By now, you probably know that what you eat has a profound impact on your health. The mantra, “You are what you eat” is really true. But you need to consider not only WHAT you buy, but how you cook it.
Eating most of your food raw is ideal. But most of us are not going to be able to accomplish a completely raw diet, and we’ll end up cooking some percentage of our food.
Smart food preparation starts with high quality foods and food preparation and that means saying sayonara to your microwave oven. Need to sterilize a dishcloth? Use your microwave. But zapping your casserole is a BAD idea if you are interested in preparing healthy food.
Why the no nukes policy? When it comes to microwave ovens, the price for convenience is to compromise your health. In this article, I will review what we know about the effects of microwaves on your food and on your body.
Sad State of Our Soils
Over the past century, the quality of fresh food has declined due to soil depletion, unsustainable farming practices, overproduction of crops, and the use of pesticides and herbicides. You can no longer assume you’re getting all of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients you need by eating a multitude of fresh produce – even if you’re eating organically.
Not surprisingly, a calorie today will provide you less nutrition than a calorie from 100, or even 50 years ago.
Three recent studies of historical food composition have shown 5 to 40 percent declines in some of the minerals in fresh produce, and another study found a similar decline in our protein sources.1
So now, more than ever, you must be careful to maximize the “bang for your buck” when it comes to the foods you eat.
Research shows that your microwave oven will NOT help you in these efforts – and in fact will threaten your health by violently ripping the molecules in your food apart, rendering some nutrients inert, at best, and carcinogenic at its worst.
Convenience Comes at Significant Toxic Threat to You and Your Family
Microwaves heat food by causing water molecules in it to resonate at very high frequencies and eventually turn to steam which heats your food. While this can rapidly heat your food, what most people fail to realize is that it also causes a change in your food’s chemical structure.
There are numerous issues that have emerged since microwave ovens were first introduced to consumers more than 40 years ago, besides depleting your food’s nutritional value, which will be addressed a bit later.
The first thing you probably noticed when you began microwaving food was how uneven the heating is.
“Hot spots” in microwaved food can be hot enough to cause burns—or build up to a “steam explosion.” This has resulted in admonitions to new mothers about NOT using the microwave to heat up baby bottles, since babies have been burned by super-heated formula that went undetected.
Another problem with microwave ovens is that carcinogenic toxins can leach out of your plastic and paper containers/covers, and into your food.
The January/February 1990 issue of Nutrition Action Newsletter reported the leakage of numerous toxic chemicals from the packaging of common microwavable foods, including pizzas, chips and popcorn. Chemicals included polyethylene terpthalate (PET), benzene, toluene, and xylene. Microwaving fatty foods in plastic containers leads to the release of dioxins (known carcinogens) and other toxins into your food. 82
One of the worst contaminants is BPA, or bisphenol A, an estrogen-like compound used widely in plastic products. In fact, dishes made specifically for the microwave often contain BPA, but many other plastic products contain it as well.
Microwaving distorts and deforms the molecules of whatever food or other substance you subject to it. An example of this is blood products.
Blood is normally warmed before being transfused into a person. Now we know that microwaving blood products damages the blood components. In fact, one woman died after receiving a transfusion of microwaved blood in 1991, which resulted in a well-publicized lawsuit.
Microwave Radiation Leakage
You may have heard that there is some danger of microwaves escaping from your microwave while it’s operating. This was more of a risk with earlier models than with recent ones, which undergo more rigorous testing.
Theoretically, there are very small amounts of radiation leakage through the viewing glass, but the FDA reports these levels are “insignificant” and “well below the level known to harm people.”
The FDA has been regulating microwave ovens since 1971 through its electronic product radiation control program, which is mandated by the Electronic Product Radiation Control provisions of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act3.
The FDA limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts (mW) per square centimeter at approximately 2 inches from the oven surface. Because microwave energy decreases dramatically as you move away from the source of the radiation, a measurement made 20 inches from your oven would be approximately one-hundredth of the value measured at 2 inches.2
The federal standard also requires all ovens to have “two independent interlock systems that stop the production of microwaves the moment the latch is released or the door is opened.” And a monitoring system is also required, which stops the operation if one or both interlock systems fail.
You would think, with all these tests and regulations, that you’d be safe. However, according to Powerwatch, a non-profit independent organization with a central role in the microwave radiation debate:
“Even when the microwave oven is working correctly, the microwave levels within the kitchen are likely to be significantly higher than those from any nearby cellular phone base-stations. Remember also that microwaves will travel through walls if the microwave oven is against an inside wall.”
Powerwatch also states that we don’t really know if the current regulations about leakage are truly safe and recommends ovens be checked at least annually, since microwave emissions can change with normal use.
You might also consider purchasing a $20 testing device that allows you to check the radiation in your home.
Make sure that, if you are going to use your microwave for cleaning sponges or for any use at all, regularly examine the door and hinges to make sure they are sealing properly. If the door doesn’t close correctly, or if it’s warped, bent, or otherwise damaged, don’t use it at all!
But even if there’s nothing wrong with your microwave, keep in mind that standing a foot away from it while it’s running can expose you to upwards of 400 milliGauss, and a mere 4 milliGauss has been firmly linked to leukemia. It would certainly be wise to avoid letting your children stand near the microwave when it’s running, and avoid it yourself as much as possible—especially if you’re pregnant. Also, since your eyes are known to be particularly susceptible to microwave radiation (high microwave exposures are known to cause cataracts), I recommend stepping away from your microwave while it’s in use.
New Study Confirms Microwaves Affect Your Heart
A recent study examining the effects 2.4 GHz radiation (which is the frequency of radiation emitted by Wifi routers and microwave ovens) on the heart was just completed. The study found “unequivocal evidence” that microwave frequency radiation affects the heart at non-thermal levels that are well below federal safety guidelines, according to Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University4. Dr. Havas says:
“This is the first study that documents immediate and dramatic changes in both heart rate and heart rate variability caused by an approved device that generates microwaves at levels well below (0.3 percent) federal guidelines in both Canada and the United States.”
No longer can skeptics claim that microwaves produce no immediate biological effects at ordinary household levels! The study will be appearing in a peer-reviewed journal sometime during the summer of 2010. If you are experiencing rapid or irregular heartbeat, pain or pressure in your chest, you will want to visit your physician and share this video with him or her (second video on this page). There is also evidence that this same frequency of radiation causes blood sugar to spike in susceptible individuals and may actually be the cause of one type of diabetes.
Microwaving Also Zaps the Nutrients Right Out of Your Food
There has been surprisingly little research on how microwaves affect organic molecules, or how the human body responds to consuming microwaved food. Wouldn’t you expect that a product that sits in more than 90 percent of kitchens, as well as practically every break room in the country, would have been thoroughly investigated for safety?
The handful of studies that have been done generally agree, for the most part, that microwaving food damages its nutritional value. Your microwave turns your beautiful, organic veggies, for which you’ve paid such a premium in money or labor, into “dead” food that can cause disease! Heating food, in and of itself, can result in some nutrient loss, but using microwaves to heat food introduces the additional problem of the “microwave effect,” a phenomenon that will be discussed in detail later.
The majority of studies on microwaves and nutrition were conducted prior to 2000, I suspect because the focus of radiation research of late has shifted toward a more ominous threat: environmental radiation from electromagnetic devices, such as cell phones and computers, which has mushroomed into a gigantic cloud of electrosmog worldwide over the past decade.
Nevertheless, some excellent scientific data has been gathered regarding the detrimental effects of microwaves on the nutrients in your food:
•A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture5 found that broccoli “zapped” in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97 percent of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants. There were also reductions in phenolic compounds and glucosinolates, but mineral levels remained intact.
•A 1999 Scandinavian study of the cooking of asparagus spears found that microwaving caused a reduction in vitamin C6.
•A Japanese study by Watanabe showed that just 6 minutes of microwave heating turned 30-40 percent of the B12 in milk into an inert (dead) form8. This study has been cited by Dr. Andrew Weil as evidence supporting his concerns about the effects of microwaving. Dr. Weil wrote:
“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.”
•A recent Australian study9 showed that microwaves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating.
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 bacteria10.
Quan stated that more damage was done to the milk by microwaving than by other methods of heating, concluding: “Microwaving appears to be contraindicated at high-temperatures, and questions regarding its safety exist even at low temperatures.”
•Another study about breast milk/infant formula by Lee in 198911 found vitamin content becomes depleted by microwaving, and certain amino acids are converted into other substances that are biologically inactive. Some altered amino acids are poisons to the nervous system and kidneys. (Numerous authors mention this study, yet I was unable to find the original article/study, so I cannot personally validate.)
Although many of the above studies are not new, there is certainly ample evidence that microwaving is NOT good for your food.
How Your Microwave Actually Heats Your Food
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation—waves of electrical and magnetic energy moving together through space. EM radiation ranges from very high energy (gamma rays and x-rays) on one end of the spectrum to very low energy (radio waves) on the other end of the spectrum. Microwaves are on the low energy end of the spectrum, second only to radio waves. They have a wavelength of about 4.8 inches—about the width of your head. Microwaves are generated by something called a magnetron (a term derived from the words “magnet” and “electron”), which is also what enabled airborne radar use during WWII. Hence the early name for microwave ovens: radar ranges.
A magnetron is a tube in which electrons are subjected to both magnetic and electrical fields, producing an electromagnetic field with a microwave frequency of about 2,450 megaHertz (MHz), which is 2.4 gigaHertz (GHz). Microwaves cause dielectric heating. They bounce around the inside of your oven and are absorbed by the food you put in it. Since water molecules are bipolar, having a positive end and negative end, they rotate rapidly in the alternating electric field. The water molecules in the food vibrate violently at extremely high frequencies – like millions of times per second – creating molecular friction, which heats up the food.
If the food or object place in the microwave had no water it would not be able to have this resonance heating type effect and would remain cool. Or, as investigative journalist William Thomas12 calls it, “electrical whiplash.” Structures of the water molecules are torn apart and forcefully deformed. This is different from conventional heating of food, whereby heat is transferred convectionally from the outside, inward. Microwave cooking begins within the molecules where water is present.
Contrary to popular belief, microwaved foods don’t cook “from the inside out.” When thicker foods are cooked, microwaves heat the outer layers, and the inner layers are cooked mostly by the conduction of heat from the hot outer layers, inward.
Since not all areas contain the same amount of water, the heating is uneven. Additionally, microwaving creates new compounds that are not found in humans or in nature, called radiolytic compounds. We don’t yet know what these compounds are doing to your body. In addition to the violent frictional heat effects, called thermic effects, there are also athermic effects, which are poorly understood because they are not as easily measured. It is these athermic effects that are suspected to be responsible for much of the deformation and degradation of cells and molecules. 13
As an example, microwaves are used in the field of gene altering technology to weaken cell membranes. Scientists use microwaves to actually break cells apart. Impaired cells then become easy prey for viruses, fungi and other microorganisms. Another word for these athermic effects is the “microwave effect,” a subject of controversy that I’ll get into a bit later.
When your tissues are directly exposed to microwaves, the same violent deformations occur and can cause “microwave sickness.” People who have been exposed to high levels of microwave radiation experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Insomnia, night sweats, and various sleep disturbances
- Headaches and dizziness
- Swollen lymph nodes and a weakened immune system
- Impaired cognition
- Depression and irritability
- Nausea and appetite loss
- Vision and eye problems
- Frequent urination and extreme thirst
There is a good amount of data emerging that people are suffering, to various degrees, these kinds of symptoms from living next to cell phone towers and other high-frequency radiation emitting antennas, which emit microwaves around the clock. According to Professor Franz Adelkofer, a leading scientist in the area of biological effects of EMF fields:
“There is real evidence that hyperfrequency electromagnetic fields can have geno-toxic effects. And this damaged DNA is always the cause of cancer. We’ve found these damaging effects on the genes at levels well below the safety limits. That’s why we think it’s urgent to base our safety limits on the biological effects, not the thermic ones. They should be based on biology, not on physics.”