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Do Microwaves Change the Nutritional Value of our Food?

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Do Microwaves Change the Nutritional Value of our Food?

While you can’t deny that microwaves are efficient and useful when you need to quickly reheat last night’s leftovers, there has been speculation that using microwaves to cook your food may deplete them of all their healthy nutrients. The Medical Station wants to set the record straight and show you that, while there is some truth to the matter, microwaves are not the enemy!

What foods are affected?

When you look at the research, it is clear that the main food group scientists are concerned with are vegetables. This makes sense because vegetables are filled with important vitamins and disease-preventing compounds which make them so important to a balanced diet. While the other food groups are important to consider, their main role is providing you with macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) which have not been shown to be affected by microwave cooking.

Microwaves vs. Other Cooking Methods

Though microwaves get a lot of bad rap for destroying the nutritional content of our food, it is important to consider how it compares to other kinds of cooking. The majority of vegetables will lose a portion of their nutrients when exposed to heat during cooking. But, this is not limited to warming in the microwave and even baking or pan-frying food can have a similar effect. For example, Vitamin C, an essential nutrient found in Bell Peppers, Kale and Broccoli, is heat sensitive and can break down when cooked in a variety of ways.

The Real Culprit- Water!

In 2009, an article was published reviewing different cooking methods and how they affect the anti-oxidant (cancer fighting) content of a variety of vegetables. The authors found that, in fact, microwave cooking was one of the best ways to cook food and led to one of the smallest losses in antioxidants, while boiling and pressure cooking led to the most dramatic decrease. This is a result of the water the vegetables are submerged in during cooking which can pull the cancer-fighting compounds from your food. In fact, a similar effect occurs with other water-soluble vitamins and disease-preventing phytochemicals. Therefore, if you are planning on microwaving your veggies, minimize the water you add to the dish.

Positive Impacts of Microwave Cooking

While it’s true that, in many cases, microwaves have a negative impact on the nutritional value of food, there are many cases when microwave cooking can actually increase the amount of nutrients available. For example, Lycopene, a compound found in tomato peels known for its effectiveness in prevention of heart disease and cancer, is changed after microwave cooking so it can be more easily absorbed by the body. Also, while some nutrients are affected by cooking, microwaves provide a quick and efficient way to cook and heat foods. If microwaving your food makes them more pleasurable to eat, you will be more likely to eat more veggies and reap the healthy benefits.

While eating raw vegetables is the healthiest option, The Medical Station believes microwaves can have a place in helping you achieve a healthy and balanced diet. Feel free to contact The Medical Station and book an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians to learn more about how to optimize your nutrient intake and put your microwave to its best use.

This article was written by Hailey Adler, one of our Summer Administrative Interns. Hailey received a BSc. from the University of Guelph and is attending Queen’s University for a Masters of Anatomical Sciences. She is passionate about all things medical related as well as nutrition and cancer research.

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