The convenience of having a microwave to cook or heat up your meals in minutes is undisputable. Ever had this sense of apprehension or lingering doubts of whether cooking with the microwave zaps all the nutrients from your food? I did.
I went on a quest to find out if using a microwave was a nay or yay. Here’s what I discovered:
Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals are nutrients, compounds found in foods. However, cooking with heat in any form, whether boiling, steaming, baking, grilling, frying or microwaving, can destroy these nutrients in foods, to some extent. This is because when food is heated, the chemical bonds in the nutrients break down (we meet again, Biochemistry!). Certain nutrients are more sensitive to heat than others, whether exposed to heat from a microwave or oven. Of course, the heat kills disease-causing bacteria in the foods as well.
Fun Fact: Noticed how tomatoes in Italian foods are always cooked? Well, cooking tomatoes boosts its cancer-fighting nutritional value, more specifically, by increasing its lycopene content, an antioxidant-rich phytochemical (chemical compound in plants) that gives tomatoes its red colour.
Duration of Exposure To Heat Matters
The longer the food cooks, the more nutrients tend to break down. Since microwave cooking takes a shorter time, it is said to cause the least likely damage to nutrients. This may come as a surprise to you but boiling vegetables tends to rob them of more nutrients compared to if you blanched, stir fried them or cooked them in a microwave. Why this is so is because some nutrients leach out into the water. Unless of course, you make a soup filled with vegetables or chicken, which explains why soups are so nourishing and delicious!
Retention of Nutrients in Foods
If getting the most nutrition of what you chow down is your concern, then microwaving is a safe bet. If you use your microwave with a small amount of water to steam food from the inside (tip: cover it tightly so you create an efficient steam environment), you’ll retain more vitamins and minerals.
The Bottom Line
Cooking food changes the nutritional content, for better or for worse. Looking for the best cooking method around? Find one that cooks food quickly, exposes food to heat for the shortest time and uses a minimal amount of liquid. Strangely enough, microwaving meets all these criteria.
Do I advocate microwave-ready foods? That’s a no-no for me so I don’t purchase them to begin with. I personally prefer freshly prepared meals and minimally processed foods. Will I be microwaving my meals more often? Possibly not, for the similar reason – unless I’m in an extremely dire situation! To nuke or not - the final decision is yours. Always remember though to use microwave-safe containers before plonking your food in! And be careful, when you’re thinking of microwaving an egg, a possible eggs-plosion may occur!