Last Updated On November 19th, 2020
There has been a longstanding rumour that zapping food in the microwave can leach away vital nutrients. Is this true? Is there something unhealthy occurring behind the glass of the microwave door? The easy answer to, do microwaves destroy nutrients, is that if cooked right, the microwave is one of the best methods of cooking that retains vitamins and minerals.
Best Cooking Method
If you are concerned with optimising the most nutrients from your food, microwaving is a safe method. Actually, it is one of the best nutritionally sound food-preparation methods. For instance, if you cook vegetables in the microwave with a small amount of water, the microwave will essentially steam the food from the inside, thus retaining more vitamins.
Whenever food is cooked, there will inevitably some loss of nutrients. Therefore, the best cooking method to maximise nutrients are those that cook quickly and are only exposed to heat for a short period of time while utilising the least amount of liquid. This is exactly what microwave cooking does, short cooking times, the least amount of water and the maximum benefit.
Why this Myth Exists
The reason this common myth is perpetuated is that microwaves use electromagnetic energy to heat or cook foods. However, when cooking in a microwave, there is often less of an aroma than when roasting or boiling. The lack of delicious smell gives the impression that the nutrients have been sucked out of the food.
Less Heat, More Benefit
For example, spinach boiled on a stove can lose up to 70% of folic acid due to the length of time in the water and the slower cooking method. Similarly, cooking bacon on a griddle until it reaches an ideal crisp creates nitrosamines which can lead to cancer. On the other hand, microwaving bacon creates much less of these chemicals since it is only exposed to heat for a short period of time.
When Microwaves Destroy Nutrients
Although microwaves seem to be fool-proof, it is possible to mess up the cooking. For example, dumping vegetables in water and overcooking them will cause the nutrients to leach out of the food. Also, using the incorrect type of plastic in the microwave releases unhealthy chemicals into your food that undoubtedly destroys the nutrients and can be harmful to your health. Finally, cooking unwrapped or uncovered food will dry it out thus eliminating the majority of the nutrients.
Keep Your Nutrients!
The way to mitigate nutrient loss is by placing your food in an airtight microwave-safe container with just enough liquid to create an efficient steam environment. With certain foods, microwaving enhances the nutrients and limits bacteria, including:
- Steamed broccoli retains more of its cancer-fighting sulforaphane when steamed properly
- Tomatoes and carrots retain more carotenoids
- The biotin in eggs become more digestible
- Quick heat kills the bacteria in all foods that cause illness
In summary, use that microwave to heat vegetables and reheat cooked foods. Of course, never use the microwave to cook raw meats as the unit will only cook the outside while the inside remains raw. When cooking, making sure to use the aforementioned steaming method to maximise the nutrients and not overcook the food. While you may not experience the same aromas that occur with baking or roasting but if cooked with a little water in an airtight container, you can be well nourished.