Do Microwave Ovens Pose Health Risks?

Between eight hours at work, running errands, and driving kids to evening soccer or band practice, who has time to cook dinner? Because of busy schedules, many Americans rely on a microwave oven for fast, easy meal preparation. In fact, over 90 percent of American homes have one, and 68 percent of Americans say they can't live without their microwave oven.

On a daily basis, Americans defrost meat, heat up leftovers, and make popcorn in the microwave. Originally marketed as radar ranges, microwave ovens cook by sending electromagnetic waves through food. This excites the food molecules and causes them to move and heat up in response to the radiation. The problem is microwave cooking may affect health in the following ways:

  • It can lower amounts of vitamin B 12, which is necessary for the production of red blood cells and a healthy nervous system.
  • It can destroy much of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes in food.
  • There is an association between microwave cooking and oral cancers or tumors of the salivary glands.
  • Some research suggests that cooks may experience higher risks for cancer due to microwave radiation exposure, but the body of evidence is uncertain.
  • Some evidence indicates that the negative effects of microwave radiation combined with other forms of electromagnetic exposure can add up over time.

Plastic Containers

In addition to the above-mentioned health risks, microwave cooking in plastic containers can be hazardous. According to Catherine Bailey, a science policy analyst for the FDA, "When you microwave, it's a good idea not to have the plastic touch the food." While it has been removed from many products, Bisphenol A (BPA) is still present in many plastic containers. This dangerous chemical toxin can alter neural and reproductive development, and low doses of BPA have been linked to some types of cancers, diabetes, early puberty, and obesity.

Microwaves and Babies

Microwaves are particularly hard on breast milk and baby formula. It is thought that microwave heating destroys enzymes in breast milk that protect babies against disease, promote a healthy digestive tract, and help babies absorb nutrients. Microwave heating also breaks down certain amino acids in baby formula and transforms the amino acid L-proline into a dangerous neurotoxin. Lastly, microwave cooking heats formula and breast milk in an uneven pattern creating hot spots that can scald a baby.

The best way to minimize health risks from microwaves is to limit use. However, if microwave cooking is unavoidable, people should purchase safer plastic containers made with polypropylene and polyethylene instead of BPA or use glass containers for microwave cooking.

Alternatives to Microwave Cooking

Fruits and vegetables are always best eaten raw, to attain the most nutrients. However, alternatives to microwave cooking for vegetables include light parboiling or steaming. To heat water for hot beverages, a stovetop or electric kettle offers another option. People can also use a toaster oven; or a small convection oven for quick cooking. Convection ovens cook through circulation of hot air instead of electromagnetic waves.

While microwave cooking offers a quick and easy solution to the dilemma of limited time, other methods for cooking might be healthier. People anticipating a particularly time-crunched day can prepare healthy sub sandwiches or pasta salads the night before for a ready-made, microwave-free dinner.

It's important to do what you can to avoid health risks in all aspects of your life. Avoid the microwave, opt for healthy foods, and add natural supplements for your daily life.

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