielectric heating. That is, since water molecules are polar, having a positive end and negative end, they begin to rotate rapidly as the alternating electric field passes through. That rotation is thought to add heat to the food.”

This fast method of cooking doesn’t allow time for flavors to develop and meld like other cooking methods do. As I’ve found a lot of quick meal recipes that are much healthier than microwaved meals anyway, we just don’t use a microwave.

The Health Factors

There is a lot of disagreement about if microwaves release radiation or can cause harm this way. By their nature, they do release radiation in to food, but the disagreement regards whether the radiation is released outside of the microwave itself. Mark Sisson covered this here:

“Here’s what we found. First, to the question of transforming your home into a radiation zone… There is, not surprisingly, disagreement about this point. However, occasional home use of a fully functional microwave appliance is generally considered safe. Microwaves do, make no mistake, emit radiation, and the FDA has established what it considers “safe” levels for microwaves: over the machine’s “lifetime” the allowable level is “5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter…approximately 2 inches from the oven surface.” Guidelines from the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) suggest overall radiation limits of 1 milliwatt per square centimeter “averaged over 6 minutes (0.1 h) period.” Unless you’re using your microwave on a perpetual basis, there’s little reason to worry.) Because the radiation diminishes quickly over distance, standing further away from the microwave during operation cuts your exposure even more significantly. (That instinct to not press your face against the glass door while your lunch was cooking turns out to be right after all…) Additionally, the FDA requires two interlock systems that effectively offer backup security as well as a monitoring system that shuts the microwave down if one of the systems isn’t working or if the door is opened during operation. Common sense adds that you might want to make sure the microwave seal isn’t compromised by built up tomato sauce or other grime. (Hmmm…anyone?) And, of course, it’s a good idea to replace an old, dilapidated microwave even if it’s a great conversation piece. Safety versus vintage flare…”

There are stories of patients dying after being given microwaved blood transfusions and babies being injured by microwaved breast milk, indicating that those substances should definitely not be microwaved. I’ve also seen caution against microwaving oil or water, though we don’t have a microwave so I can’t claim personal experience with either of those.

From a radiation perspective, the general consensus seems to be that microwaves could transmit radiation, though it is unlikely. Dr. Mercola gives some compelling evidence of this possibility though.

There is evidence that heating certain materials (like plastic) in the microwave can cause harm. As that article explains:

“The safest course of action is to avoid putting any plastics in the microwave. When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tested plastics labeled microwave safe and advertised for infants, even those were found to release “toxic doses” of Bisphenol A when heated in a microwave. “The amounts detected were at levels that scientists have found cause neurological and developmental damage in laboratory animals,” the paper reports.

In fact, the term “microwave safe” is not regulated by the government, so it has no verifiable meaning. According to the Journal Sentinel‘s testing, BPA “is present in frozen food trays, microwaveable soup containers and plastic baby food packaging.” It is often found in plastics marked No. 7, but may also be present in some plastics labeled with Nos. 1, 2 and 5 as well, according to the report. Better to stick to glass or ceramics.”

So, while we’ve opted to avoid microwaves completely, if one is going to use one, it would seem wise not to use plastic.

What About Nutrients?

This is the other half of the reason we avoid microwaves. There is evidence that microwaves reduce nutrients in food. Any cooking will actually change the nutrients in food in some way, though low and slow cooking seems to preserve the most nutrients while faster methods of cooking (microwave being the fastest) destroy more nutrients. This article gives a good summary:

  • Three recent studies of historical food composition have shown 5-40% declines in some of the minerals in fresh produce, and another study found a similar decline in our protein sources (1)
  • A 1999 Scandinavian study of the cooking of asparagus spears found that microwaving caused a reduction in vitamins (3)
  • In a study of garlic, as little as 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate its allinase, garlic’s principle active ingredient against cancer (5)
  • A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli “zapped” in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97%of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11% or fewer of its antioxidants. There were also reductions in phenolic compounds and glucosinolates, but mineral levels remained intact (6).
  • A recent Australian study showed that micro- waves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating (2)
  • Microwaving can destroy the essential disease-fighting agents in breast milk that offer protection for your baby. In 1992, Quan found that microwaved breast milk lost lysozyme activity, antibodies, and fostered the growth of more potentially pathogenic bacteria (4).”

The article explains:

“Still, we know sufficiently little about nutrition and the cumulative effects of food science that some aren’t so convinced (of course, there is also the threat of any harmful substances present getting released upon cooking, such as the diacetyl blamed for “popcorn lung.”) In a recent article E Magazine pointed out that popular holistic health expert Dr. Andrew Weil has written, “There may be dangers associated with microwaving food… there is a question as to whether microwaving alters protein chemistry in ways that might be harmful.” According to the magazine, Dr. Fumio Watanabe of Japan’s Kochi Women’s University found that heating samples for six minutes degenerated 30 to 40% of the milk’s vitamin B12. This kind of breakdown took about 25 minutes of boiling with conventional heat. In a 1992 Stanford Medical School study often cited by microwave opponents, researchers reported a “marked decrease” in immune-boosting factors in microwaved human breast milk. In the late 1980s Swiss scientists reported decreases in hemoglobin and white blood cells in rats that had eaten microwaved food.”

The Microwave Bottom Line

Microwaves are convenient… So is fast food, so is letting the TV be a babysitter. Convenience doesn’t always make something the best option.

Microwaves don’t produce the best tasting food, they might destroy nutrients, and there is a possibility that they might release harmful radiation. For me, this was an easy choice- if it might be harmful and doesn’t make good tasting food, we avoid it.

Obviously, most people aren’t willing to give up the convenience of a microwave, so at least avoid using plastic in it!

What We Use Instead

This should be pretty obvious (especially to anyone if our parents’s generation) that there are a lot of alternative cooking methods. In general, we use:

  • Conventional Oven: I use my regular oven multiple times per day to cook or reheat food.
  • Toaster Oven: For times when I don’t want to use the oven or need to heat up a small amount of food, a toaster oven is easier.
  • Pan Heating: I use pans at most meals. Breakfast omelets are cooked on the stove, leftovers heated for lunch and veggies steamed for dinner. I use these pans as they are the most non-toxic and environmentally friendly ones I’ve found.
  • Crock Pot: I use the crock pot multiple times a week, and have one constantly going with bone broth. I use this one because the research I found showed that it didn’t have any lead in the crock, though any slow cooker will work.
  • Convection Oven: I don’t have one personally (it is on the wish list), but a close friend of mine loves her countertop convection oven and uses it everyday. This supposedly combines the quick cooking of a microwave with the safety and quality of the oven).

Do you use a microwave? Would you consider giving it up? Why or why not? Share below!

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

178 responses to “Why We Don’t Use a Microwave”

  1. Amanda Avatar

    We don’t currently use a microwave but thought about getting one because my son has this moose animal that has a rice bag you warm up and put inside the moose to make him warm.
    We don’t use it because of radiation and to remind us God is not a Microwave God.

  2. Slica Avatar

    I haven’t used a microwave for 25 years. I don’t miss it one bit. I use a toaster oven, regular oven, or the stovetop. I cringe every single time someone at work throws their food into the microwave. Food from a microwave tastes nasty and is unhealthy.

  3. Jessie Avatar

    Microwaving breast milk reduces the nutritional density not because of weird radiation issues but because heating breast milk too much reduces the nutritional density, no matter what the method.

    Heating water in the microwave, to use for defrosting milk in, is going to have the same nutritional outcome for the milk as long as the water temperature is the same.

    Heat reduces nutrition benefits of milk.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465021/

  4. Jessie Avatar

    From the FDA site:

    “ Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water.”

    Yes you should not put plastic in the microwave just like you shouldn’t put plastic in the oven or in boiling water.

    If you’re microwave is not 20 years old and closes properly the amount of radiation released is such a small amount. You get a larger dose going through airport security once than you do in a lifetime of heating with a microwave.

    Microwaves are a hell of a lot safer than gas stoves according to large scientific studies. The same gas stove that all of the comments say they’re using now instead of a microwave. Yet I found no articles on your site about how you use an electric stove. Have you considered that you’re making people less safe with this article?

    https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/5/7/21247602/gas-stove-cooking-indoor-air-pollution-health-risks

  5. Allison Avatar

    I realize this article is several years old, but I’m curious about the toaster oven you linked. The description says it has “nonstick inner walls for easy cleaning”, which to me suggests a non-stick coating. Wouldn’t that be unhealthy as it is heating up every time you use it? Would this not be the same as using pans with non-stick coating? Wondering if you have since found a better option for a toaster oven that is only stainless steel and has no non-stick coating anywhere?

  6. anders ankan Avatar
    anders ankan

    this was not mentioned pasta with meat sauce. i can eat 2 full plates
    and get well feed and not hungry for the rest of the day.

    if i save and microwave same batch i must have 3 plates of it to get
    well feed.

  7. Beck Avatar

    What do you all use to reheat a cup of coffee when you’re in a hurry?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      I don’t reheat coffee, that’s gross. If there is any left over that has gotten cold, I’ll make an iced coffee instead…

  8. Steven Avatar

    No way Jose! I use a NuWave infrared oven.
    I can cook, reheat it’s great!

  9. Carol Grubb Avatar
    Carol Grubb

    love your stuff just a suggestion For those who don’t think a microwave oven throws off much radiation and the guidelines established by the governmental agencies, you can test for yourself by purchasing a meter that actually measures what you are exposing yourself and your children to by using it. I was horrified when I did this and mine is going in the trash never to be used again. Esp dangerous for young children. Google emf dangers from microwaves. And yes, there is a lot of controversy from both sides but after doing my homework I don’t want to risk any more exposure than necessary. Stay well everyone in this world of technical devices that are not always our friend. c

  10. Brie Avatar

    Your link to the toaster oven is broken. Can you please recommend a non Teflon coated toaster oven? Thank you

  11. Abby Avatar

    I am trying to stop using a microwave and have eliminated it for most things except reheating leftovers. I was looking into a convection oven or a convection microwave but haven’t been able to find out if they have the same negative impact on the nutrients.

  12. Valdoria Avatar
    Valdoria

    I used to work, for three years, at a company where the microwave was on the other side of the cubicle wall behind me. People were using it all day long every day. I complained about it and was looked at as if I was a complete idiot with people rolling their eyes. I was healthy back then and have had a world of health issues since from hormonal, circulovasular, heart, liver, etc… I threw out my microwave from the house and eat only organic non microwaved food but it is ridiculous that I am exposed to this in a workplace and I feel this damaged me and I have zero abilities to regain compensation from the company. Is there a way to heal from this type of exposure?

    1. Sonia Avatar

      Hi @wellnessmama, I love learning from your posts and your products. Could you tell me how you feel about a Convection Over-the-Range Microwave Oven? I’m deciding for a combo-unit like this and just not use the microwave portion at all but have it available for my visitors that insist of having microwave….thoughts?

  13. Sarabi Avatar

    Because the focus at the beginning of the article was on *cooking* food in the microwave, I was afraid you weren’t going to consider those of us who only use it to reheat because we don’t have ovens. I’m glad you listed alternatives. Personally, reheating with pans and rice cookers doesn’t work for me (sort of ruins the flavor and texture in my opinion, unless I’m reheating something like bread, soup, or vegetables) but I’ll definitely look into the toaster oven! Seems like the best option. Thanks for the awesome article!

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