Microwave Oven

Yes, instant gratification can be lovely, but are all sources always and truly good for us?

How Microwave Ovens Work

Microwaves work with radiation. There are two basic forms:

    Ionizing radiation does not require heat to create charged ions by displacing electrons in atoms. This type of radiation is common in power station and x-ray machines. It is the process of making a neutral atom or molecule gain or lose electrons so that it has a negative or positive electrical charge by going through body tissue or other matter; and can cause cell death or mutation.
    Non-ionizing radiation can both change the position of atoms without breaking atoms apart such as cell phones, visible light, microwaves, radio, and television, however, they can damage cells; just like ultraviolet rays from the sun can burn and damage our eyes and skin, microwaves have been found to change DNA. Since DNA is what makes us what we are physically, this is very important.

Microwave ovens work by pumping (with a magnetron1) microwaves (radiation) into the fats, sugars, water, and other microwave absorbing molecules causing them to vibrate rapidly creating heat. This is why the ovens are, for the most part, cool, while the “food” we take out of the microwave oven is hot. Moist foods cook faster than dry foods because the water inside them easily absorbs and conducts heat. Microwave ovens do not brown or crisp foods on the outside. The reason you cannot use foil or metal containers in microwaves is because the microwaves bounce off these and the equipment literally nukes itself.

An Interesting Story…How Microwave Ovens Came About


In 1939, just before the beginning of World War II (1939-1945), renowned Theoretical Physicist Albert Einstein, wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd president of the U.S.) warning him that he and fellow scientists believed that Nazi Germany (ruled by Adolph Hitler) planned on trying to purify uranium-235 to create an atomic bomb.

World War II began when Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Germany to stop the Nazi occupation. Over six years 51 allied nations including the US, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Canada. Poland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and later the Soviet Union, Finland, and Romania would fight Germany, Italy (who surrendered halfway through the war), Japan, Slovenia, Hungary, Manchukuo, Thailand, Persia, and others.

As a result, President Roosevelt authorized “The Manhattan Project” to begin in en effort to beat them to the punch. In order to purify the uranium a special extraction system needed to be invented using magnets, a centrifuge to further separate heavier compounds out, to get to a point where the remaining atoms of uranium could be split, creating a highly volatile weapon of mass destruction.

Six years later another Theoretical Physicist names Robert Oppenheimer, overseeing the Manhattan Project, and his team figured out how to refine uranium and put it into a working atomic bomb.

In 1945, a bomber plane, called the Enola Gay, dropped the first test atomic bomb (also called a nuclear bomb) into a dessert basin in Los Alamos, Texas. Upon impact, the bomb sent a mushroom-shaped cloud of radioactive vapor (fine mist) up 30,000 feet into the sky. In the soil of the massive crater it left actually contained pieces of jade green radioactive glass created by the sheer heat of the explosion. President Harry S. Truman (33rd president of the U.S.), authorized two atomic bombs to be dropped over Japan in an effort to end World War II. One was released in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 killing well over 160,000 people; the other in Nagasaki on August 9th, killing close to 80,000.2

I share this bit of history with you because I find it interesting that little box that sits on just about every kitchen counter in America ready to cook a Hot Pocket was also invented during World War II.


The microwave oven was invented basically by accident…

It began during World War II when two British scientists, John Randall and Henry Boot, invented the magnetron (an electron plus a magnet), a tube that produces microwaves to enable the British to spot Nazi warplanes before they could bomb the British Isles.

Years after Randall’s and Boot’s invention, Dr. Percy Spencer, was testing a new type of magnetron and noticed that the candy bar in his shirt pocket had melted.

This led to further experiments with popcorn kernels and an egg. The company Dr. Spencer worked for, Raytheon, decided to patent this new cooking process, creating the first microwave oven called the Radarange. This was not the tiny box we see today but rather a six-foot high 750-pound monstrosity that cost $5,000, and required plumbing because it was water-cooled. Over the years, the ovens got smaller, used less energy, and cost less. Magnetrons and how they functioned became more fine-tuned during this time. By the 1960s they were able to sit on countertops and cost $495. The popularity of microwaves continued to grow, particularly in the U.S. and Japan over the first half of the 1970s. They continued to be refined becoming smaller and more energy efficient through the 1990s3. The food industry hopped on the microwave bandwagon and began manufacturing and packaging “foods” specifically for the microwave. Now just about every manufactured “food” is microwavable for our convenience.

Nuking Nutrients

Though microwave ovens are subject to safety standards purported to ensure we are only minimally exposed to radiation leakage, there is much debate as to just how dangerous both this leakage and the impact of microwaves on food or “food.”5


There are two big ways that microwaving food or “food” can be harmful to our health, with many ways within them to do further damage to our body.

    • Microwaving has been proven to alter food and “food” composition. The most obvious alterations (changes) are heating, melting, and popping. Inside these “foods,” however, microwaves cause their water molecules to be torn apart and forcefully deformed (oddly or strangely shaped). “Foods” with more liquids in them cook faster than those without. The reason these “foods” do not often cook evenly has to do with where and how much water is present in them.
    • Beyond this microwaving creates thermic (relating to heat) and a thermic (without changing temperature) effects that, though not currently fully understood, are believed to cause damage to food and “food” when it is microwaved:
    • A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli, when microwaved with a little water, lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants5

    • A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli, when microwaved with a little water, lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants5

    • A Swiss food scientist named Hans Hertel revealed the degenerative forces produced by microwave ovens on “foods” including increased cholesterol, decreased red and white blood cells (the ones that fight infection and help our body to heal), the creation of radio lytic compounds (new chemicals created by tearing apart molecules), and decreased hemoglobin (the protein responsible oxygenating our blood).6

    • The effects of radiation are cumulative; our body becomes more sensitive to it over time. Sensitive does not mean immune but rather more easily damaged.
    • Scientists use microwaves to actually break cells apart. Impaired cells then become easy prey for viruses, fungi and other microorganisms.7

    • Scientists also use microwaves for sterilization, not ovens. Some scientists are even using microwaves to speed up chemical reactions that usually require toxic chemicals and can take days or months.8

    • Microwaving alters what our food or “food” is contained or wrapped in; paper, plastic, microwaveable plates, etc. Common commercially manufactured microwaveable “foods” include breakfast “foods,” desserts, meats, pasta, rice, and vegetable meals, pizzas, and popcorn. These “foods” are most often packaged in paper and plastic containers that emit carcinogenic toxins when microwaved, despite their being advertised as microwave safe. Microwave safe most often refers to the fact that they won’t get hot on the outside and burn us when the “food” is heated. What many of these microwave safe containers contain, however, are chemicals that include benzene, polyethylene terpthalate (PET) (made from the condensation of terephthalic acid (a polyester used to make bottles and clothing) and ethylene glycol (used as automotive antifreeze)), toluene (found in nail polish), and xylene (found in cigarette smoke, paint thinner, and solvents). Yum.
    • Microwaving fatty foods in plastic containers often causes the fats to get so hot that they melt the plastic that is also being pummeled by microwaves, leading to the release of dioxins (see The Composition of Meats & Dairy, 152) and other toxins including bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogen-like compound used widely in plastic products, especially microwaveable food containers.9


Learning what we have shared with you above, we gave away our microwave two and a half years ago and have never looked back. We learned to plan our meals and nutrition needs each week, ahead of time. Though, at first, it was a bit of a time challenge, it was only minimal and our transition cramps discipated into meal ease in less than two weeks.

Eating whole foods that are prepared fresh with minimal, if any, cooking of any kind is ideal to maximizing nutrition. But sometimes days are long and you’re just too tired to prepare a start-to-finish meal. Here are some proactive steps we’ve taken to improve the quality of our nutrition and reduce daily meal prep time:

  • SHOP ONCE A WEEK: Weekly, we pick a day, usually Sunday, to plan meals and shop for groceries.
  • PREP MEALS ON SHOPPING DAY: We often set up time that same day for the week’s meal preparation.
  • COOK AHEAD AND STORE IN ONE-PORTION CONTAINERS: For example, soups can be prepared and cooked that same day while ingredients are freshest from the market. Once the soup is ready, we portion out servings for refrigerator and freezer, based on how much a particular recipe makes. Any soup we know we’ll consume during that week is stored in the refrigerator. Any soup we plan on saving for another time is frozen. Refrigerating soup we know we’ll be consuming before week’s end, lessens warming time when we’re hungry during that week. The next time we want soup, we pull a portion(s) from the freezer, put the soup in a saucepan, cover it with a lid on medium heat, and warm it up slowly, while we’re setting the table, heating rolls in the over, prepping a salad, beverages, etc. Frozen soup doesn’t take a long time to warm up via stovetop (15-20 mins per portion, slightly longer for heartier soups). If we want to take soup for lunch, we warm up the soup slowly while we’re getting ready in the morning, then fill our awesome serving-sized Thermos® containers with the hot soup, and our lunch stays stove-top hot all day – no need to heat further!
  • To warm up vegetables, we steam them; if they are leftovers from a previous meal, we warm them up gently in a pan like our soup; or, broil them (takes less than 10 minutes) – they do not need to be charred (which causes oxidation and carcinogens to form) to be warmed through.
  • On the road, at school, or work, toaster ovens are another option and usually available in most hotel/motels, office employee kitchens, and throughout college campuses are perfect for single serving warming.
  • Ovens are even healthier because they cook food from the outside essentially with hot air, especially convection ovens that move that air around. Much of what we can prepare warm in an oven doesn’t need to take more than 45 minutes (baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams, for example), and leftovers often take 10-15 minutes to reheat thoroughly.

Making meal prep a scheduled part of our weekly routine not only helps us eat healthier, but also reduces daily meal preparation time. We’ll have more tips on time-saving meal planning and preparation tips to share in a future post.

1.A Magnetron is an electron tube that generates or increases microwaves via an external magnetic field controlling electron flow.Back to Footnote

2.“The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II.” 27 Apr. 2007. National Security Archive. 30 Sep. 2012. Back to Footnote

3.“History of the Microwave.” 11 Oct. 2008. 26 Sep. 2012. Back to Footnote

4.“Microwave Oven.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 26 Sep. 2012. Back to Footnote

5.Kidmose, Ulla, and Karl Kaack. “Changes in Texture and Nutritional Quality of Green Asparagus Spears (Asparagus officinalis L.) During Microwave Blanching and Cryogenic Freezing.” Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica , Section B, Soil and Plant Science. 1999:49, p. 110-117. 07 Oct. 2012. Accessed at Back to Footnote

6.“Why did the Russians Ban an Appliance Found in 90% of American Homes?” 18 May 2010. 09 Sep. 2012. Back to Footnote

7.Ibid. Back to Footnote

8.Adams, Cecil. 06 May 2005. “Does microwaving kill nutrients in food? Is microwaving safe? The Straight Dope. Back to Footnote

9.“Why did the Russians Ban an Appliance Found in 90% of American Homes?” 18 May 2010. 09 Sep. 2012. Back to Footnote

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