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