ask the RD
Are microwaves harmful to health?
A fixture in the American kitchen, the microwave oven is a huge convenience. However, concerns raised in the media and through the Internet question its role in the kitchen and its impact on our health. Microwave radiation is and always has been tightly monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assure that potential radiation emissions don’t pose a health hazard. However, questions about human exposure to low levels of microwaves remain unanswered, and research is under way. Here is a brief summary of what is known today:
- It is important to ditch plastic and use glass or ceramic containers that are labeled safe for use in the microwave. Plastics leak harmful chemicals—including the familiar bisphenol A (BPA)—during the microwave process, so do not use plastics in the microwave or with hot food. Avoid plastics labeled 3, 6 or 7.
- The FDA advises against heating water and other liquids in the microwave oven for excessive amounts of time; if the water is overheated, it can erupt and potentially cause burns.
- Radiation may leak from a microwave oven if the seal or door is damaged. Contact the manufacturer or get the product serviced if this is the case.
- The FDA recommends not standing against or near a microwave while it is in use.
In regard to nutrition, microwave cooking does not cause nutrient loss any more than conventional cooking. In fact, steaming vegetables in the microwave is right up there with cooktop steaming and roasting as a recommended method for preserving the most nutrients in vegetables. Microwaving is also energy-wise because foods cook faster and the energy heats only the food. This quick cooking method may be another reason that foods cooked in a microwave oven retain vitamins and minerals.
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