3 Facts and Myths about Microwave Cooking

Most modern kitchens have a microwave these days. Some of us use ours to heat up that forgotten cup of coffee or warm up a TV dinner when we aren’t in the mood to cook, while others make whole meals in there, so there is no doubt this is a handy kitchen gadget. But how much do you know about microwave cooking – is it safe, does it destroy nutrients in food, and should you cook poultry in there? Take a look at our microwave myths and facts and find out more about microwave cooking. First of all, we’re going to look at some common myths.

Myth 1: Microwaving food can destroy nutrients

According to David Katz, MD, the director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, microwaving does not deplete the nutrient levels in food more than any other type of cooking. Food can be chemically changed (and that includes the nutrient content) using any cooking method, because vitamin C, some bio flavonoid antioxidants and omega-3 fats are sensitive to heat. If you boil vegetables in water, some of the nutrition can leach into the cooking water. At least that doesn’t happen with microwave cooking.

Myth 2: Microwaves can cook food all the way through

Actually, the USDA claims that microwaves can only penetrate a maximum of 1.5 inches into food, which means very thick or large pieces of food don’t get the microwaves in the center. This is a worry if you are cooking red meat or poultry in there, because it is possible to get food poisoning if your meat is undercooked. A microwave can reheat cooked food quickly and easily, but you might want to consider an alternative cooking method for large pieces of meat and poultry, just in case.

Myth 3: Reheating pasta makes it healthier

Did you see the recent episode of ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor‘, a BBC investigative health show, about microwave cooking? They discovered that reheating cold cooked pasta in the microwave reduced the participants’ post-meal blood sugar rise by 50%. Researchers claim the reason is when pasta is cooked, cooled and reheated, it acts as resistant starch, so the gut cannot easily break down the carbs and convert them into sugar. If you’re looking for a healthier way to enjoy pasta though, stick with the whole-grain variety. This has higher fiber content than white pasta so it doesn’t spike blood sugar as quickly. Whole-grain pasta has a lower glycemic effect than white pasta whether you reheat it or not.

And now for some interesting microwave facts. If you use a microwave, these are well worth knowing if you want to get the most from your device and cook your food safely every time.

Fact 1: Microwaves are safe

It makes sense to start with the most important fact. A microwave is so-named because it emits microwaves, which are a type of electromagnetic radiation, and this is how the device heats your food. The FDA enforces standards to regulate how much heat a microwave can produce, with the limit being 5 milliwatts of power per centimeter – a figure far below the level believed to be harmful. Using a microwave is not going to ‘give you cancer’ – that is simply an old wives’ tale. Microwaves just cause food molecules to move around and this motion causes the heat. If microwaves weren’t safe, they would have been taken off the market years ago.

Fact 2: Ensure your food is properly cooked before serving

Whichever cooking method you use, you want the resulting food to be cooked safely, thoroughly, and evenly. To check whether microwaved food is cooked through, you might like to use a food thermometer. Stews, soups, gravies, and sauces should come to a boil before being served. Raw pork, lamb, beef, veal, and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Ground meats should reach 160 degrees F, and the same for eggs and casseroles containing eggs. Poultry needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F, while fish should reach 145 degrees F. If you’re cooking a frozen meal, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the package and use a food thermometer to check it’s hot enough in the center before serving.

Fact 3: Take care with plastics

We all know not to put metal in the microwave but you also need to be careful with plastics. The reason is microwaved can cause plastic containers to break down, which allows more chemicals like phthalates and BPA to leach into your food. Although a lot of companies today make ‘microwave-safe’ or ‘BPA-free’ containers, a 2011 study in Environmental Health Perspectives tested more than 450 plastic products (everything from food containers to baby bottles) and a huge majority of them still leached chemicals into the food. These chemicals have been linked to some types of cancer as well as obesity. Even some of the ones marked ‘BPA-free’ were guilty. Although it is difficult to avoid plastics completely, try to avoid them whenever possible, putting your food in a ceramic or glass dish before microwaving it.