“Don’t stand too close to the microwave or you’ll go blind!” Is a phrase many of us have heard from our parents. Alternatively, perhaps we may even scold our children with the warning as the dish inside the microwave spins round and round. However, how true is that statement? How harmful is the radiation put out by a microwave, and how safe is the food that comes out of it? 

Microwave ovens cook food when the water molecules of the food absorb the radiation and heat up, thereby heating up the surrounding food. This is why, for instance, popcorn is more likely to burn and catch fire if cooked for a minute too long compared to the soup that will only boil, and probably overflow. Microwave radiation can also heat up the water molecules on skin. Thankfully, modern-day microwave ovens are designed to prevent any radiation from leaking out. So, unless your microwave door is broken, you are completely safe living near and using a working microwave oven. If your microwave door is broken, you should refrain from using it and replace it immediately. 

If the microwave radiation itself is not the hazardous part of using microwave ovens then what is? 

One of the hazards of using a microwave is the usage of certain containers. Fortunately, the FDA regulates the amount of “plasticizers” that plastic containers may have. Plasticizers are substances used in the manufacture of plastic containers. The FDA requires plastic materials to pass tests measuring how long the container can be in the microwave, how likely a person is to eat directly from the container, and how hot the container will get. If a plastic container says Microwave Safe on it, then you can be assured it has passed the necessary FDA tests. This includes plastic, Styrofoam, and paper containers. If the label is not present, or you feel unsure about using a certain container, do not take the risk. Two minutes of microwaving an unsafe container doesn’t seem like much, but can become harmful when two minutes a day becomes a total of 730 minutes in a year. 

The second major hazard of microwave oven usage is the detrimental effects of regular ingestion of foods in a microwave oven. Microwaving fresh vegetables in a steam bag versus sautéing them will not change their nutrient content. However, microwavable food such as TV dinners, chicken nuggets and 90-second quick rice do not come close to having the same nutrient content as their fresh, home-cooked counterparts. They also have more harmful preservatives and additives to increase the product’s shelf life. Many of these microwaved foods are likely to lead to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, and increased risk of cancer compared to cooking similar meals on the stovetop and in the oven. 

For example, a serving of Tyson brand breaded chicken nuggets has 270 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates and only 14 grams of protein. The same sized serving of grilled chicken nuggets has 160 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 0grams of carbohydrates and 22 grams of protein. Add the right low salt seasonings and low-fat sauces to your grilled chicken and you’ll never head over to the frozen aisle again!

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