Are Microwave Ovens Harmful to Health? Finding Better Research in an Age of Snopes.

Via Lindsey Wolf
on Sep 16, 2008
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Are Microwaves bad for you? Do they degrade the nutrients in your food? reports.

via Lindsey Wolf, an elephantjournaldotcom classic. Michael Pollan, in today’s Sunday NY Times, reports that 90% of American households have a microwave. Hard to believe that high.

My new apartment has a microwave. When I moved in, my first thought was about unplugging it, storing it, and using that precious space that it took up in my mini-kitchen. Then I got sick. Then I realized that I could heat up water for tea in the microwave faster than on the stove. So I started to wonder. What are the facts regarding health hazards of microwave cooking? Was I actually doing myself more harm than good?

I like to do research. It shouldn’t have been too challenging to find some quick answers from reliable sources, right? Not so easy. It seems that microwave oven safety issues are still in urban-legend land, with several outrageous entries on Snopes (the myth buster website favored by Moms everywhere). Several other websites were simply circulating the same dated articles. There seems to be little recent research, other than an interesting NY Times article about how microwaves could be used to kill potentially invasive organisms on ships that are carried to other ports affecting ecosystems.

Like many things, this also seems to depend on the source and who you trust. According to Consumer Product Safety Commission data via Consumer Reports, about 4,000 Americans incur injuries from microwave ovens every year, including burns and scalds—a risk I hadn’t even considered.

But what about radiation exposure? The killing of food nutrients? The latter was demystified by another NY Times article that refers to research done at Cornell University, which concluded that, “every cooking method can destroy vitamins and other nutrients in food. The factors that determine the extent are how long the food is cooked, how much liquid is used and the cooking temperature.” (Here’s where the raw foodies would chime in). The radiation question is more frightening. The FDA itself states that it isn’t entirely known what happens to people exposed over a period of time to low levels of microwaves and that long-term studies involving people have not been done. See some safety tips here.

There are also significant warnings out there for mothers regarding the lack of safety in heating milk in the microwave, and for those who understandably like the ease of pre-packaged meals with plastic coverings, which are also of questionable safety.

I’m increasingly thinking though about where my food comes from in addition to how healthful it is. In that spirit, a writer from Slow Food also gave me a good reminder. It’s about “knowing your food.” How easy is that to do when (although it’s been busted as a myth and I still do it) you’re supposed to stand five feet away from the oven? It’s certainly not stirring a pot with appreciation while taking in the aromas of the food.

Perhaps newer research doesn’t need to be done after Swiss, German and Russian studies concluded years ago of the microwave oven’s questionable safety. So for now, out it goes. I’m going to get myself a tea kettle and start looking into the hazards of electromagnetic fields which appear to be dangerous and not as easy to avoid as an appliance.


About Lindsey Wolf


22 Responses to “Are Microwave Ovens Harmful to Health? Finding Better Research in an Age of Snopes.”

  1. Nick Berger says:

    Microwave radiation is closer to radio waves and infrared radiation (heat) than it is to X-rays and Gamma rays (the ones that mess with your cells).

    That would make Microwave ovens no more harmful than other appliances that emit electromagnetic fields (e.g. TVs and cells phones).

    Check out the link to see the electromagnetic spectrum.

  2. Tamara Kerner says:

    intuitively, they have just scared me since i was a kid…have never had one and never will.

  3. Its not so much what the waves do to you-its what they do to your food. Check out Dr. Masaru Emoto''s "Hidden Messages in Water" Many things can change the molecular structure of the water and make it more viable to life and healthy-or totally screw up the structure. There are pictures. What finished me on microwaves all together was the fact that the structure of the water that was microwaved looked a lot like the stucture of the water that had the word "satan" programmed into it. It looked like a black hole. No structure whatsoever. The water would NOT crystalize.

    ALSO, Your food has important proteins, vitamins, and minerals in it. When the food is cooked like this(microwaves heat up your food by spinning or vibrating the water molecules at a such a high rate-that it heats up) it degenerates all the protein structures, rendering them useless and even toxic. Wala! once nutritiously dense food-rendered void of all the good stuff and possibly toxic.

  4. admin says:

    Steven Whitacre (Los Angeles, CA) Today at 6:19am
    Concur. Microwaves are not considered harmful ionizing radiation. They tend to heat up water, metal, and certain other molecules; if they were to heat you or anything you’d touch up to a dangerous extent, you’d feel the heat.

  5. lindsey says:

    All really thoughtful and helpful comments, thank you so much for contributing!

  6. John says:

    I too have wondered about this a lot, kept it for popcorn and water, and then eventually got rid of the damn thing. For me it is an intuitive thing. I must admit I believe that food contains a mysterious and unquantifiable thing called “energy,” “chi,” or “lifeforce” and while cooking in any way can diminish this, microwaves seem as if they would well, nuke it.

  7. Gary Wilkins says:

    Intuitively, if you live in fear isn't that an additional stress that is also conterproductive to your health ??

  8. From a natural health perspective there is just something odd about vibrating all the water molecules in your food to the same frequency. You end up giving yourself the resonant remedy of “microwave” every time you ingest the stuff.

    This isn’t any kind of issue from a gross health perspective but if you are interested in the quality of undisturbed life force in your food you could do a lot better than warming it in the microwave.

  9. admin says:

    Jennifer Blair Today at 11:10am
    microwaves are bad…umm kay?

    Denise Cook (Denver, CO) Today at 4:11pm
    Finally, hello Micowaves, de-aminize an egg, what do you think happens to the nutiriton of food? What do you think happens to us when wwe stand near ones that leak? Fetal exposre…don’t get me started…

  10. […] fix it. It’s healthy to be aware of how things in your life work. It’s the same reason I just got rid of my microwave. I have no idea how that crazy shit works. So without further adieu here is the monster I have […]

  11. Roger Wolsey says:

    oh.. and on a related note, those of us who enjoy rock climbing and bouldering expose ourselves to higher than background radiation too as the rocks themselves emit radiation (and we're putting our chests and family jewels right up next to them for long periods of time too – something people don't tend to do with their microwave ovens).

  12. candicegarrett says:

    I accidentally set my microwave on fire a few years back (reheating a cup that apparently had metallic decorations). Whoops!

    I've never since felt compelled to replace it. We cook on the stove, reheat in the stove and have a tea kettle. Even popcorn makes so much more sense on the stove. Popcorn kernels are wholesale about $1 a bag where I live and cooking up 1/4 cup of kernels gives you a whole pot full, so financially that makes more sense for this mom of three.

    As for safety of microwaves to food, I don't have any idea…

  13. elephantjournal says:

    Dylan Barmmer Don't own one…very rarely use one…scary…
    13 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Rick Gilbert I've used 'em for years, and don't fear them. However, our over the stove unit broke last November, and I haven't missed it all that much. It's a non-essential appliance, especially at home.
    13 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Steve Vegas never
    12 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Azlan Halloran For me it simply takes up too much space and to be honest, I get sorta entranced by that rotating platter thingy. I end up standing in front of it, watching my popcorn turn. Sometimes I even talk on my cell phone while this goes on and I'm sure that can't be a healthy combination. Plus it makes my cat crazy.
    11 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Valerie Soraci every day
    10 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Tobye Hillier Nope! But I do have a one-cup kettle…. just press the button and it gives one cup of hot water instantly…making a cup of tea in the microwave is not only gross it's also close to heresy!
    9 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Roz Lynn Dorf Never had one. Never wanted one. Don't trust them.
    5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Liz Lewis Joseph I use mine all the time. I ain't dead yet.
    4 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personValerie Soraci likes this.
    Vic Shayne Never. There's something so unnatural about microwaves that I can't find a way to trust them.
    3 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    John Lehndorff just don't use it on pie
    2 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    Waylon Lewis Aunty, you could say that about pesticides on our food or lawns, or the high risk of accidents in cars, or any manner of thing. Our grandparents could say that about asbestos, back in the day. Doesn't mean there's not a risk and you're not worth taking good care of, I love you!

  14. elephantjournal says:

    Some fear is rational, and healthy. You know, like fear of drunk driving or asbestos or falling off a cliff. You don't have to drown in it.

  15. says:

    Wow interesting article.. just what I needed after microwaving some pizza rolls lol.

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  16. Hello! I am a housewife and I cook everyday for my family with two children. I always need to deal with leftovers as I usually ended up preparing more food than my family could eat. The old microwave of mine is already unusable and I always wanted an oven as well. So I am planning to purchase a kitchenaid microwave for my home instead of both oven and microwave as I heard that it is easier to operate and it saves space too. I would need some recommendation here as I prefer if they come with guides on how long or how well I should cook the food and what type of pans should I use to cook. I think most of them will come with it. It’s best if they come with steamer vessel as well. Please guide me on my purchase. Thanks.

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  18. oz_ says:

    Huh. Well, the one link purporting to show results of actual studies concluding some harm from microwaves is broken. There is nothing else in the piece that indicates that microwaving in and of itself is any more harmful to the food being prepared than any other method. So….it stays.

    This piece seems to come at risk from the same misguided place that so many such examinations do: in the absence of context, seeking absolutes, and presuming we know more than we do. That is, asking 'are microwave ovens safe?' is almost nonsensical – a better question would be 'how harmful are microwaves compared to, say, gas ovens?' or even 'where do microwave ovens stand in the risk universe of modern life?'

    I'm willing to bet, for example, that many of the folks who responded to this article with comments like 'scary…don't trust them…unnatural' think nothing of spending plenty of time each day on their cell phones, despite mounting evidence showing this can lead to brain tumors and other neurological issues. And if you wanna talk about a risky activity – how about transportation? Driving a car? Talk about scary! Worse yet – riding a bike on city streets! And anyone this concerned about risk would NEVER even consider allowing their kid to ride in a car, for example. Or a school bus, for that matter.

    Point is, you really need to establish a reasonable grasp of the risk universe before you can decide how much attention to devote to something as tenuous as 'microwave oven risk'…

  19. jones says:

    Thank you!

  20. Ellen says:

    Cooking food with ANY kind of heat alters the texture, taste, color appearance and nutrient value of food.