Can you cook fast and stay healthy? Ev­ery­day Ath­lete Pa­trick O’Brien

Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY -

IS the mi­crowave oven dam­ag­ing our health?

The mi­crowave can be summed up in one word: “con­ve­nience”. Ac­cord­ing to a na­tional sur­vey on UK food buy­ing habits, con­sump­tion of ready meals has in­creased five-fold over the last 40 years. No doubt, a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion ex­ists be­tween the pop­u­lar­ity of the mi­crowave and the de­mand for these con­ve­niently pre­pared meals.

From a nu­tri­tional point of view, they come with a host of con­cerns and the in­ter­net is full of myths and ur­ban leg­ends about them, but what are the pos­si­ble health hazards of us­ing a mi­crowave to heat your food?

Like most great in­ven­tions, the mi­crowave was dis­cov­ered by ac­ci­dent by Amer­i­can en­gi­neer Percy Spencer af­ter the Sec­ond World War. While test­ing radar tech­nol­ogy, he re­alised the snack in his pocket had melted. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed the mi­crowaves emit­ted from the radar had caused the water mol­e­cules in snack to vi­brate, re­sult­ing in heat which raised the in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture of the food far more rapidly than a con­ven­tional oven. The first counter-top mi­crowave oven ap­peared in house­hold kitchens in the 1960s and now their use has spread around the world.

One thing is cer­tain, food cooked in a mi­crowave oven does not taste as good as food cooked by tra­di­tional means. The key to much of the flavour of con­ven­tion­ally cooked food is a se­quence of chem­i­cal events known as the Mail­lard re­ac­tion, which re­sults brown­ing and carameli­sa­tion of the sug­ars and gives bread a brown crust, for ex­am­ple. Re­searchers of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia found flavours pro­duced by mi­crowaves are chem­i­cally dif­fer­ent to those pro­duced by con­ven­tional cook­ing. They found cook­ing times were too short and tem­per­a­tures too low to bring about the Mail­lard re­ac­tion, in turn af­fect­ing the taste. What about car­cino­gens? Mi­crowave cook­ing does al­ter the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of food. Any heat­ing process does. Higher cook­ing tem­per­a­tures can cre­ate chem­i­cal re­ac­tions that may pro­duce dan­ger­ous com­pounds that can dam­age our DNA. Mi­crowaves heat food from the out­side in, very sim­i­lar to other heat­ing meth­ods. Cook­ing meat prod­ucts with mi­crowaves pro­duces less ni­trosamine than con­ven­tional cook­ing. Ni­trosamine is a car­cino­gen pro­duced when ni­troge­nous com­pounds in meat are heated in the pres­ence of car­bo­hy­drates. This heat­ing causes mois­ture to leach from mi­crowaved prod­ucts which helps to flush out the ni­trosamine. How­ever, it also causes the prod­uct to lose flavour. How about nu­tri­tion? Ev­ery cook­ing method can de­stroy vi­ta­mins and other nu­tri­ents. In a 2010 study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Food Bio­chem­istry, re­searchers ob­served that mi­crowave cook­ing and pres­sure cook­ing were ac­tu­ally bet­ter than boil­ing in re­tain­ing max­i­mum nu­tri­ents in some foods. As in any type of cook­ing, nu­tri­ents are leached from food es­pe­cially when it is cooked for a long pe­riod of time with high amounts of water. Is heat­ing food in plas­tic con­tain­ers safe? Many plas­tic con­tain­ers when heated re­lease toxic and hor­mone-dis­rupt­ing com­pounds that mi­grate into your food. This move­ment can be seen when mi­crowav­ing food in a sty­ro­foam con­tainer. So don’t mi­crowave food in a plas­tic con­tainer, es­pe­cially one that doesn’t say “mi­crowave-safe” or carry a mi­crowave icon on it. And don’t al­low plas­tic wrap on pre­pared meals to touch your food dur­ing heat­ing. Some ex­perts would go as far as to say no plas­tic con­tain­ers should be used in the mi­crowave ever. If you’re un­sure, just use glass or ce­ramic dishes marked “heat­proof” or “mi­crowave-safe”.

Other things you should never use to cover mi­crowaved food in­clude alu­minium foil, brown pa­per bags, cold-stor­age plas­tic con­tain­ers (such as but­ter, cottage-cheese, and yo­ghurt tubs), one time-use plas­tic con­tain­ers, dishes with metal­lic paint or trim and foam-in­su­lated cups, bowls, plates or trays.

Per­haps, af­ter all, the mi­crowave oven is not the real prob­lem here. Per­haps the real dam­ag­ing prob­lem to our health is what peo­ple put in them. Ev­ery­day Ath­lete gym is lo­cated in the heart of Glas­gow and pro­vides a unique, fun train­ing en­vi­ron­ment geared to­wards help­ing clients achieve their health and fit­ness goals. The ded­i­cated team at Physio Ef­fect pro­vides a full pack­age of ser­vices that will en­sure you’re sup­ported through in­jury pre­ven­tion, as­sess­ment, re­cov­ery and help­ing you achieve your ul­ti­mate per­for­mance goals. We of­fer a range of ser­vices: phys­io­ther­apy, sports mas­sage, pi­lates, yoga and mo­bil­ity. Unit 18B, 100 Bor­ron Street, Glas­gow, G49XG; www.ev­ery­day­ath­let­e­gym.com www.phys­io­ef­fect.co.uk

Must you shun the mi­crowave oven to stay fit and healthy?

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