Every household today boasts of a microwave oven set in the corner of the kitchen. Those without an oven are probably the ones who cannot afford one. Such is the widespread presence and availability of a microwave in today’s homes. A utility of importance in American homes since many years, the electric oven occupies prominence in Indian homes too nowadays. Not many kitchen appliances can surpass the convenience and fulfill our needs like our very own microwave. A cup of tea turns lukewarm, just reheat it for 20-30 seconds in the oven to drink to your convenience, boil some sweet corn pellets for snacks, steam yummy broccolis or make delicious cookies to fulfill all your desires and needs. Despite this versatility, some people are still doubtful to cook things using an oven (especially when cooking for children) and constantly worried that cooking/heating in a microwave can negate any nutritional effects of the food on the individual.
Myth or Fact
Its not something new when we hear that microwaving food can pull off nutrients, especially with innumerable blogs, articles, social media sites and we humans constantly supporting/denying this theory. The regular accusations include loss of nutrients and vitamins but there are no scientific evidences supporting the same. To understand whether microwave ovens remove nutrients from cooked foods and whether eating the cooked food is healthy, first and foremost one must have a clear picture of how the microwave works.
Understanding Hard-core Mechanical Stuff!
The invention of a microwave is an exemplary one that works on an extremely simple concept. The very word ‘microwave’ has the word ‘wave’ which conveys the message that microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are similar to but shorter than them. These waves specifically attack water and electrically asymmetrical molecules meaning that one end is positively charged and the other end is negatively charged. Microwaves initiate vibration in these molecules thereby building up heat. Microwaves have a frequency that can penetrate water, fat and many other molecules and excite them. These molecules reach an excitation state when the electrons orbiting the nucleus jump up energy levels. Once this happens, the atoms jump faster than usual. For example, when the same idea is implemented on a glass of water, the atoms that make up water start to move against each other and cause friction. This friction causes energy to be dissipated in the form of heat.
Any Method Lands You with Some Nutrient Losses
What if I tell you that any type of cooking technique causes nutrient losses? Some feel relieved while some others feel even more frustrated. Actually, its only the degree of loss that changes with each cooking method used. Contradicting most of your beliefs is the fact that microwaving food causes minimal nutrient loss comparatively. This brings us to yet another important issue-factors that affect these nutrient losses: time, temperature and liquid quantity used to cook foods. Increase in any of these causes increase in nutrition depletion.
To help you understand practically, lets take the example of broccoli. Serving your 6-year-old kid with boiled broccoli involves the challenges of not only making them eat it but also cooking it without much nutrient loss. There are some nutrients such as vitamin C that break down when exposed to heat and this is a process that happens regardless of whether the food is cooked in a microwave or on a hob. Compare microwaving broccoli to boiling it in a pot of water. Immediately your thoughts go back to the green-colored water pot that remains after you boil those crucifers in it. That’s your water-soluble vitamin C that stealthily moves onto water from the broccoli. Broccoli is robbed of glucosinolate, a compound that possesses cancer-fighting properties. Rather than poring it into the sink, try using it as a vegetable stock in some other dish.
Steaming your broccoli is much better than boiling it in water. This ensures better retention of sulfur-containing glucosinate and even vitamin C. The same holds good for spinach which loses around 70% of folic acid when boiled on the stove. Microwaving it with minimal water helps to retain most of the folic acid present in the leafy green.
The best cooking method is one that uses minimal water, cooks quickly and heats food as soon as possible. A microwave oven helps us fulfill each of these requirements as much as possible, keeps vitamins and minerals intact and finally, proves that microwaving is definitely a healthy means of cooking/heating under certain defined conditions and settings.
Fruits and vegetables are nutritious however you consume them. Understand that consuming them is the foremost priority. Once you start doing this, check out the various nuances to keep them as healthy as possible. Use the microwave wisely to steam, bake or boil foods to keep them nutritionally intact.
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.