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Microwave Cooking: How Safe Is it, What Do You Have To Do About It?

JILL OKEKE

How safe is microwave cooking?

 

My visit to Sweet Sensation eatery last week entirely changed my focus from what I was already penning down for this week’s edition.

As I queued in the much-busy eatery to place my orders, the man directly in front of me ordered rice, plantain, etcetera. Apparently, the food-holding oven was not hot so the lady server proceeded to warm the food in the microwave oven placed on one of the counters.

Sighting that the lady with his orders was about to open the microwave oven, the man in an alarmed voice told the lady that he would rather have his food cold than expose it to micro wave rays and risk the negative health consequences.

Hearing that, I was completely taken aback. Of course, it was not the first time I would be hearing of microwave rays, but it was my first time of encountering somebody who vehemently opposed to having his food warmed that way.

I mean there is no man-made gadget that does not have both the good and ugly sides. Microwave oven is not the only electrical gadget that emits rays. Do not get me wrong, I do not sell microwave ovens and am not campaigning for those in that business.

The fact is, that it is not a very popular method of cooking here because it uses sorely electricity which we cannot boast of in Nigeria. Microwave oven is commonly used just as we use gas cookers and kerosene stoves in countries with poor electricity supply.

However, various researches have shown that microwave ovens don’t make foods radioactive. They just heat them. Microwave ovens heat food by producing radiation which is absorbed by water molecules in the food. This makes the water molecules vibrate and produce heat, which cooks the food.

Any modern day microwave oven in good condition is perfectly safe as long as you follow the instructions for use. If you use a microwave oven in the correct way, there is no known harmful effects on humans. But people still tend to worry. Understanding the different types of radiation may help to reassure you that cooking in a microwave is not dangerous and won’t cause any health problems.

Although microwaves are safe to use, it is important to point out that cooking in them can affect the nutritional value of some foods, for example, fruit and vegetables. But nutrients are lost when heating foods in any way – boiling, grilling, frying or even steaming. As long as you don’t overcook foods, microwaving can actually be quite a healthy way to cook, as it uses only a little water. The best way to keep as many nutrients as possible in fruit and vegetables is to use as little water as you can and not overcook them.

What radiation is and the different types

Radiation is the release of energy from any source. There are many different sources of energy around us. For example, our bodies give off heat, which is a form of energy. Energy is also released from everyday things such as;

  • Household electrical appliances
  • Heaters
  • The sun
  • X-ray machines

Not all radiation is harmful. It depends on the type of radiation and how much exposure to it you have. There are several types of radiation. All of which can be grouped under either

  • Ionising radiation
  • Non-ionising radiation

The radiation from a microwave oven is non-ionising. Other examples include

  • Ultraviolet rays from the sun or sunbeds
  • Electromagnetic fields
  • Radio waves
  • Radiation waves given off from household electrical appliances, heaters, mobile phones with or without headsets, and computers and their screens are all non-ionising radiation.

The only type of non-ionising radiation that we know can cause cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet rays, which causes skin cancer.

Studies have looked at the possible link between microwave ovens and cancer. Some results suggest there may be a link but other studies haven’t been able to prove this at all. Microwaves do produce a magnetic field while they are in use. This drops sharply the further you are from the oven and doesn’t last long, as you tend to cook in microwaves for very short periods. Most experts say that microwave ovens don’t give off enough energy to damage the genetic material (DNA) in cells so they can’t cause cancer. Microwaves heat food, but do not make any changes to it that aren’t made in any other cooking method. So they do not make food any more likely to cause any disease.

What we should pay attention to when using a microwave is the container in which we have placed our food. Do not use a plastic container as chemicals will leach from the container into the food once the plastic is heated up. Avoid using paper bags as that can also burn. Ceramic containers are your best option.

 Additional information from food nutritionist, Caroline Praderio.

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