Girl Planting seeds

Nuke my Food, No Thank-You

No_microwave_shutterstock_1283069677By Deirdre Imus, April 23, 2019
The way we eat in this country – and around the world – changed forever in 1967, when the first countertop microwave oven was introduced to the market.  It was discovered almost by accident in 1946, when chocolate in a scientist’s pocket melted anytime he stood near a device emitting microwave energy. Nearly 30 years later, it allowed anyone who had the money and the space to cook their food in almost unimaginably fast fashion, and by the mid-1970s millions of microwave ovens were being sold each year.


Despite initial concerns over safety, it has pretty much been full steam ahead for the microwave ever since (no pun intended). Though sales have slumped in the last decade or so, a recent article on reported that roughly 90 percent of American households own a microwave. People rely on them to get what they want and fast, like most other conveniences of modern day life.


But at what cost? Microwave ovens cook food using high frequency radio waves that cause molecules in food to vibrate and build up thermal energy, converting it to heat. According to the World Health Organization, despite designs to limit microwave leakage, it can still occur around damaged, dirty, or modified ovens. If this happens, the waves can be absorbed by the body and produce heat in exposed tissue, potentially causing damage. Other related health concerns include burn injuries from handling too-hot items, and contamination from unevenly cooked foods that are not heated sufficiently to kill potentially dangerous organisms.


There are real and reported health risks of relying on microwaves to do the dirty work when it comes to heating food. Experiments done in Germany in the early 1990s suggest that eating foods that had been warmed in a microwave could lead to leukocytosis, which is an increase in white blood cells, normally as a result of an inflammatory response. Sustained inflammation can play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, depression, and other serious health problems. 


Additionally, parents have long been told to never nuke baby formula or breast milk in a microwave due to the adverse changes that can occur to the properties of the liquid itself, and the unknown potential effects on the baby. What's more, a microwaved bottle that seems cool to the touch might actually be extremely hot, putting the baby at risk of burning its mouth and throat. 


Microwaves were sort of on the leading edge of a cultural and societal shift toward needing everything to be done as quickly as possible. We have tried to make our food conform to our on-the-go lifestyles. Office workers swoop into the nearest deli or fast food chain so they can plop back down at their desks and swallow lunch while typing at the computer. It’s far from ideal but it’s the norm, and this need to get and do everything immediately is leeching onto our kids.


When we feel rushed, we don’t think as much about our actions. This applies to food as much as to anything else. And yet research has shown that when we slow down and eat more mindfully, we reap real rewards. A Japanese study published in 2018 found that eating slowly could help people lose weight, and that slower eaters were less likely to be obese. 


There is no remedy for unhealthy workplace cultures that don’t prioritize employee wellness, but you can work within the confines of these restrictions to form better habits about food. Bring healthfully prepared food from home, like leftovers from your plant-based dinner the night before! If that’s not an option, keep healthy, organic choices within reach. Bring a bag of carrots and a container of hummus, some apples, almonds, or whole grain crackers. 


Bringing lunch with you creates the opportunity to use lunch time a bit more productively. Spend the 15 minutes you’ve regained taking a walk around the block, or climbing the stairs in your building. Getting your heart rate up - even if only in short spurts throughout the day - has real and lasting benefits. 


Similarly, provide your kids with sound options for lunch too. Most schools do not offer well-balanced, thoughtful options, and the sooner children learn to say no to the lesser choice, the better. Fuel them with natural proteins, whole grains, and vitamin-rich veggies so they have the energy they need to be active (which, in turn, helps them learn and pay attention in class). 


Microwaves provided us with a luxury we never really needed. Taking the time to make a meal at the speed it was meant to happen allows us to savor the food, all its complicated components and dynamic flavors. If you don’t have that time (which so many of us don’t!), consider using a toaster oven or even the broiler in your oven for a quick flash of heat. Crockpots are also becoming increasingly popular for warming food up, and fast. 


Eating should be as much of a lived experience as anything else. Plan ahead, and eat in the moment! You won’t regret it. 

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