Nuke This!

Microwaving food fine, experts say

One of the more memorable scenes in recent films was Jennifer Lawrence’s rant about microwave ovens in 2013’s “American Hustle.”

Given one of the new-fangled machines (this is the 1970s, remember) by her husband (Christian Bale), she immediately shoves a TV dinner into the oven, aluminum tray and all. Bam. The machine explodes into flames.

“I told you not to put metal in the science oven! What’d you do that for?” asks Bale.

“Don’t make such a big deal. Just get another one,” says Lawrence.

A back-and-forth squabble ensues until Lawrence finally blurts out the ultimate putdown: “You know I read that it takes all the nutrition out of our food. It’s empty, just like your deals! Empty, empty! … I read it in an article — look. By Paul Brodeur.”

Brodeur, for students of How The World Is Killing Us, is the author of 1977’s classic “The Zapping of America,” about the dangers of microwaves. He laid down a lot of warnings — like how microwaves in cell phones can cook our brains — but he did not say that microwave ovens were bad for cooking our food.

He laid down a lot of warnings — like how microwaves in cell phones can cook our brains — but he did not say that microwave ovens were bad for cooking our food.

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Yet this is not an uncommon belief. Just Google “Is microwaving food bad for us?” Up pops a Huffington Post blog entitled: “Is This Common Kitchen Appliance Harming Your Health?” Among its declarations is that microwaving “zaps the nutrients right out of your food.”

Nonsense, says a recent study by Harvard Medical School. Any kind of cooking will lower some nutrient levels even as it may make some more available to the body. Nutritionally, microwaving is superior because it cooks food in the shortest time possible. Boiling, which takes longer, can reduce vitamin levels by 20-30 percent.

So why all the paranoia about microwaved food? A lot of the answer comes from an oft-quoted 2003 study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that compared the differences between boiling, steaming and microwaving broccoli. Testing for the loss of antioxidant nutrients, researchers concluded microwaving was rated worst, but no one ever stopped to question how long the broccoli was microwaved.

Answer: They microwaved that poor broccoli for 5 minutes at full power (1000 watts). Any modern cook knows you microwave veggies for half that time, and you don’t suspend them in water as those researchers did. Indeed, the reason microwave offers an advantage for vegetables is that they have their water. You don’t need to cook them in a bath.

My takeaway is that if supposedly great scientists know little more than Jennifer Lawrence did about microwaving, maybe a review of a few basics is in order.

For starters, it is OK to nuke the following:

  • Soup
  • Coffee or tea
  • Vegetables
  • Slices of pizza
  • Leftover Chinese food

Things that are not OK to nuke:

  • Anything metal
  • Anything plastic
  • “Microwave” popcorn (seriously unhealthy)
  • TV dinners
  • Small family pets

Things that are fun (and safe!) to nuke: 

  • Ivory soap bar
  • Marshmallow Peeps
  • Eggs
  • Potato chip bags
  • A grape

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