Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Healthy Respect

My favorite long-time, regular reader and commenter of this blog, Anonymous, asked me in the comments of my last post: "Have you thought about doing any posts on microwave cooking?"

Not really, but you just gave me an idea.

Instead of taking my typical approach to blogging - doing research, finding linkages to bolster my contentions, and carefully crafting an argument, I'm approaching this one from a completely different angle for once.

Yeah, a number of years ago, I did some research on how the microwave oven is bad for human health. It's been a long time, but let me see if I can recall the things I've read about microwave oven cooking, and why I decided to stop using it for anything other than heating water for non-consumptive purposes - I don't even use it for defrosting frozen foods.

Microwaves destroy nutrients and minerals in food and water, they can also emit potentially toxic radiation while cooking, they alter protein molecules and destroy any natural pro-biotic bacteria present in your food. Regularly eating microwaved food is also linked to heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, diarrhea and other digestive issues. Also, if you microwave anything with plastic wrap or Styrofoam containers, toxic compounds like bisphenol-A and other substances in the containers can leach into the food.

Here was one of the more memorable experiments I came across on teh Interwebz, from a high school kids science fair project:

Update: This pic has purportedly been debunked - I still 'aint cooking with a microwave.

If the microwave devitalizes and denatures water, imagine what it's doing to your food...but I digress. Anyone can google all this stuff for yourself and find hours of reading on the topic.

On the other hand, I have a much more compelling reason to eschew this nutrient destroying tool of convenience: texture and taste.

Here's the one mention I previously made here about microwaving food:

In all this time, I've come to realize something else when it concerns eating food. It's not just the ingredients that I'm vigilant about.

I've also become really conscious of the habitual behaviors and social rituals around food.

Where I once considered cooking a laborious and time consuming chore (hence the rationalization for eating fast food 5 or more times a week), I now take great pride in procuring fresh, pure and natural ingredients, and taking great care to cook meals with said ingredients.

I despise the culture of the microwave. 

Wrapped in plastic and nuked, destroying the texture and full flavors of the ingredients.

I loathe the mentality behind driving and eating.

Or doing anything else BUT savoring well made food at a sit down meal.

I hate eating off of paper plates, paper napkins, Styrofoam cups and bowls, and with plastic utensils. I strive to make every meal I eat, a REAL MEAL, made with real food, eaten at table with real silverware and porcelain and glass flatware, with good company to commiserate and savor the meal with. It is one of the finest pleasures in this life.

All my friends and family are aware of my aversion to the microwave. When people offer me leftovers, I tell them I'd prefer to eat it cold from the fridge than having it zapped. I used to be the sort of person that couldn't bare to eat cold left overs. I always nuked my leftovers to get the food hot. Once I quit using the microwave, I figured out that most foods actually don't taste bad at all eaten cold....but I still prefer cooked foods, served hot. Nowadays, I usually take the extra step of reheating food the old fashioned way.

And in doing so, I also discovered something else, dishes like stews, chili's and soups that have all the fat congeal at the top of the dish in the refrigerator? They typically taste better on the re-heat than when they were freshly cooked and still piping hot! Something about refrigeration and reheating makes the flavors blend better.

Of course, a lot of folks will skim all that hardened fat out and dump it before reheating their food. Ugh. That's where all the flavor and nutrition is! Why would you take the best part of the food out and throw it away?

I've hosted dinner parties in which I've cooked a big pot of beef stew two days prior, chilled it for 24 hours, than reheated it just prior to guests arriving to eat. No one ever suspected they were getting "reheated leftovers" at my dinner table, but the compliments are always forthcoming, and I'm often asked what my "secret" is.

People seem to have bought into this notion that the microwave really saves them a lot of time and effort. But if you really do a comparison, you are literally sacrificing the taste, texture and nutritional value of your food to save perhaps 5 or 10 minutes of your time, at best. 

About the best argument you could make is that you're using less dishes to reheat your food. 

Whoop-de-doo. So instead of having to wash one microwavable Tupperware dish and a fork, I end up having to wash one Tupperware dish that I had refrigerated my food in, a plate, a fork and a pot or pan.So there's perhaps an extra 5 minutes on the clean up.

The way I spend time and money on procuring ingredients and cooking the food I and my family eat, I say it's worth the extra time spent to reheat a meal and have a little bit more clean up detail.

Healthy food deserves a healthy respect. I just don't find the taste and texture that gets altered by nuking your food in the microwave a worthy trade off to save the 10 or 15 minutes longer it takes to reheat and clean-up.

Leftover dinner food that takes 3 minutes to reheat, takes about 6-8 minutes on a stove top in a cast iron skillet, and the taste and texture is retained, if not improved from conventional reheating.

A bag of microwave popcorn takes 4-5 minutes. Issues of microwaveable popcorn ingredients aside, using a covered pot and some butter and macadamia nut oil, I can pop a full bowl of popcorn in about the same 5 minutes, and season it with real salt and spices, and it tastes and smells far better, too. 

The only thing is you have to actually stand over the pot and continuously shake it to keep the popped corn from burning.

But I guess the 5 minutes you would spend over the stove is not as valuable as 5 minutes watching the tell-a-vision or updating your facebook page from your smartphone, while the microwave is nuking your teflon-lined, paper bag full of kernels, partially-hydrogenated oils and artificial butter flavors.

In the past 5 years of exploring the topic of food and nutrition on teh Interwebz, I've developed a much better relationship and respect to my food that I put into my body.

Why would I purposely go through the care and effort of raising my own chickens and feeding them custom mixed feed to have a regular supply of nutrient-dense, free-range/pastured eggs...only to zap it and destroy all those nutrients I otherwise spent all that time and effort cultivating?

Why would I go out of my way on a weekly basis to travel to the Farmer's Market in my part of the island to procure freshly harvested organic produce so that I can saute them in high quality, grass fed butter and expensive macadamia nut oils...only to destroy all the vitamins and minerals in a radio active box for the sake of saving 5 minutes of time and effort?

Or the fresh fish or grass fed beef or the bone broth stocks and soups I usually make overnight in the crockpot?

Real food, takes real time to make and real time to enjoy. It is a labor of love. To cherish these principles, I don't find it difficult at all to eschew the so called time-saving convenience the microwave provides. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat, and I don't eat or drink anything that is nuked or zapped.

I respect my body, by respecting my food.

Post Script -After seeing some comments both here and over at RedPillWomen on this post (thanks for the linkage, Stingray), I realized this post was not as clear in my "anti-microwave your food" sentiment as I thought. My bad.

Zap your food for all I care. Anonymous just asked me to do a post on microwaves, so I put my thoughts down in a stream-of-conscious style blog post (which is not how I normally write when I put together a post here.)

To clarify - I did a lot of research on the topic 5+ years ago. Based on so much conflicting reports, I cannot say for certain that microwave ovens are truly bad for human health. But I can say it is certainly bad in affecting the texture and taste of the food you cook with it, and for me, that is enough of a reason for me to not use the damn contraption.

As I said before, I've developed a passion for cooking and eating quality, wholesome and nourishing foods in the past few years, and I see the microwave as an affront to those things.


Unknown said...

The only thing I use the microwave for is baked potatoes. Takes too long otherwise.

Besides potatoes, nothing else.

Keoni Galt said...

The only thing I use the microwave for is baked potatoes. Takes too long otherwise.

We have a saying here in Hawaii...

"Slow down, this is not the Mainland!"

Aloha. :-)

Anonymous said...

Your favorite reader Anonymous here, I love your blog. Keep up the good work. Out here on the outskirts of the empire in Central Europe most people, even the least well off, tend to eat mostly organic farm fresh food. There is a trend for some in eating fast food, however, I think the collapse is coming soon and I hope an unintended consequence of the great crash is that the trend towards fast food, albeit a small one, is nipped in the bud.

Hamsta said...

When ir comes to microwave ovens, most people are complete morons.

People... the microwave oven estabishes a standing wave of electomagnetic energy in the oven. The frequency is precisely tuned to rotate water molecules.

Good ol H2O is a polar molecule that is positive on one side and negative on the other. This gives water its rather unique properties as a solvent among other things.

Water molecules align with external electric fields since they are polarized. If the imposed electic field is time varying and of the right frequency, the water molecules will rotate and pick up energy just like pushing a kid on a swing. As the water molecules are spun around by the microwave field in the oven, they pick up rotational energy, spin faster and bump into other molecules and give up their energy. The process repeats until a water molecules bumps into something again. The net result is a heating of whatever the water molecules are in.

Anything heated in a microwave oven MUST have a moisture content. The process is purely mechanical and occurs throughout the volume of the food being heated. Microwaves cook by heating up all the water molecules in the food.

That all there is to it. No big "radiation", "nuking" or anything else. Just heat. Smarten up people.

Anonymous said...

Found a small, white dog

Anonymous said...


Zick said...

The only thing I use the microwave for is baked potatoes. Takes too long otherwise.

"It takes forever to cook a baked potato in a conventional oven. Sometimes, I'll just throw one in there, even if I don't want one. By the time it's done, who knows?"
-Mitch Hedberg

Jane the Grad Student said...

As a scientist (really!) I gotta wonder whether any difference in nutrition/toxicity is due to the container in which the food was heated, rather than the microwaves themselves. Have you ever drunk cold water from a plastic container, and it tastes just fine, but a few hours at room temp makes it taste just like the plastic? Yeah, that. Or the "melt ring" you get when heating food in those snap-n-serve containers? Gotta wonder how many plastic chemicals are leaching into the food.

Keoni Galt said...

@ Hamsta - That all there is to it. No big "radiation", "nuking" or anything else. Just heat. Smarten up people.

First off, as I said, my main argument here is that I don't use the microwave to cook with, because I don't like the way it affects the texture and taste of my food. Even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that microwaves absolutely harmless, I still wouldn't use it to cook with.

Second of all, my list of "cons" in this post were just my recall of the research I did well over 5 years ago on the topic. Yes, there is whole lot of conflicting info out there, and yes, "nuke" and "zap" while implying radiation toxicity, those terms have become a common part of modern vernacular.

Third, while the microwave oven may or may not "radiate" food (and I'll even concede you're probably right, it doesn't), it has been proven to destroy some beneficial nutrients and beneficial bacteria in food.

Here's one of the most famous studies on what it does to human breast milk: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/89/4/667.abstract

Here's a study showing how microwaves alter and degrade Vitamin B12 in food: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10554220

But again...at this point, I don't care. I don't use the microwave because I enjoy eating real food cooked the old fashioned way, and I don't like the way the taste and texture get altered by zapping.

@ Jane - That is undoubtedly true. I once reheated some take-out leftovers in a styrofoam container. The inside lining of the container turned yellowish brown, and all the food had a chemical taste to it. I ended up throwing it all away.

the bandit said...

The only thing I use the microwave for is baked potatoes.

Ironically, this is the very food that leaps to my mind when thinking of the great loss in taste and texture from the microwave....

Vaughan Williams said...

Re: Making Popcorn in a pot

No need to shake the pot. My technique is this: I fill the bottom of the pot with olive oil. I put the hotplate on maximum. Just before the oil starts to smoke, I put in the popcorn kernels. I put the popcorn kernels in 1 layer deep, to completely cover the bottom of the pot. The kernels should be completely submerged in oil, but just barely. Put the lid on; a few seconds later they start to pop. When there are 4 seconds between kernels popping, turn the stove off, remove the pot from the hotplate, then take the lid off to let the steam escape. Enjoy.

Elspeth said...

I admit I occasionally use the microwave to defrost things. But only occasionally. This:

I hate eating off of paper plates, paper napkins, Styrofoam cups and bowls, and with plastic utensils. I strive to make every meal I eat, a REAL MEAL, made with real food, eaten at table with real silverware and porcelain and glass flatware, with good company to commiserate and savor the meal with. It is one of the finest pleasures in this life.

I can't count the number of times people have been in our house and expressed surprise that we don't keep paper plates or plastic utensils in the house.

Some have seemed downright offended, LOL.

Pill Scout said...

Microwaved food is just disgusting. Besides, whether or not the microwave is simply designed to vibrate water molecules, those vibrating water molecules can still destroy other molecules and particles through the thermic effect. It's the same reason cellular phones at close enough proximity and a long enough duration can cause damage to living tissues. "Hardened skeptics" will not trust these assertions though, they don't want anyone to rain on their creature comforts.

Nestorius said...

"I hate eating off of paper plates, paper napkins, Styrofoam cups and bowls, and with plastic utensils. I strive to make every meal I eat, a REAL MEAL, made with real food, eaten at table with real silverware and porcelain and glass flatware, with good company to commiserate and savor the meal with. It is one of the finest pleasures in this life."

Keoni, there is currently a mental sickness in humanity which is the sickness of progress and development. Humans throw away anything old and replaced with new things in the name of progress. They are also shamed when they preserve their old tools. "Who uses porcelain or glass ware now?", many will be saying now. "Humans evolved from porcelain to plastic", others would say. "A glass bottle will brake so I only use plastic bottles", said one who doesn't know how to be careful not to brake it down.

Permakulturnik said...

If the microwave is ONLY tune in to heat water particles, then why can I heat up (empty) plates, dishes or cups in it?

Anonymous said...

Permakulturnik - "If the microwave is ONLY tune in to heat water particles, then why can I heat up (empty) plates, dishes or cups in it?"

Microwaves affect hydrogen-oxygen bonds (2 in every molecule of water). So, any sunbstance which has molecules with OH bonds will also be affected (heated).

Additionally, the 2,45 Ghz frequency of microwaves will also affect other chemical bonds - just not as effectively as the OH bonds.

It's simply a matter of water being the best medium to absorb and transfer heat energy from microwaves - but not the only one.

dannyfrom504 said...

i think i'll have a talk with rad safety tech tomorrow.

stay tuned.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Hamsta beat me to the punch... it's unfortunate that there's not more critical thinking going on with food science- or with any science in general, in terms of the general population. We still rely on snake oil and magical thinking when it comes to the world around us, and that's a shame. We've substituted 'toxins' for the humours, and intentionally getting explosive diarrhea ('cleansing') is the new leeching.

Of course microwaving is going to make food taste crappy and of unfamiliar texture... it's cooking the food in a completely different manner than ordinary heat would. It's boiling food using it's own water. Now who the F wants a boiled steak? Well, the British, maybe, but their food is gross anyhow.

Water is pretty simple stuff. It can't be 'devitalized' (which is not a thing, anyhow) or denatured (deflated from a 3d form to a planar form). The mineral content can be altered in terms of concentration, not mass, by boiling off some water, just like heat does. You can heat it up and let it cool rapidly to drop the oxygen content (causing the 'flat' taste). That's about it.

You know, the only thing we're missing is 'toxins' in here. Shockingly, we've identified one that IS an issue here, and that's a very good and real thing... usually people talk about 'toxins' they're talking about rebranding a side effect of ingestion of something that causes diarrhea. By that metric Budweiser and week-old Chinese take-out are phenomenal detoxifying agents.

No, I don't use my microwave much, either. I'm not partial to boiled food. I grew up with that, in an Irish household where the spice rack contained only boiling water, butter and salt.

Ironthumb said...

When I use microwave to head stuff up at work I leave it for at least 5 minutes so that the excess energy would evaporate first.
But yeash you're right the

Brian said...

Only occasionally use the microwave at work, have a toaster oven now for reheating leftovers at home. The comments about water make sense, I've always added some water to any dish I nuked because I knew that it would dry out in there. Of course, the water either does no good or makes the food soggy. Toaster ovens are also cheaper than MWs anyway.

geezer said...

I much prefer a small toaster-convection-broiler oven to a mic-
rowave. I live where it is 90+ from March through October so I don't have to use a large oven and there is only person in my household so it is a frequently-
used appliance and it is by far better to cook/reheat with than a

Anonymous said...

There are good reasons presented here for not using a microwave, the plant experiment is not one of them.

CaseyD said...

Microwaved food and water has a distinct metallic taste to it. Less distinct is the dead taste.