Scene extract from Miss Congeniality, released in 2000. Produced by Castle Rock Entertainment (presents), Village Roadshow Pictures (in association with), NPV Entertainment and Fortis Films. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Its action on our food and health
The invention of the microwave is still seen as a novel heating method to cut down on cooking (or re-heating) food. No longer do we need a pan, or several, to re-heat a full meal, or leftovers. Thus dramatically reducing the time needed for cleaning and washing-up.
Some manufacturers also distribute recipe booklets with their appliance, allowing you to cook a dish from scratch, solely using their microwave settings. Results varied but it is possible.
It is also possible to defrost a meal in minutes.
From freezer to plate, without any mess. How wonderful!!!
Silently, this had created a demand for (frozen) ready-made meals; thus pushing the sale of such highly-processed-but-how-convenient foods.
Even better. The container, now, suitable for microwave use also replaces the need for a plate. The only requirement, piercing the plastic film on the top.
Doubters and waves after waves of evidence-based research against the use of microwave have made the headlines, the potential dangers and the interaction of the microwaves with our food. This was quickly used by many bloggers and other social media health gurus to warn us of the danger of using a microwave.
While many arguments made sense, some were just shared to scare people; however, in some countries where the idea of a fully-fitted kitchen is a microwave, an electric/gas ring, and a sink, their appeal did not have much of an impact.
After all "Over 90% of American homes have microwave ovens used for meal preparation. Because microwave ovens are so convenient and energy efficient, as compared to conventional ovens, very few homes or restaurants are without them." (Kalsi, S. Singh, S. 2014. p. 497)
So what is the real science behind the use of microwave ovens and our food?
Microwaves are used quite extensively in our modern world. For example, to relay long distance telephone signals, television programs, and many terabytes of computer information across the earth or to any satellite orbiting in space; radar and navigation systems; detecting speeding car; Microwave tomography (MWT); treating sore muscle; drying plywood; curing rubber, plywood and resins; baking bread and doughnuts; and, cooking potato chips; however, the microwave is still most familiar to us as an energy source for cooking or re-heating food.
Like light or radio waves, microwaves are very short waves of electromagnetic energy, which are able to travel at the speed of light (186,282 miles/299,792 kilometres/29,979,200,000 cm per second).
Now, that the scientific bits are out of the way, let's look at a molecule of water.
Illustration 1. Structure and polarity of a molecule of water
Illustration 4. Molecules of water (H2O) can agglomerate (clump) together by forming hydrogen bonds. These bonds are very fragile and can be easily broken.
Why so scientific? Would you ask...
What water composition, or even its molecular form has to do with microwaves?
The answer is very simple. As seen in the illustrations above, the water molecule is constructed in such a way that one end has a positive charge and the other end has a negative charge (also referred as a dipole molecule, which behave like a magnet).
When subjected to microwave radiation, the water molecules in the food reverse in polarity: the positive ends become negative and the negative ends become positive. This happens continually at high speeds back and forth, up to one hundred billion times a second.
Now, looking at the illustration above, imagine the hydrogen atoms suddenly pulling the leach and then the oxygen is back in control, this phenomenon occurring in a split of a split of a second.
The rotation polarity and collision causes molecular friction, which may result in unusual heating and deformation of surrounding molecules. In simpler terms, the molecules are jostled so much that the motion creates friction. It is this friction, caused by these extreme, repeated changes that emits the heat that "cooks" the food. (Hill, A. et al. 1998; Buffler, CR. 1993)
This is a reason why it is often advised to place a glass of water in the back of the microwave to cook or re-heat some foods, thus creating steam and heat.
How can this even be possible?
Well, in theory, this means that, in barely one second, a microwave has ricocheted billions of times on the inner sides of the appliance, bombarding the food, placed at the centre of the oven, at the speed of light.
It is quite difficult, I agree, to comprehend how many times a microwave can ricochet against the inner side of the average oven measuring on average 40 by 30 centimetres (~12''x15''), but we all have to agree that it is a lot!
Not to mention that the wave of radiation is continuous.
The disruption in the water molecules, created by the microwave, is so intense that they are forcefully torn apart and become structurally deformed. This phenomenon is termed: structural isomerism.
Because the cellular structure of our food — especially, its water-content -- was never meant to go through this kind of (incredibly) rapid, forceful, and chaotic polarity switching, the cells are actually broken, loosing their delicate electric charge, thus become impaired in quality, which, in turn, is not only affecting the food itself but the organism ingesting it: us, humans.
"Because the body is electrochemical in nature, any force that disrupts or changes human electrochemical events will affect the physiology of the body" write Sabby Kalsi and Sukhwinder Singh (2014. p. 497).
"We can distinguish between the effects of microwaves on the food itself, the effects of the microwaved food on the body once the food is ingested, and the effects of microwaves on the human body independent of the ingestion of food." (Kopp, W. 1996, p. 30)
Because microwaved foods are chemically and molecularly altered, it is evident that the collision and rotation of the molecule causing friction can lead to the destruction of fragile structures and of a quantifiable loss in nutrients (vitamins, phytonutrients, many of which have researched beneficial antioxidant properties, fat, proteins and naturally-occurring plant enzymes -- also proteins --, are all extremely sensitive to heat and can then be degraded/destroyed by heat), and that a large number of harmful substances can then be produced (Raghuvanshi, P. Mathur, P. 2013; Watanabe, F. et al. 1998; Buffler, CR. 1993), which also include radiolytic compounds (Raul, F. et al. 2002)
The intensity of damage is dependent on the amount of dipole molecules (e.g. water). Higher the amount of these dipole molecules, higher the molecular friction can be and heat absorbed.
Oil is non-polar but because of high specific heat, oil also produces high molecular friction. It is possible to hypothesise that essential fatty acids are also damaged by microwaves (trans fat).
Sabby Kalsi and Sukhwinder Singh (2014. p. 498) give a nice net conclusion: "In most cases, the foods used for research analysis were exposed to microwave propagation at an energy potential of 100 kilowatts/cm3/second, to the point considered acceptable for sanitary, normal ingestion. The effects noted by both German and Russian researchers are presented in three categories:
Is there any reasons to be scared?
Not only Russia banned microwave ovens in the 70s (until early 90s), because of their potential risk to human health, many researchers and scientists have tried to ring the alarm, advocating "safer" cooking methods.
Every cooking process damage food in a way. It makes the food easier to eat, and possibly digest. The main factor responsible for the damage is the time taken for cooking, the temperature at which the food is cooked and the amount of liquid present in food. Grilling and baking, for example, require high temperature for cooking.
It is common knowledge that high temperature may increase the production of carcinogenic compounds, which include acrylamide, nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Microwave oven produces more heat than grilling and baking. Thus microwaving may have a much higher probability to produce these compounds. Although, it is fair to assume that a more powerful microwave oven (>750 watt) may generate a higher number of these compounds than a less powerful microwave (≥500 watt) for the same amount of time.
Baranski, Stanislaw and Czerski, Przemyslaw (1976) determined that microwaves caused cancer in animals. "Microwaved meats contain d-nitrosodiethanolamine, a well-known carcinogen" echoes William P. Kopp.
Researchers at the Stanford University Medical Centre reported in the Journal Pediatrics (Quan, R. Kerner, JA. 1992) that the changes in microwaved human breast milk — even at a low setting — can destroy some of its important disease-fighting capabilities. Heating the milk well above body temperature (37˚c) can break down not only its antibodies to infectious agents, but also its lysozymes (bacteria-digesting enzymes). They also found that breast milk heated at 72—98˚c lost 96 % of its immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies, immune cells able to fend off invading microbes.
“A basic hypothesis of natural medicine states that the introduction into the human body of molecules and energies, to which it is not accustomed, is much more likely to cause harm than good. Microwaved food contains both molecules and energies not present in food cooked in the way humans have been cooking food since the discovery of fire.
"Microwave energy from the sun and other stars is direct current based. Artificially produced microwaves, including those in ovens, are produced from alternating current and force a billion or more polarity reversals per second in every food molecule they hit. Production of unnatural molecules is inevitable. Naturally occurring amino acids have been observed to undergo isomeric changes (changes in shape morphing) as well as transformation into toxic forms, under the impact of microwaves produced in ovens.
"One short-term study found significant and disturbing changes in the blood of individuals consuming microwaved milk and vegetables. Eight volunteers ate various combinations of the same foods cooked different ways. All foods that were processed through the microwave ovens caused changes in the blood of the volunteers. Hemoglobin levels decreased and over all white cell levels and cholesterol levels increased. Lymphocytes decreased. Luminescent (light-emitting) bacteria were employed to detect energetic changes in the blood. Significant increases were found in the luminescence of these bacteria when exposed to blood serum obtained after the consumption of microwaved food.” (Source: https://www.health-science.com)
In 2001, Lita Lee explained, using research published in the journal Lancet in 1989 (Lubec, G. Wolf, Chr. Bartosch, B.), that microwaving milk or baby formula not only depletes the vitamin content but converts certain amino acids (or protein chains) into related substances that are biologically inactive. Some of these altered amino acids are neurotoxic to babies and may also deeply affect the kidneys. She writes: "It's bad enough that many babies are not nursed, but now they are given fake milk (baby formula) made even more toxic via microwaving." previously writing, “Microwaving baby formulas converted certain trans-amino acids into their synthetic cis-isomers. Synthetic isomers, whether cis-amino acids or trans-fatty acids, are not biologically active. Further, one of the amino acids, L-proline, was converted to its d-isomer, which is known to be neurotoxic (poisonous to the nervous system) and nephrotoxic (poisonous to the kidneys).” (source: http://www.litalee.com)
The problem goes actually much further. Most microwaved meals are sold in plastic trays covered by a clear plastic film. Although, labelled "microwave-safe", heat (as discussed), fat, and plastic, all produce known-carcinogens and, non-stick wrappers, PFOA (see microwave popcorn), worse, molecules from the plastic are able migrate into the food itself and is then ingested.
Plastic is a known hormonal disrupter.
Microwaving is not able to brown food or create a crunchy crust so manufacturers have invented heat susceptors. Heat susceptors are visible thin, grey strips (or disks) of metalled-plastic that absorb microwave energy and turn the surface of the package into a very hot little frying pan; however; numerous toxic chemicals from the heat-susceptor packaging of some microwavable foods (pizzas, French fries, popcorn, and anything requiring a crispy crust or a crunchy taste) have been reported to migrate into the actual food. (Lefferts, LY.; Schmidt, S. 1990)
Is there anymore to it?
Manufacturing regulations limit the amount of microwave an oven can "leak out": no more than 1 milliwatt per square centimetre (mW/cm2) at the time of manufacture, and 5 mW/cm2 after a period of use, but the oven cables and the motor (of a perfectly working microwave) still give off substantial microwave energy, which extends for about a metre and radiation leaks from the seal around the door and through the glass door.
This is why a microwave oven should be checked regularly for leakage, at least, once a year.
Microwaves are also able to travel through wall (great, isn't it? Now you know why you have full bars on your phone when indoors), and it could be that microwave levels surrounding the appliance are identical or higher than those from a mobile phone relay.
This leakage makes us quite vulnerable, since our body is mostly made of water (interstitial fluid, a liquid that bath every single cell of our body, and cytosol, the liquid inside each of our cell, etc.), and the water molecules in the body of someone standing close to a microwave will react and be agitated to some degree.
Our eyes are even more vulnerable, as they contain large amounts of fluid (and a lower blood supply to take away any accumulation of heat).
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that fries, for example, and some other (microwaved) foods, foods that consumers may not even be aware are, in fact, microwaved foods. The issue is that industrial microwave ovens are extremely more powerful (~12,000 w) than the typical home appliance (~700 w) (Yarmand, MS. Homayouni, A. 2010), multiplying, quite, exponentially, the potential dangers of microwave cooking.
Surely, this is it. Right?
It is right to assume that microwaves may be detrimental to our health, from using microwave oven and consuming food cooked using a microwave, but not only. "New wireless communication technologies are allowing people to be constantly connected and with instant access to wide ranges of information. These advances have also raised concerns about the safety of human exposure to microwaves emitted by these telecommunication devices." writes James, C. Lin (1999. p. 165), adding "Results from studies [...] include carcinogenesis and cancer promotion and other in vivo experimental studies that involve tissues in the head and neck region of the body."
This extract is from 1999, and now, everyone is anticipating the "ultra-modern" 5G.
Our main problem is the increased exposure over time. Since, we are more and more exposed to microwaves (and EMFs - electromagnetic fields, aka electric smog), so is the increase of their potential danger on our health.
What are your thoughts on this new 5G technology?
Are you aware of the potential dangers of being constantly connected?
For anecdotal history bit: Microwave ovens were originally developed by the Nazis for use in their mobile support operations.
Some of the research on microwave cooking
1. Microwave cooking increases glucose, insulin and C-peptide responses and lowers satiety and beta carotene levels versus raw ones.
Gustafsson, K. et al. (1995). Influence of processing and cooking of carrots in mixed meals on satiety, glucose and hormonal response. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 46 (1), pp. 3–12.
2. Amongst other conventional cooking methods, microwave cooking results in higher lipid oxidation and formation of free cholesterol oxidation products (COPs) of meat than grilling.
Broncano, JM. et al. (2009). Effect of different cooking methods on lipid oxidation and formation of free cholesterol oxidation products (COPs) in Latissimus dorsi muscle of Iberian pigs. Meat science. 83(3), pp. 431–437.
3. Microwave (domestic/industrial) cooking results in structural damage to muscle fibre and denaturation of collagen in meat.
Yarmand, MS. Homayouni, A. (2010). Quality and microstructural changes in goat meat during heat treatment. Meat Science. 86 (2), pp. 451–455.
4. Compared to other thermal stress, microwave causes a higher degree of protein unfolding when heated at the same temperature.
George, DF. Bilek, MM. McKenzie, DR. (2008). Non-thermal effects in the microwave induced unfolding of proteins observed by chaperone binding. Bioelectromagnetics. 29(4), pp. 324–330.
Baranski, S. Czerski, P (1976). Biological Effects of Microwaves. Stroudsburg, Pensilvania: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross Inc
Buffler, CR (1993). Microwave Cooking and Processing: Engineering Fundamentals for the Food Scientist. New York: Springer US
Hill, A. International Life Sciences Institute. ILSI Europe. Microwave Oven Task Force (1998). Microwave ovens. ILSI Europe, Brussels
Kalsi, S. Singh, S. (2014). Study Of Microwave’s Applications. International Journal of Enhanced Research in Science Technology & Engineering. 3(4), pp. 494–499. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6fd2/7d33b61292c71e73bc0edb3ae54c20c207cd.pdf. Last accessed: 16 Sept. 2018
Kopp, W. (1996). Microwave Madness: The Effects of Microwave Apparatus on Food and Humans. Perceptions, p. 30.
Lefferts, LY.; Schmidt, S. (1990). "Microwaves: the heat is on. (microwaveable packaging & cookware may be releasing harmful substances into food)." Nutrition Action Healthletter. Center for Science in the Public Interest..
- Retrieved September 16, 2018 from HighBeam Research: https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-8811061.html
Lin, JC. (1999). Biological Effects of Microwave Radiation. In: Bersani, F. Electricity and Magnetism in Biology and Medicine. Springer, Boston, MA. pp. 165–169.
Lubec, G. Wolf, Chr. Bartosch, B. (1989). AAminoacid Isomerisation and microwave exposure. The Lancet. 334(8676), pp. 1392–1393.
Quan, R. Kerner, JA. (1992). Effects of Microwave Radiation on Anti-Infective Factors in Human Milk. Pediatrics. 89(4), pp. 667–669.
Raghuvanshi, P. Mathur, P. (2013). The Anti-androgenic effect of continuous intake of microwave exposed food on Swiss albino mice. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research. 6(1), pp. 106–108.
Raul, F. et al. (2002). Food-borne radiolytic compounds (2-alkylcyclobutanones)may promote experimental colon carcinogenesis. Nutrition and cancer. 44 (2), pp. 189–191.
Watanabe, F. et al. (1998). Effects of Microwave Heating on the Loss of Vitamin B(12) in Foods. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 46(1), pp. 206–210
Yarmand, MS. Homayouni, A. (2010). Quality and microstructural changes in goat meat during heat treatment. Meat Science. 86(2), pp. 451–455.
Yuan, Y. et al. (2007). A comparative study of acrylamide formation induced by microwave and conventional heating methods. Journal of Food Science. 72(4), C212–216
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.