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Is Microwaving Food Bad for You? We Set the Record Straight

Despite the microwave's popularity, questions still persist about its safety and whether or not microwaving food is bad for you. We'll explain how microwaves work and then delve into the impact that they have on food's nutritional content. Along the way, we’ll look at potential issues and ways to cook safely.

How Microwaves Heat Your Food

The microwave oven was invented almost 75 years ago. The idea of heating food with radio waves wasn't new at that time, but Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer pioneered the commercial use of the technology. Given the speed of cooking and the use of electromagnetic radiation, a natural question is, "are microwaves bad?"
microwaving food
In a nutshell, these appliances produce electromagnetic radiation that vibrates the molecules in your food, creating heat. The electromagnetic field oscillates as it passes through the food, causing the molecules to flip over millions of times a second. The friction resulting from this interaction produces heat and warms up the food.
Understandably, talk of radiation may not sit right with people. After all, we know what happened to Dr. Bruce Banner when he was exposed to gamma radiation. Even in the real world, some extremely high frequencies of radiation can cause cancer.
But not all radiation behaves the same way. The electromagnetic non-ionizing radiation emitted by microwaves is similar to radiation from cellphones and the sun. The radiation in microwaves is simply used as a method to create heat.
If that isn't comforting enough, the American Cancer Society assures us that microwaves do not make food radioactive. Any radiation created is at a level far below what would harm people, and that level is monitored and mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How Microwaves Impact Food

microwaving lunch
Nutrients in food break down when they're exposed to heat. Heating food also kills off potentially harmful bacteria that may be breeding on the surface. Whether it's via microwave, oven, or stove, the nutritional content of your food will be affected. This isn't something that happens only in microwaves. In fact, because of their low temperatures and short cooking times, they may actually have less of an impact on food nutrition versus other heating methods.
However, microwaves can alter the texture of your food. Many people have had the disappointing experience of pulling out a steaming plate, only to find that the center is still stone cold. While the rotating turntable at the bottom does help distribute the heat more evenly, the heat is still hitting the outside of the food first, causing it to warm up much faster. This is why it's a good idea to microwave the food for a little while, stir or flip it, then finish heating it up.
But if you want your food to be crispy or crunchy, you'll need to heat the food up in the oven or on the stove instead.

Is Microwaving Food Bad for You?

Now it comes down to the million dollar question: Is microwaving food bad for you? The answer is no. As long as you don't overheat the food, using a microwave oven to heat your food is safe, effective, and convenient.
microwaving broccoli
That being said, it's not a good idea to microwave food in plastic containers unless they are specifically designated microwave-safe. Many plastics contain hormone-disrupting compounds that can be released with heat and seep into your food. One of the best-known examples is Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to conditions like cancer, thyroid disorders, and obesity. High heat can also melt the plastic and make the container unusable.
Plastic containers will typically state whether they are microwave safe or not. But just to be safe, we recommend transferring your meal to a plate before heating it. Alternatively, you can also use glass storage containers, which are more durable than their plastic counterparts. They can handle heavy use for a longer period of time.
Mystery solved. Are microwaves bad for you? Unless one is falling on you, it's unlikely. Whether you have a built in, an over the range, or a countertop microwave, it's safe to heat your food in it as long as it works as intended.
If you're in the market for a new microwave, check out Abt's Microwave Buying Guide to help you get the search process started. Our helpful Appliance Experts are also available at 800-860-3577 to answer any questions you may have.