Many purists will advise you to throw away your microwave altogether. That certainly may work just fine for a whole lot of people, but for the rest of us, a more realistic goal is usually one focused on improvement, not perfection.
The truth is it can be very difficult to live without a microwave if for no other reason than simple basics (like for reheating that big morning mug of coffee that it takes me 2 hours to drink). The problem is that microwave ovens are fast, easy and so convenient. If you’ve got one sitting there, it’s very tempting to use it for virtually everything.
You don’t necessarily have to toss it, but there are definitely times when a little restraint is in order. Hopefully the following information will help you decide whether the time you’ll save is worth the “price” you might pay.
5 Foods You Really Shouldn’t Nuke
According to the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, microwaved broccoli loses up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidant properties. In fact, the results of boiling or pressure cooking are almost as bad. The best way to cook broccoli without losing precious nutrients is to steam it.
- Hot Peppers
Never mind damaging nutrition on this one. The problem with hot peppers is that they contain capsaicin which can actually make them catch fire. Besides that, when you open the microwave door, the chemcials released during heating will leave you with stinging eyes and a burning throat.
- Dense Vegetables
Oddly enough, what makes these foods healthy is what conflicts with microwaves. Vegetables such as kale, carrots, green beans & green peppers contain high amounts of minerals (iron, magnesium, etc.) that react like tiny pieces of metal. This can actually create sparks or arcing. Your food won’t be dangerous to eat, but it may cook unevenly or even burn.
- Foods High in B-12
Microwaving will degrade or inactivate this vitamin, so choose another cooking method for foods high in B-12. That includes milk, cheese, eggs, red meat, certain fish, shellfish & crustaceans, and B-12 fortified foods such as Tofu.
- Breast Milk
Research indicates that some of the immune-boosting proteins in breast milk may be destroyed by heating it in a microwave, especially on high power. There are also reports of greater E-coli growth in breast milk warmed on high heat.
Packaging That Should Never Go In a Microwave
- Brown Paper Bags
Food grade commercial oven bags that are designed specifically for cooking are fine. Just don’t use paper bags from your local supermarket. At best they aren’t sanitary. At worst they can catch fire, or they may emit toxic fumes from the glue, ink, and/or recycled materials that they’re made from.
- Single-Use Plastic Containers
This category includes the kind of packaging used for foods like sour cream, butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt. These thin little containers can easily warp or melt in a microwave, and they may also contaminate your food with chemicals.
- Chinese Take-Out Boxes
Most of these have little metal handles, and metal is always a disaster in a microwave as it can at least cause sparks or destroy the appliance altogether. Add to that a paper carton, and you’re almost guaranteed a fire.
- Plastic – Any Kind
A great many plastics are known to leach harmful chemicals into foods when heated. (You’ve probably heard of BPA, but there are others.) Even if an item says it’s BPA free, think again. A study published by Environmental Health Perspectives showed that out of 450 plastic products tested, 95% of them released estrogen-like chemicals after being microwaved – including products that were labeled “BPA-free”. To be safe, don’t put plastic plates, food storage containers, zip top bags, baby bottles, or any other kind of plastic in your microwave.
- Styrofoam Take-Out Trays
It’s simple. Styrofoam is a kind of plastic.
Other Miscellaneous Precautions About Using Your Microwave
Dish Cloths & Other Fabric Items – A lot of people will use a microwave to help sterilize a wet sponge, but beware. If you heat it for too long and it completely dries out it can catch on fire. The same goes for trying to freshen up your damp dish cloths or dry your kids’ wet socks.
Home Canning – Don’t do it because it isn’t safe. Proper heating is essential to avoid dangerous bacteria in canned foods, and this isn’t possible in a microwave because temperature levels in foods are notoriously uneven.
Pre-Packaged Frozen Meals – Most of them are garbage that no one should be consuming anyway. However, there are some decent organic products on the market so you just need to follow the instructions. In addition to cooking time, sometimes the directions say to let the food “stand” for so many minutes after cooking. What they don’t tell you is that this isn’t an option. That “standing time” is a critical part of the cooking process, and if you skip that you could end up with improperly cooked food that will make you sick.
How to Start Using Your Microwave Oven Less Often
- Be Prepared – Get in the habit of planning ahead. What’s for dinner tomorrow night? Take it out of the freezer tonight and let it thaw in the frig. Then you won’t be tempted to nuke it in a rush after work tomorrow.
- Cook Ahead – Soups, stews, and lots of other foods can be frozen in meal-sized portions. It doesn’t take long to put them in water until they thaw enough to transfer into a dish for the stove top or oven.
- Cook Less – Needless to say, you may not be willing or even interested in going completely raw, but at least keep that in mind as a wonderfully healthy option. Even a fancy salad doesn’t take long to prepare, and you aren’t left with a kitchen full of pots & pans to clean up.
- Consider a Combo Oven – Microwaves aren’t the only way to make quick work of cooking foods or heating up leftovers. One good option is a combination microwave/convection oven so you can use convection most of the time and microwaving only when necessary. If your ready to take the plunge to completely nuke-free, then consider a combination convection/toaster oven.
In the end, it’s all about priorities. Sometimes eating healthier does take a little more time than we’re accustomed to, but then, aren’t the benefits worth it?
Yang, C., Yaniger, S., Jordan, V., Klein, D., & Bittner, G. (2011, July 1). Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem that Can Be Solved. Retrieved from http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/119/7/ehp.1003220.pdf
Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?. (February 1, 2006). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/microwaving-food-in-plastic-dangerous-or-not
Rachael Rettner. (February 7, 2014). Microwaving Your Meals: Skipping 1 Step Can Make You Sick. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/43188-microwaving-meals-sick.html
F Vallejo, FA, Tomas-Barberan, and C García-Viguera. Phenolic compound contents in edible parts of broccoli inflorescences after domestic cooking. (October 15, 2003). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.1585/abstract
Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.. What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA?. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331
F. Watanabe, K. Abe, T. Fujita, M. Got, M. Hiemori, and Y.Nakano. Effects of Microwave Heating on the Loss of Vitamin B(12) in Foods. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10554220
Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.. The ‘Do Not Microwave’ List. Retrieved from http://chemistry.about.com/b/2011/03/25/the-do-not-microwave-list.htm
Daisy Whitbread, BSc (Hons) MSc DipION. Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin B12. Retrieved from http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-vitamin-B12.php
Quan R, Yang C, Rubinstein S, Lewiston NJ, Sunshine P, Stevenson DK, Kerner JA Jr.. Effects of microwave radiation on anti-infective factors in human milk. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1557249.