While the microwave oven has undeniably offered a convenient way to heat food, prompting its extensive use in urban homes and commercial properties, newer studies are, however, pointing out some concerns.
Though the microwave has enjoyed a fairly good safety record, it uses electromagnetic radiations that cause water, fat and sugar molecules in food to vibrate quickly and build-up heat energy. Heating in general destroys some heat labile nutrients. However, if cooking time is short as in microwaves, it does a better job of preserving those nutrients.
Regulatory health authorities consider it safe, if instructions are followed correctly.
Some studies have shown health concerns relating to its radiations and others to its nutritional aspect. Its well documented that nutritional value of microwaved food is preserved effectively, may be better than conventional cooking. However, losses of certain essential nutrients like antioxidants, flavanoid (disease fighting components), vitamins like vitamin B12 and other phenolic compounds have been reported. One of the studies have reported higher losses of flavonoids (97%), sinapic acid derivatives (74%) and caffeoyl-quinic acid derivatives (87%) in broccoli, when it was microwaved compared to conventional cooking methods.
Researchers suggest using water minimally during cooking of vegetables to help prevent these losses.
A word of caution for mothers who use the microwave for heating formula or breast milk. According a study published in the journal, Paediatrics, microwaving can destroy the essential disease-fighting components in breast milk that offer protection to infants. Microwaved breast milk loses lysozyme activity, antibodies, and may foster the growth of more potentially harmful bacteria.
Till further research evidence is gathered, it is suggested that microwaves are used with care, not as an alternative to conventional cooking and are better used for reheating. An occasional micro-waved meal will certainly not be harmful but a steady diet of eating foods cooked in microwave can certainly be a health concern.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”