Is the microwave oven safe? Health risks

Over the years, the question has been asked many times: is the microwave safe for your health? Let’s analyze the risks one by one to find an answer.


March 28, 2022
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last modification on 03/28/2022

When it comes to cooked, the taste of your dishes is not the only aspect you should pay attention to. Paraphrasing the Italian guidelines for healthy eating, the safety of what you put on your plate is also up to you, and in this regard the method of preparation chosen can make a difference. What can be said, in this regard, of the microwave? The use of this oven, often appreciated for its speed, involves some risk for the health or it’s to assure? It helps preserve the nutritional properties of food better than other more “traditional” cooking methods or does it involve greater dispersion or alteration of nutrients?

Before answering these questions, I would like to draw your attention to another aspect: the durability microwave cooking. In a historical period when the sustainability of our way of life must be taken seriously by each of us, this oven represents one of the daily solutions to be able to reduce our energy consumption. This is because microwaves heat food from the inside, which reduces energy loss. The savings depend on the type of oven, but on average it is estimated a reduction in the time required for cooking compared to conventional ovens equal to approximately 20%; and depending on the food to be cooked, the resulting energy saving is at least 20%.

That said, let’s go into the details of the risks and benefits of microwaves from a health point of view.

How does the microwave work?

Let’s start with the basics. Microwaves are nothing more than electromagnetic waves. While in the traditional oven the food heats up because it is surrounded by hot air, in the microwave these waves cause movements of the molecules present in the food and these movements generate the heat which heats the food. In particular, microwaves rotate water molecules and accelerate salts; in both cases, the result is the production of heat.

This means that the heating of food (and therefore its cooking) will depend on its composition. So be careful: even in the microwave, different foods may require different times and precautions to be prepared correctly. A higher water content will allow faster heating, as well as a greater presence of salts. But a high fat content also reduces heating times, because fat heats up before water. Finally, the quantity, shape, density and physical state of the food (especially if it is frozen) also influence its preparation times. To not be mistaken, refer to the instructions for your microwave oven.

Microwaves and health risks

Regarding the risks of microwaves for your healthOnce you’ve made sure the door is spotless, you don’t have to worry. A good sealing of the closure guarantees that there are no leaks of doses of electromagnetic waves dangerous to health, and concerning the effects of microwaves on food, the studies carried out seem to dispel fears of all kinds. .

In particular, the use of microwaves does not appear to lead to increased formation of substances that are carcinogenic or otherwise dangerous to healthIndeed, compared to methods such as grilling or frying, which expose food to very high temperatures, it can reduce its accumulation. Go into more detail:

  • during microwave cooking, the production of heterocyclic amines and nitrosamines is reduced compared to frying;
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are only present in negligible quantities in cooked or microwaved foods;
  • microwaves do not change fat any more than other cooking methods.

If you want to reduce the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines in barbecued meat, you can precook it in the microwave.

As for the microwave capacity of kill all pathogens present in raw foods, the only precaution to be taken is to cook everything evenly, remembering that it takes at least 15 seconds at 75°C to eliminate them, regardless of the cooking mode chosen.

The best materials

Still in the area of ​​food safety, if you decide to microwave your food, you must do so by choosing the appropriate containers. In fact, not all materials can be used for cooking or heating in the microwave. In particular, remember that:

  • unsuitable materials can let unhealthy substances into food;
  • not all types of plastic are suitable for the microwave: check this before putting them in the oven;
  • PVC films may not be suitable for microwave use;
  • not even all paper can be microwaved; again, check the manufacturer’s instructions before using it for this type of cooking;
  • metal containers and aluminum foil should be kept away from the microwave;
  • some ceramics may contain metals and are therefore not suitable for microwaves.

Microwaves and nutrient loss

Turning instead to loss of nutrients when cooking, there may be difference between microwave and other methods. The degradation of proteins depends, in both cases, on the temperature and the heating time; for this reason, the microwave should not be considered absolutely preferable to a traditional oven or other cooking methods. The situation is different in the case of minerals and vitamins (especially soluble ones, such as vitamin C and those of group B), so microwave cooking can promote greater nutrient retention.

Watch out for eggs and water

Finally, I remind you that thethe water heated in the microwave, it can reach very high temperatures even before being boiled. So be very careful before touching or drinking it. And don’t put them in the microwave. Egg with all their shells: they could literally explode because of the steam accumulated inside. To avoid this, peel and prick both the egg yolk and egg white over and over again.

Graduated in biological sciences with a doctorate in genetic and biomolecular sciences, she worked in the field of research until 2009 more…

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