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Myth: Microwaving foods zaps nutrients away

TRUTH: I want to start by being clear about how microwaves heat food.  Microwaves emit a small amount of radiation that excites molecules, causing them to heat up.  Microwaves do not actually zap (i.e. break apart or destroying molecules with ionizing radiation) food.

The actual waves don’t kill nutrients, so what does?  Overcooking!  Some nutrients are destroyed when they become too hot and the food is over cooked.  Since microwaves powerfully and efficiently heat foods, it can be easier to overcook food in a microwave than on a stove.

Foods that are about an inch to an inch and a half thick and contain water (rather than fat) cook the most efficiently.  When you cook food on a hot stove (or in an oven), it directly and indirectly heats the surfaces and air around the food and cooks it from the outside in. When you heat food in a microwave, it only heats foods (not the containers or surrounding air), which is a much more efficient process. *But be careful because containers get hot from contact with hot food.

Why does your food cook unevenly? Density.  The more dense your food, the longer it’ll take to cook. So, if you put mixed dishes in the microwave (I.e. spaghetti and pasta sauce), the spaghetti will cook at a different speed than the sauce because they are different densities.

But, I have to admit one microwave downfall that could decrease the quality of your food. Not all containers that are “microwave-safe” should go in the microwave.  Microwaves can handle plastic, Styrofoam, and papers that have dyes and coloring but just because the microwave is able to handle those containers, doesn’t mean you should use them.  That stuff seeps into your food!

BOTTOM LINE: Microwaving doesn’t kill nutrients, over-cooking does.  Always use microwave safe glass or ceramic when microwaving but don’t worry about hazards to your health

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. How Stuff Works: Microwave Cooking
  2. Mayo Clinc: What is BPA?

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