Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Not to Do With: Microwave

This is going to be the first of the two posts about microwave.

For 10 years, my father lectured and nagged that microwave caused cancer. He believed that:
1. Microwave directly causes cancer if you stand near it.
2. Microwave strips all nutrients in food and creates carcinogens.
3. Plastic from plastic container is leeched into the food when microwaved.

About 8 years ago, on April 1st, bunch of people got together and started to circulate false scientific journals and emails about the danger of microwaves, especially when plastic container is used, as a April Fool's joke. Unfortunately, it caught on and there are now people out there who refuse to be in same building as a microwave.

First, microwave does not directly cause cancer. There are government regulations that limits the amount of radiation that can be leaked out of the microwave. The measurement calculates the amount of radiation a person would experience if he/she is stand less than 2 inches from the operating microwave for his/her entire life. The limit indicated by law is also way below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health. More long term studies were conducted with mice, and even at high dosage exposure, scientists can not link cancer to microwaves.

Second, microwave does not strip all the nutrients from food. In fact, it maintains nutrients significantly better than all types of cooking, except for steaming. However, microwave does inactivate vitamin B12, so cooking meat or dairy in a microwave would reduce their nutritional contents.

Third, Microwave does not create carcinogens. Actually, this is one benefit of using microwave over other forms of cooking. Microwave can only heat an item to the boiling temperature of water, and thus, cannot burn any food creating tar or char. In fact, microwaving and steaming are the only ways to avoid creating carcinogens in potatoes. Microwave cooked food generally has less carcinogens than food cooked by sautéing, oven, or grilling. A good trick would be to heat your food first in the microwave, before sautéing or grilling. This will will reduce the amount of time the food need to spend under high heat and reduce the amount of carcinogens that would form on the surface of the food.

Third, microwave does not cause plastic to be leached into food. Plastic container causes plastic to be leeched into food. Check the grade of the plastic you use. Lower grade plastic would leech plastic into your food even at room temperature. The plastic leeching people associate with microwave is the same as if you pour boiling hot food into a plastic container. Since microwave will only heat things to water's boiling point, just make sure the plastic container can withstand that heat safely. Usually, they would be labelled "Microwave Safe" Read this article for more detail. Contrary to popular belief, Styrofoam can safely be used in the microwave, as long as it can withstand high heat.

However, there are definitely a lot of things you cannot do with a microwave. I will talk about that next week.

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