Do microwaves “nuke” the nutrients in food?


However, there is never a shortage of crankery from Mike Adams who asserts Microwave ovens destroy the nutritional value of your food. There may be too much idiocy here to address but let’s get started.

The rise of widespread nutritional deficiencies in the western world correlates almost perfectly with the introduction of the microwave oven. This is no coincidence. Microwave ovens heat food through a process of creating molecular friction, but this same molecular friction quickly destroys the delicate molecules of vitamins and phytonutrients (plant medicines) naturally found in foods. One study showed that microwaving vegetables destroys up to 97% of the nutritional content (vitamins and other plant-based nutrients that prevent disease, boost immune function and enhance health).

What is is about any mention of radiation that makes people lose their minds? By the first paragraph the stupid is burning my eyes.

First of all, widespread nutritional deficiencies in the western world? Show me this study that shows that nutritional deficiencies are rising, or even present at significant rates in the US or elsewhere in the west. Ever since the 1930s the US has been using public health measures to reduce nutritional deficiencies. In the early part of this century, for instance, Pellagra was responsible for as many as one in nine deaths in many southern states before the cause of the disease – niacin deficiency often associated with high corn diets – was discovered in 1937. A program of food fortification solved the problem and today it is a rare diagnosis except in susceptible populations like alcoholics. Rickets, a deficiency of vitamin D, was similarly eliminated by fortification. Recent fortification with folic acid has reduced neural tube defects, like spina bifida, by about 20 percent. Since 1900, lifespans have been increased by about 30 years. About 25 of these years are due to public health innovations including fortification. These days, diseases of malnutrition in the US and western world are vanishingly rare, and certainly aren’t widespread or increasing since the development of the microwave. That’s why I get just a bit irritated when an HIV/AIDS denialist and general crank like Mike Adams suggests conventional medicine is a cult and unscientific. I can think of few things more harmful to health than the lies spread by cranks like Mike Adams, who enjoy enormous success due to preying on people’s conspiratorial tendencies and fear of technology and medicine.

Wow. The first line of the first sentence and I’m already tired of this idiotic essay. Let’s hold our noses and dive back into the stupid.

He asserts that microwaves damage delicate nutrients in food. Is this the case? Well, yes and no. Cooking food decreases some of the nutritive content, but if anything, microwaves tend to protect the nutritional value of food (because they heat rapidly) or produce equivalent results compared to conventional ovens. Here’s a nice overview I found of the positive and negative effects of microwaving food. Where did he get the 97% figure? Well, there’s this this paper (which every crank in the universe seems to have latched onto) which shows that 97% of flavinoids in broccoli are lost with microwaving compared to raw broccoli. Conventional cooking killed about 66% of them, while steaming had minimal effects. I read that and say, wow, I guess people should steam broccoli (not that the loss of flavinoids from a serving of broccoli is going to kill you). Cranks read that and say, “microwaves nuke nutrients!” Well, in one food, and for one nutrient yes, one group managed to cook out the nutrients. Nevermind that the authors didn’t control for equal temperature or cooking times or that the mechanism that degraded the flavinoids wasn’t the microwave radiation but the heat generated from microwaves exciting water molecules in the food (microwaves operate by creating a 12cm wavelength EM radiation which happens to resonate with the molecular bonds in water). Instead we have paranoid ramblings about “nuking” based on one example of food preparation. The larger body of research shows the effects to be minimal or the opposite of this, but does this stop the cranks? Of course not. Cherry picking is second nature.

Wow. One paragraph down and we already have way too much idiocy. I’ve got endurance for a little more (I steamed some broccoli and the flavinoids are like crack!)

In other words, eating raw broccoli provides you with natural anti-cancer medicine that’s extremely effective at halting the growth of cancer tumors.

Do I even need to bother? No evidence exists that raw broccoli or flavinoids are a cancer cure or tumor suppressor in humans. I’m sure they have a cell culture experiment or two, but who doesn’t. Orac already has explained why cell culture results on cancer should not be over-interpreted in regards to DCA.

There’s even some evidence to suggest that microwaving destroys the natural harmony in water molecules, creating an energetic pattern of chaos in the water found in all foods.

Oh god! The agony! Energetic pattern of chaos in the water? You mean, like, heat? Where do you even begin with people who ascribe magical behavior to things like molecules of water. Luckily Orac has covered water-woo and homeopathy too, thus saving me the trouble.

In fact, the common term of “nuking” your food is coincidentally appropriate: Using a microwave is a bit like dropping a nuclear bomb on your food, then eating the fallout. (You don’t actually get radiation from eating microwaved foods, however. But you don’t get much nutrition, either.)

Well, at least he didn’t fall for that particular form of idiocy, that irradiating food doesn’t make food radioactive. But then, it kind of makes the first sentence a bit, shall we say, hyperbolic?

Consumers are dying today in part because they continue to eat dead foods that are killed in the microwave.

Did I say hyperbolic? I meant to say Adams drops a nuclear bomb off stupid with that latest statement. Microwaving food is cooking food. Heating food is not dropping a nuclear bomb on it, no matter what method you use (except a nuclear bomb of course). Yes, the degree that you cook food matters. If you convert a steak to a charcoal briquette, you’re not going to get a lot of nutrition from it, no matter what method you use.

Humans are the only animals on the planet who destroy the nutritional value of their food before eating it. All other animals consume food in its natural, unprocessed state, but humans actually go out of their way to render food nutritionally worthless before eating it. No wonder humans are the least healthy mammals on the planet.

Hmmm, leave it to Adams to believe that cooking, arguably one of the greatest innovations of the humans species, has been bad for us. It’s true that cooking decreases the nutritive content of some foods. Others it may increase, like lycopene in tomatoes. Some foods simply aren’t edible without cooking. Ever tried eating raw corn? Raw potatoes? Yuck! And the benefits in terms of eliminating microbial contamination are of critical importance, especially for meat.

For some reason people are obsessed with maximizing nutrient intake, but there is no reason to think that you need 100% of every nutrient in your food. A well-balanced diet will provide you with more than enough nutrients, and any excess won’t make you healthier. The excess water-soluble vitamins are usually easily excreted, and the fat soluble ones, and many minerals are actually dangerous in excess. A typical diet will provide you with all the nutrition you need, and nutritional deficiencies simply aren’t a problem in this country, and certainly aren’t being caused by cooking foods. The human body is pretty clever. It doesn’t need megadoses of vitamins to survive, and it doesn’t need you to constantly screw with it.

But Adams isn’t done:

The invention of the microwave and its mass adoption by the population coincides with the onset of obesity in developed nations around the world. Not only did the microwave make it convenient to eat more obesity-promoting foods, it also destroyed much of the nutritional content of those foods, leaving consumers in an ongoing state of malnourished overfeeding.

No amount of vitamins is going to prevent obesity from over-eating. The obesity epidemic is not caused by inadequate nutrition, and this claim is totally baseless. Nutritional deficiencies result in wasting, not obesity.

Microwaving is, technically, a form of food irradiation. I find it interesting that people who say that would never eat “irradiated” food have no hesitation about microwaving their food. It’s the same thing (just a different wavelength of radiation). In fact, microwaves were originally called “radar ranges.” …Probably the best way to heat foods right now is to simply use a countertop toaster oven, and keep the heat as low as possible.

Wait, I thought Adams understood that irradiation doesn’t make things radioactive? And it’s just a different wavelength of radiation? What do you think the broiler in the toaster oven is doing? Using infrared. Turning on a lightbulb is also irradiating you, with harmless non-ionizing visible light. Microwave radiation is also non-ionizing, and is not the same as the irradiation used to preserve food which uses ionizing radiation to kill microorganisms – and would put an end to most instances of food poisoning in the US if people weren’t insanely paranoid about radioactivity.

I’ll end with his excellent solution to your problem:

Do yourself a favor: Toss your microwave, or donate it to some charity. It’s much easier to avoid using the microwave if you don’t have one around.

That’s right, just pass it off onto poor people. If you really thought a microwave was so evil, maybe you shouldn’t pass the buck.

Adams’ essay is so rife with unscientific nonsense, and misrepresentations of the nutrition of cooking food (and nutrition period) it’s a wonder anyone gives a damn about what he has to say.

P.S. I’m stunned Adams managed to write an essay without a conspiracy theory! That’s a first. 3/5 will have to do.