The Dangers of Microwave Cooking

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist March 22, 2010


It’s interesting what people notice sometimes. In my last video blog, I posted a clip of me in the kitchen whipping up some REAL mayonnaise (http://thehealthyhomeeconomist.blogspot.com/2010/03/real-people-making-real-food-in-real.html. One of the comments I received by email about the video asked me if I used my microwave, as this appliance features so prominently behind me as I am mixing up the mayo.

Well, I’m here to set the record straight. I NEVER use my microwave for cooking or defrosting my family’s food. And I NEVER even use it to heat up water for a cup of herbal tea (I’ll get to the reasons in a minute). Why then do I have one in my kitchen, you might ask? For one, my kitchen was built 12 years ago before I really knew of the dangers of cooking food with a microwave and if I pulled it out now, I’d have a big gaping hole in my wall and would have to redo all my kitchen cabinets. Not a project I’m up for at the moment. Also, when we use a babysitter for evenings out, she sometimes likes to heat up her dinner with it. The first time this happened, you could hear the audible gasps of horror from me and the kids as she turned it on! We were shocked speechless. I declined to lecture her about the dangers of the microwave at the time, however. It didn’t seem appropriate given the circumstances. Maybe another time!
Ok, let me come completely clean. I do occasionally use the microwave to heat up a fabric bag filled with wheat kernels when any of my kids have a tummy ache. Since the bag is used externally only, this is considered a safe usage of this appliance in your home.
Microwave Dangers
Let me now briefly cover the reasons why you don’t want to use a microwave to cook your food – EVER. First of all, the manner in which the food or water is heated is completely unnatural and not found anywhere in nature. How this most dangerous appliance has received such widespread acceptance throughout the Western world without much research beforehand into the risks is beyond me. I guess it’s kind of like cell phones – folks who use microwaves have unwittingly allowed themselves to be guinea pigs in the interest of science. If being a lab rat is not your thing, then read on.
Unlike conventional heating which warms the food from without to within, microwave ovens heat internally by creating violent friction in the water molecules within the food. The force of the friction deforms the structures of the water molecules and they are literally torn apart. This process is called “structural isomerism”. This is why even heating a cup of water for tea with a microwave is not a good idea! You may have seen the pictures of two plants – one watered with microwave heated/then cooled water and the other watered with conventionally heated/then cooled water. The difference in growth and robustness between the two plants is astonishing. You can check these pictures out at this link:
With the water molecules significantly impaired in quality, the molecular damage continues to expand to the food particles themselves as the heating continues. What has been discovered so far is that microwave heating has unfavorable effects on fats and proteins causing assimilation issues for the person who consumes the food. Microwaves are powerful enough to rupture the cell walls in the food; there is no doubt that fragile proteins are altered in the process. In addition, Swiss studies have shown that microwave heating causes unfavorable changes in vitamin content and the availability of these nutrients for absorption in the gut.
Microwave radiation destroys and deforms the food molecules and creates new compounds completely unknown in nature. Irradiation creates the exact same type of compounds in food as does microwaving – radiolytic compounds. With the majority of people seemingly against irradiation of food, why on earth are they then using a microwave at home?
Most troubling is the small, yet tightly controlled study by Dr. Hans Hertel of Switzerland. He discovered abnormal blood profiles in people who ate microwaved food as compared with people who ate the exact same food heated up conventionally. Dr. Hertel’s study is described in Tom Valentine’s book “Search for Health”. Since this book is pretty difficult to get hold of (last time I checked it out of the libary a few years ago, there was only one copy available in the entire state of FL and I had to wait six weeks for that copy to be couriered to my local library!), here is a link to an extensive description of Dr. Hertel’s study and the results:
Of course, who could forget the tragic story of Norma Levitt who in 1991 died from a blood transfusion during routine hip replacement surgery. The blood used in the transfusion was heated in a microwave, which was not standard practice. Blood is routinely warmed for transfusions, but never in a microwave! Clearly, microwaving the blood altered it into a state that proved to be deadly for Ms. Levitt. Imagine what microwaving your food does! Do you really think eating food heated in this way could be anything but dangerous and, at the very least, unhealthy?
One additional point to ponder as I close. Be very aware that microwaves are extensively used in the restaurant industry. Nearly every time you eat out, some, if not all, your food has been heated in a microwave. Just another reason for limiting your trips to eat out and spending that invaluable time in the kitchen preparing your own meals!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

 

Comments (46)

  1. We've cut back 99% of our microwave usage this year after reading such stories as you've linked. I had a similar microwave/hood combo unit over my stove and was able to replace it with a nice high efficiency exhaust hood … only having to redo a little bit of tile work to the back splash area … a quick fix without ripping out cabinets. Does your microwave/hood exhaust to the exterior of your home? Thanks for the links … I'm going to have my family read them.

    Reply
  2. I have no argument with the rest of the points, but I believe that plants experiment was not real and has been thoroughly debunked, including on Mythbusters. I think snopes has something about it too.

    Thanks for the post, I'm currently trying to drastically reduce our usage!

    Reply
  3. Lisa Wallen Logsdon March 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    We also have a microwave that sits in a space cut out of the cabinetry. We have NEVER used this microwave and it is never plugged in. We use it to hold my crockpot and a file of recipes printed from the Internet. My brother went to heat up his coffee once and his mouth dropped open when he saw all the stuff inside. He was incredulous as he looked at me questioningly. I am trying to get my husband to make a door with top hinges so I can remove the microwave and use the very large hole as storage which I really need. I have not used a microwave in about 8 years, maybe longer.

    Reply
  4. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist March 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I use my little toaster oven for reheating and it really doesn't take much more time than a microwave. I have the Euro-Pro model and it is really a very versatile little appliance.

    Reply
  5. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist March 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks for posting, Rebecca. Regardless of whether the plant photos are faked or not – I still would not drink microwaved water. It destroys the water molecular structure and would not be hydrating at the very least and damaging to the body at worst.

    Reply
  6. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist March 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Of course there will be deniers of what Norma died of .. a jury found OJ Simpson innocent too. If the microwave wasn't dangerous, why don't hospitals use them as standard practice? Because there is undeniable empirical evidence that microwaving human blood destroys it while a gentle warming conventionally does not.

    Reply
    • Norma Levitt did indeed die after receiving microwaved blood. Her family sued the hospital claiming that overheating resulted in haemolysis (break down of the red blood cells) which released potassium ions (the active ingredient in a judicial execution by lethal injection) and killed her. The hospital claimed that it was a blood clot based on the autopsy report. Whichever, neither claimed it was some sort of mysterious radiation. The hospital won.

      Why don’t hospitals microwave blood? For the same reasons they don’t heat blood in saucepans or under the grill, both apparently acceptable ways of cooking food. Cooked blood, whatever way it was cooked, is a killer.

      Please look at the evidence : Warner v. Hillcrest Medical Center 1995 OK CIV APP 123 and the newspaper report on “Patient Killed by Blood Cooked in a Microwave Oven Like a Baked Potato; Weekly World News 16 July 1991″

      By the way, a science paper at this time was indeed proposing microwave heating of blood providing it was well controlled : Rapid in-line blood warming using microwave energy: preliminary studies; Schwaitzberg SD, Allen MJ, Connolly RJ, Grabowy RS, Carr KL, Cleveland RJ.; Department of Surgery, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA 02111. J Invest Surg. 1991;4(4):505-10.

      Reply
  7. I too use my microwave as an extra cabinet. Currently we are building a home and found a combo microwave/convection oven/hood. It can be used just as a convection oven.

    Reply
  8. First off, I would like to say thanks, Sara for all the good advice you give – I stumbled on to this post while reading your 5/12/10 post about proper care and feeding of infants that I intend to forward to my nephew and his soon to be bride. However, I will have to add a caveat that the link about microwave ovens is total nonsense.

    As Rebecca points out, the two plants story has been debunked. It is a simple enough experiment to replicate yourself; just make sure that the water for both plants is allowed to cool – per your post about using boiling water as an herbicide.

    There is no such thing as an "impaired" water molecule. There is no "structural isomerism" – two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom only fit together one way. At 212 degrees F they separate – no matter what source is used to heat them. If "the structure" of water could be changed so easily by simply microwaving it, we'd all be using our fusion generators to light our houses. All other things being equal, there is no test that a physicist can perform to discern microwaved water from water that has not been microwaved.

    A microwave oven does not heat food using "radiation". It uses an oscillating magnetic field that, thanks to water's unique dipole structure, causes the water molecule to vibrate. (I'm not sure how "natural" this is but I am very thankful for the giant magnetic field that encompasses the earth and protects us from the ionizing radiation of the sun.) The measure of how fast the molecules in a substance are vibrating is called it's temperature.

    The effects of the magnetron only penetrate the outermost layer of the thing being heated – it will still be cold in the middle if you don't cook it long enough. The middle is heated by the neighboring molecules in the same manner as any other source – by conduction. When the thing next to you gets warm, you get warm too.

    Most of the strange ways things seem to heat in the microwave are because fats, sugars and ice have much weaker dipoles, so the liquid water molecules will heat up first. The reason food doesn't brown the same way is because the food is not being bombarded by infrared radiation the way a conventional oven works. Food doesn't brown when you steam it either.

    Every other chemical change ascribed as harmful when done by a microwave oven is the same for any type of heating. That is what cooking does.

    Unfortunately, most people overcook with their microwave ovens. You wouldn't cook a delicate sauce on the stove on high without stirring it, yet this is how most people use their microwaves.

    It is a sad comment on our education system that intelligent, well educated people can be so easily taken in by pseudo logic and conspiracy theories because they don't understand science. (If we all listened to Dr. Mercola, we wouldn't be cooking at all and he is a Doctor!)

    Please keep up the good advice but try to be a little more discerning about the conspiracy theories.

    Peace,
    Don

    P.S. The only connection between microwaving food and radiolytic compounds is in the "your microwave is killing you" literature. Radiolytic compounds are formed by ionizing radiation of which your microwave oven produces exactly none.

    Reply
  9. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist May 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Sorry, Don, but I don't agree at all. There is very much such a thing as an impaired water molecule!!!! If you haven't seen photographs of various water molecules in different environments (pristine to polluted), they are quite astounding. You didn't comment at all on the study in "Search for Health" which is probably the most damning evidence against the microwave to date. I could go on and on (like microwave is not a form of radiation? In High School Physics you learn that even visible light is a form of radiation as is heat). I don't think you would be open minded about the subject anyway based on the tone of your comment so I will stop here.

    Reply
    • Sorry Sarah, Don had a mixture of right and not quite right. But have you really seen photos of water molecules?

      You are right that microwaves, heat and light are a form of radiation, but Don is right when he says there is no isomer of water. There isn’t, it’s physics. Radiation is the emission of energy in wave or particle form. Microwaves do not have an energy level sufficient to cause radiolysis so cannot create “radiolytic compounds”, that can only be done by high energy radiation well into the ionising segment of the electo-magnetic spectrum. Again, that’s physics, it’s impirical, provable and repeatable. Don is also right when he says that fats, sugars and ice have weaker dipoles and therefore are less affected by microwaves.

      He is also right in saying that at a given heat, the molecules will vibrate at the same speed regardless of the source of that heat. Given that roasting, grilling, frying and baking all heat up to the 200°C range while microwaving is stuck down near the boiling point of water at 100°C, conventional cooking creates molecular vibration far in excess of anything a microwave oven could do. If microwaving can violently rip a molecule apart then I hate to think what baking does!!

      The microwaved water on plants has been debunked. Do it yourself (and I mean yourself, don’t let someone else tell you their results). A Bohmert’s (or the author’s granddaughter, it’s the same series) series of photos is a fake, a fraud, photoshopped. Look carefully at Day 1 and Day 5 and there is NO difference except for the microwaved plant, there’s not even any growth on the normal plant!

      I haven’t seen the study in “Search for Health” and would love to see it. But if it mentions Hans Hertel I’ll throw it away immediately. His “paper” has never been published in a peer reviewed journal not released for scrutiny. If it mentions the Nazis inventing the microwave oven (they didn’t) or the Soviets banning it in 1976 (the didn’t either), if it has a definition of radiation that hints or suggests that it is the result of the decay of molecules, I’ll do the same thing.

      Reply
    • The mere fact that you’re talking about structural isomerism about water is a blatant display of your ignorance. But you don’t stop there. You go on confusing «radiation» as the general process by which electromagnetic wave pass through matter and «radioactivity» which is the result of ionized particules coming from a chain reaction commonly called «irradiation».

      Ionizing radiation is generated through NUCLEAR REACTIONS, either artificial or natural, by very high temperature (e.g. plasma discharge or the corona of the Sun), via production of high energy particles in particle accelerators, or due to acceleration of charged particles by the electromagnetic fields produced by natural processes, from lightning to supernova explosions.

      I hope you are intelligent enough to understand the difference and that YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY ACHIEVE RADIOACTIVITY WITH YOUR 1500 WATTS MICROWAVE.

      You don’t want to use a microwave fine. But you shouldn’t go around spreading false information about something you obviously don’t understand.

      Finally, if you want to go around brandishing studies, I suggest you use serious ones. As the one by Doctor Hertel you rely on was done on 8 people ( including) him. Moreover, THERE WAS NO CONTROL GROUP!!! The 8 persons drank and ate both type of foods. Finally, they only «tested» raw food against microwave cooked food. Therefore, we don’t know if there’s a difference between microwave cooked or oven cooked.

      Godspeed. (You’ll need it)

      Reply
  10. Indian Food Buff May 15, 2010 at 2:56 am

    That's why i never had tried using a microwave oven for there are other alternatives in heating a food aside from it is convenient it also prevent the damage of the food and environment. I for me it is a costly thing to invest with.

    Reply
  11. Hi, thank you for your opinion on microwave ovens. I certainly think they are probably not the most healthy way of heating or re-heating food (esp. if your food is in plastic) and I plan to limit the use of my microwave as much as possible from now on. However, the plant example that you gave (which is a very compelling example) is false, you should probably remove it from your post if you want to be seen as credible. Here is a snopes link where a similar experiment was done in a more controlled environment and the plants all were just as healthy: http://www.snopes.com/science/microwave/plants.asp#exp1

    Thanks again for your advice and your blog. I don't think you purposefully mislead people by referring the the plant experiment, but now that you know it is false you should remove it.

    Reply
  12. I haven't used a microwave in over 6 months and other than heating the rice-filled heating pads I don't miss it. It WAS really convenient for that, darn. But it's in my basement and my dehydrator has taken its place.

    Reply
  13. Excellent article! I continually refer people to this when they ask why I don’t use my microwave to cook or reheat food. However, it makes a nice extra storage compartment. Since my microwave is built in to my cabinetry, I had to find some use for it. :) Blessings, kel

    Reply
  14. The only thing we use our microwave for is heating up heat packs occasionally too. Do you know of another way to heat them, would the oven work? I would love to ditch the microwave, as it just takes up space in the storage area now.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: Done with the Microwave « Cook Allergen Free! Tasty Allergen Free Meals Everyone Will Love!

  16. Pingback: Why I Don’t Use A Microwave | Divine Health

  17. Do you have any opinions about using pressure cookers? I’d love to hear your comments. I guess we are just addicted to getting that food done fast!

    Reply
  18. We haven’t had a microwave for 8-9 years. I tore ours out as I figured how healthy can food be if you can’t stand in front of one? So…tore it out and in that space I added a lovely spot for cookbooks. Measure, go to lowes, pick out some nice wood (birch if staining), give them the sizes you need to line the hole (sometimes you don’t need to do this step as it’s finished but needs painted and to be trimmed/retrimmed.), grab some liquid nails or your finish nailer, tack/glue it, paint/stain, trim out…voila….no more microwave and a nice spot for cookbooks or your toaster oven.

    Honey
    Nice site. I’m enjoying it as I’m a recent/former vegan with pastured meat in the freezer and starting GAPS…

    Reply
  19. Pingback: Butter, Basil, Beans, and Vaccines | RoJer That

  20. My sister uses her microwave to sanitize her sponges. I figure if it can kill bad germs it is probably killing the good nutrients too.

    Reply
  21. I bought a wooden medicine cabinet that was made in India. One night I heard a munching noise from within one of the doors. I assumed it was some sort of exotic bug, removed the door which fit perfectly in our microwave, and set it for 6 minutes. The munching stopped; another practical microwave application.
    As usual, everything in moderation, and you will find the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    Reply
  22. I have a strange question–trying to get out of SAD mindset & embrace more natural foods & cooking methods which is difficult to transition as I didn’t grow up with traditional methods (memories of my nuking packets of instant flavored oatmeal in plastic bowls which changed colors when heated are haunting me) & get that heating up foods is just as easy over the stovetop or toaster oven which I can do at home, but I work fulltime away from home & thermos only keeps my soups hot about an hour. I can’t bring a toaster oven to my office I have found I can heat up soups by placing glass jars (got rid of plastic) in front of my space heater which slowly heats up over about an hour. Is there any contraindications in doing this? I don’t know the exact mechanism of space heaters, but assuming it’s just a forced air system of shooting out heat….thanks!

    Reply
  23. Food cooked in a microwave is just gross, anyway; I mean, I can’t tell the difference when I melt butter or something, but reheating leftovers always ends up with a nasty product. We use our toaster oven for that! We took our microwave out of our kitchen just because we didn’t like the food after it went through it, but it is interesting to see there are apparently health risks, too.

    When microwaves first came out, many people were opposed to them (my grandma, although she has one now, would not touch food that was heated in it!) and were wary of the seeming risks.

    Years later, we’re pretty accustomed to seeing them everywhere, and used to the convenience of them. But, it does seem a little hairy to cook your food by a method commonly known as “nuking” it!

    Reply
  24. Teo The water is well water from a pretty clean sorcue in the southern Sierras at about 3500 ft elevation. I used some distilled water too but didn’t show the picture. They all sprouted at the same rate.Franken Thanks for the link. I agree, it doesn’t exactly follow from these little experiments that the microwave is A-OK.Amanda

    Reply
  25. I haven’t used a microwave to heat food for ages! However, my kids and husband will use it occasionally. I have said that when the microwave breaks we won’t be getting another one, however it seems like we have the LONGEST LIVED microwave of anyone I know! I’ve had it the darn thing 18 years now! (Maybe it just doesn’t get used enough anymore!!)

    Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t at all believe that microwaving food is bad for you… nothing I have shown him is yet to convince him.

    Reply
  26. Pingback: Are Microwaves Really More Convenient? | Homemade Mommy

  27. Glass containers are unnatural, as is shipping food in trucks/cars/trains, so many things didn’t exist before humans invented them, but that doesn’t mean you should keep the lights off when the sun goes down.

    Please don’t be afraid of energy! Microwave ovens are safe– these anecdotes demonstrate nothing except that people’s active imaginations cause them to see monsters in the dark shadows.

    Reply
  28. Thank you all for thoroughly confusing me. I would like to know the credentials that Don and Kiwi-Lan hold to produce their posts. Sarah I appreciate your knowledge but think you truly follow mercola way too much. I used to until his enterprise grew to where he actually believes he knows all about science and conspiracies. The man livea in fear. Perfect love casts out fear. He creates more fear in people than hope in health. I agree with many on this post. You are right on for the most part but not in simply quoting someone else’s study in a book that you yourself cannot truly articulate. Be careful. Blessings.
    I was hoping to find some real definitive information on microwaves but am saddened to find again just a few references to one unknown study and Mercola. He is not the end all in health, sorry.

    Reply

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