Does Microwaving Food Kill Nutrients?

Myth Or Fact: Does Microwaving Food Really Kill Every Nutrient?
Stack of frozen vegetables
Stack of frozen vegetables
Nicholas Eveleigh via Getty Images

If you've been avoiding your microwave like the plague after a friend told you it kills every nutrient in sight, there's good news. Your microwave is not the devil.

It's been said that microwaving kills all, or most, existing nutrients in food. Although microwaving does involve radiation, heating meals and vegetables this way does not destroy all the nutrients.

Like any method of heating, microwaving can affect the nutrient content to a certain extent -- however, it depends on how much you cook it.

"Microwaving isn’t going to give you harmful radiation. It just works by making the molecules in the food move and bump into each other, and that causes heat," Simone Austin, accredited practising dietitian and spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Any form of cooking affects the nutrients in some way, as some nutrients can be heat sensitive," Austin said.

"The less we cook it in water, the more nutrients are going to be kept. Likewise, the more water you cook them in, the more they can leach out."

According to Austin, lightly microwaving vegetables may actually help retain more nutrients than stove-top methods such as boiling.

"The advantage of cooking in the microwave is you often don’t need to add a lot of water than if you were boiling vegetables. It’s probably not leaching out as many of the vitamins and minerals," Austin said.

"So, it can be quite a convenient way to cook and can minimise vegetable bio-mineral loss because you don’t have to use much water.

"It’s about not overcooking. It’s like over-boiling something and it becomes really soggy. Just don’t over-boil and don’t over-microwave vegetables to death."

One potential disadvantage of microwaving food is the uneven nature of microwave heating, which could have food contamination risks.

"The one thing about microwaving is it heats from the outside in, so the food could be hot on the outside and not on the inside. In terms of food safety, if you're reheating something you do need to make sure you’re stirring it so the middle part also gets hot enough," Austin told HuffPost Australia.

In the end, it's up to you how you choose to heat or cook food. If you don't like the idea of radiation heating molecules in your food, opt for stove-top heating instead.

"As long as you stir it properly and everything is evenly heated, stove-top heating is fine," Austin said.

If microwaving food is your jam, try these tips to help get the most out of your food and, in particular, vegetables.

1. Stir frequently.

To avoid any food contamination, make sure you stir your meal every so often while microwaving, especially when reheating rice.

"It’s always best to stir it so everything is evenly heated," Austin said.

2. Only add a bit of water.

"For vegetables, you don’t have to use a lot of water. Just a few spoonfuls of water is fine," Austin said.

"This means it is less likely to leach out nutrients."

3. Cook vegetables until just firm.

To avoid potential nutrient loss, microwave vegetables for a shorter time.

"Cooking your vegetables until they are just firm is a good way," Austin said.

"Remember it’s still going to keep cooking after as those molecules are still moving around, so if you’re cooking broccoli you might want factor that in so it doesn’t get soggy."

4. Understand your microwave.

To avoid over or under cooking, get to know how strong your microwave is.

"Learn your microwave and its power as they are all different."

5. Use microwave-safe dishes.

"I think it’s always best to stick to containers which are microwave safe, and glass is also a good option to use," Austin said.

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