Is microwaving my food destroying it?

A co-worker and I were talking in the break area about microwaves and wondering what kind of effects warming our food in this manner has on our food. He suggested that I write a column where I explore the topic a bit, and I thought that was a good idea.

Now, I’m sure that many of us have heard that, for health reasons, microwaving isn’t the best way to warm food. I’ve heard the same thing, but I couldn’t remember exactly why. However, I think it’s important for all of us working in offices in Middle Georgia to learn about this, since microwaves are often the only way we can heat our lunches.

What is microwaving, actually? We often refer to it in jest as ‘nuking,’ which doesn’t conjure up pleasant thoughts in my mind when I place my food in the microwave. Are we literally destroying our food when we microwave it?

Let’s explore this by learning first how microwaves generally work. Microwaves heat our food by shooting waves of energy at it. As the food absorbs the energy, the water molecules in the food begin to move and to bump into other molecules in the food. This is what we want, because when the food molecules move, that’s also known as heat.

The question is, are we destroying our food when we microwave it? Based on my research, opinions are mixed. Some say that microwaving is as safe as other methods of heating, while others say that microwaving destroys all the nutrients in food and leaves the food worthless. Because of the inconsistencies, it’s difficult to decide whether microwaving is damaging to food.

However, it is well documented that at least the type of container matters when it comes to microwaving food. If the container you’re using does not explicitly say that it is “microwave safe,” chances are that it is leaching harmful levels of unhealthy chemicals into your food. That means that using that old whipped cream container to warm your spaghetti is probably not a good idea.

With that, understand this as well: “Microwave-safe” containers have been determined by the FDA to be safe to warm food in, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also still leach chemicals into food. According to Harvard Health Publications (, chemicals leached by microwave-safe containers must not amount to more than “100–1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use.”

If you’re like me and still don’t like the idea of any plastic chemicals in your food, it’s best to use glass or ceramic containers to heat your food rather than any kind of plastic.

With all of this said, I believe that microwaving your food sometimes isn’t a problem, given that you mostly use glass and ceramics, and given that you also don’t indiscriminately set the microwave for too much time and end up cooking all of the remaining life out of your food. Remember, though, that it isn’t a good idea to stare closely at your food as it rotates inside, since small amounts of radiation do actually escape the microwave while it heats.

If I personally have the option of using a stove to heat my food instead of a microwave, I would most likely avoid the microwave. There is no radiation to be concerned about, and plus, a few more minutes to warm it up doesn’t hurt.

I’m looking for your health and exercise questions, so remember to e-mail them to me!

Peach County resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog Contact him at