We’ve all been told either by a friend or family member the health effects of standing in front of a microwave, or over using an oven.
But is this actually true?
Today I will help you understand how microwave ovens operate, if microwave radiation can affect our human cells, and if there are long-term health effects of standing in front of a microwave, or using it too often.
Afterwards we will dive into the health effects of ovens, and the differences between gas and electric ovens.
How does a microwave work?
When you place your food on the spinning table in a microwave, and press start there are mechanics happening behind the scenes that we cannot see.
A microwave contains 3 major components; Vacuum tube also known as a Magnetron which heats the food, a waveguide which directs the heat energy produced by the Magnetron, and a chamber to safely contain the heat energy and food.
The electromagnetic radiation in the microwave has a frequency range around 300MHz which is produced by the Magnetron and using the waveguide is directed at the food, heating up the water molecules within.
When the water molecules begin to heat up, the rest of your food begins to heat from the inside towards the outside. This is why you might notice if you hadn’t cooked your food long enough, the inside of your food will be warm, and the outside might still be cold.
The way a microwave works versus an oven, is while an oven cooks from the outside to the inside, a microwave is directly able to transfer heat energy to the water molecule increasing its kinetic motion, resulting in a faster and better way to heat up your meal.
How does ‘microwave’ radiation affect your food?
There are some common myths out there that claim microwaves actually breakdown essential nutrients in our food, such as vitamins and minerals. While this may seem logical, according to Harvard Medical it is quite the opposite.
When we compare microwaves to other cooking or heating sources, microwaves are actually better at preserving and restoring most of the vitamins and minerals.
The microwaves do not have a strong enough frequency to break down essential nutrients that other heating sources like boiling water do. In fact cooking on the stove can actually breakdown more essential minerals and vitamins than a microwave could ever do.
Now while microwaves are good at preserving food nutrients, be careful about microwaving plastics and metals. Microwaving your food in plastics or styrofoam is a big mistake, as these generally contain a lot of industrial chemicals which are actually harmful to the human body in the long-term.
Heating up plastics can melt chemicals which can seep into your food, and heating up metal can cause an electric discharge in your microwave that is not very pleasant.
Another myth is that microwaving your food can actually make your food ‘radioactive’. We can all agree microwaving your food won’t always taste the best, and many people think it’s because the radiation is stored within the food.
This is far from the truth. When we microwave food, it works just like a light bulb. When you turn off the switch the radiation stops. The radiation is converted into thermal energy which is solely used to heat up the water molecules deep in your food, and does not make your dish ‘radioactive’.
Can microwaves affect our health, long-term?
One of the biggest common myths we hear about microwaves is that it can affect our human cells in the long-term.
When we hear that microwaves produce radiation, we immediately classify it as a cancer causing product. While radiation such as a X-ray can cause damage to our human cells, microwaves are not the same.
According to the FDA we do not need to worry about microwave radiation. Microwaves are known as ‘non-ionizing radiation’ meaning they do not have enough energy to break down organic compounds in our body. Because microwaves do not produce enough energy, it is unlikely that it would affect our DNA structure causing a mutation.
In summary, microwaves get a bad reputation because of its name and we should all have some confidence that while almost every household has a microwave if it did this much damage to our human health it would be much bigger news and would most likely be banned as a product.
Although I am confident that I can still use a microwave to heat my food, I will still take precautionary measures and avoid standing in front of a microwave, and I will reduce the overuse of a microwave just in case.
Now while the myths of microwaves affecting our health has been debunked, what about traditional stove ovens?
What are the health effects of using an oven?
We normally don’t think ovens can cause harm to our health, and you would be right if we didn’t consider the fumes ovens release.
If we look at gas stoves for a second, we understand that it uses natural gas. This natural gas or even propane gas used in BBQ’s, releases carbon monoxide and formaldehyde which are 2 harmful toxins to humans.
Although one may argue that the levels of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde are too small to cause health issues, it can definitely add up and affect those already with health problems if you decided to breath it in.
While gas ovens have been known to produce toxic chemicals, electric stoves which can be more expensive to your electric bill have been shown to be more house-hold friendly.
Another common problem seen with ovens is the ‘new’ self-cleaning oven feature.
The self-cleaning oven feature is one part of the oven that can be very harmful to not just our health but to the health of your appliance as well.
The self-cleaning oven feature is built to increase temperatures to the point where it can easily breakdown oils, grease and food stains. It is generally advised that when you use this feature all windows and doors should remain open to avoid fumes released from the natural gas and toxic chemicals released from the food.
The temperatures are so high it can also damage the internal parts of your appliance, as it is not used to withstanding such heat. If you are to use this feature, be cautious and ensure it is used no more than 1-2x per year.
Ovens are not used very often by homeowners which is why we don’t normally see a lot of issues with its use. However if you are a homeowner who uses ovens often, be aware of these toxic fumes and the self-cleaning oven feature.
I love to talk about home renovations that impacts a homeowners life, whether it be financially or for a more comfortable home experience. I write a lot more about appliances because of how expensive and misinformed the industry is. I write more about appliances here on my website at Bluemonte Appliance. When Shaun isn’t blogging he is the Director of Co-Managed Accounts at Deep Intent.