Microwaves and Nutrition

26

Science-based medicine is a concept that is larger than the analysis of any specific topic. It is, essentially, an approach to answering health and medical questions, one that involves careful and thorough analysis of scientific evidence within a framework of understanding of critical thinking, mechanisms of self-deception, and the process of science itself. We feel this creates the best opportunity to arrive at tentative conclusions that are most likely to be reliable.

We often address claims that are the result of a very different process. In fact there seems to be a thriving subculture on the internet that emphasizes the naturalistic fallacy, fear of anything technological (including irrational chemophobia), paranoia about the government, corporations, and mainstream medicine, and embracing anything perceived as being contrarian, exotic, or radical. To this subculture science is either the enemy, or it is used (as Andrew Lang famously quipped) like a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination. This approach is simultaneously gullible and cynical.

It is no surprise that those who follow this fatally flawed approach consistently arrive at the wrong conclusion, especially on any controversial scientific topic. The two most prominent netizens following this approach, in my opinion, are Joseph Mercola and Mike Adams. I do believe, however, that there is another hoping to join their ranks – Vani Hari, who blogs under the name Food Babe. (Mark Crislip also blogged about her here.)

She first came to my attention as a result of her campaign to pressure Subway to remove the benign ingredient azodicarbonamide from their bread, dubbing it the “yoga mat” chemical. Looking into her writings, however, was like peeling back a small crack in a wall and finding, just under the surface, a vast infestation of termites. Unsurprisingly, for example, she is anti-vaccine. In her blog post attacking the flu vaccine she summarizes the naturalistic-antiscience approach, described above, quite well.

One of the goals I made in starting this blog back in April, was to uncover and unveil information that isn’t readily available for public consumption on true health, nutrition and wellbeing. I want this blog to help you break free from the “conventional” wisdom that the food industry, government agencies, pharmaceutical and medical community try to push because of greed or corruption that is ultimately harmful to you and your family.

Vaccines are not my topic for today, however, but rather the effects on nutritional content from microwaving food. There have been anti-microwave activists as long as there have been microwaves, it seems simply because it is a new-fangled technology that uses radiation to cook food. It is a perfect villain for the naturalistic-antiscience crowd.

Hari warns her readers to throw out their microwaves, writing:

Live, healthy, and nutritious foods can become dead in a matter of seconds when you use a microwave. We are the only species on the planet that destroys the nutrient content of our food before eating it. A study published in the November 2003 issue of the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli cooked in the microwave lost up to 97 percent of its antioxidant content.

The first claim above is that food is supposed to be alive, and that cooking it “kills” the food. This is pure naturalistic nonsense. By the time certain foods, like meat, hit your table, even if it is raw, any cells in the food are dead. The cells in fruits and vegetables start dying after they are picked. Anything frozen will also be dead. Some things alive in the food, you probably don’t want there, such as bacteria that cause spoilage.The more important point, however, is that having living cells is irrelevant to nutrient content.

The core claim she is making is also that when we cook food, especially with a microwave, we “destroy” the nutrient content. Hari is one who will quickly cite a scientific study if she thinks it supports her side, but she often completely misinterprets the studies she cites. She is looking for support, not insight, and gives no evidence of making an effort to truly understand the science she references.

Before I take a look at specific studies, including the broccoli study Hari references, a little background is in order. Cooking actually has a complex effect on the nutrient content of food. In general heating food, by any method, can break down vitamins and other nutrients. The variables that are relevant to this process are the intensity of the heat, the duration of heating, and contact with water. The latter seems to be the most important variable.

Boiling vegetables, therefore, has the most dramatic effect on their nutrient content, especially on water-soluble vitamins. The water leeches out the nutrients, which then evaporate with the water. An extensive study of various cooking methods on the antioxidant nutrient content of 20 vegetables found:

According to the method of analysis chosen, griddling, microwave cooking, and baking alternately produce the lowest losses, while pressure-cooking and boiling lead to the greatest losses; frying occupies an intermediate position. In short, water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables.

That’s right – microwaving is among the best methods of cooking in terms of preserving nutrients. Hari’s conclusion, therefore, is the exact opposite of what the science says.

Written By: Steven Novella
continue to source article at sciencebasedmedicine.org

26 COMMENTS

  1. @OP – Live, healthy, and nutritious foods can become dead in a matter of seconds when you use a microwave.

    Live, healthy, and nutritious foods can become dead in a matter of minutes when they encounter stomach acid and digestive juices! – With only some bacteria, fungi, (or pathogens?) possibly escaping!

    Does anyone think food remains alive during digestion, or that palaeolithic human nutrition, was more healthy prior to the invention of cooking?

  2. Cooking is an option, many foods can be eaten cooked or raw according to preference. I believe even raw meat is not a problem if eaten immediately after it is killed. What cooking can do is reduce the digestive effort in acquiring nutritional needs. Top predators tend to sleep for long periods after a meal, but because of cooking, humans do not have to. It has been coherently argued that freedom from such constraints have enabled the the development of intelligence via greater dietary efficiency. Perhaps this has lead to development in brain size? Instead of post luncheon sleep we are free to think, plot and plan?

    • In reply to #2 by Philoctetes:

      Cooking is an option, many foods can be eaten cooked or raw according to preference. I believe even raw meat is not a problem if eaten immediately after it is killed. What cooking can do is reduce the digestive effort in acquiring nutritional needs. Top predators tend to sleep for long periods after…

      You cannot perhaps immediately make plans of digesting raw meat and take benefits from it as a real carnivore, nor in digesting plants as herbivorous, nor does a lion benefits from eating fruits as a source of energy, I would think, it would take millions of years, but I can assure you our body is well adapted to take benefits that help the functioning of the brain as it is well adapted to absorb fruit sugars, and you cannot change this in short time.(and, I am not biologist).
      How disgusting it sounds for me to think of eating raw meat besides.

  3. Having warmly endorsed sciencebasedmedcine.org, their use of evidence is a little disappointing here. They overclaim for microwave cooking from the quoted source. This source comes to similar indifferent views for microwave for chlorphyl, glucosinolates and the like when cooking broccoli. But thats quite good enough. No better, no worse.

    (I had a copy of a study done in Norwich for broccoli and anti-cancer glucosinolates preservation with microwaving which was much more positive….its all down to how much water you use and how much like simple steaming it becomes.) When I last tackled this issue of deadly microwave cooking, the only genuine negative I could find was for a 1950s study when micowaving was used to warm blood prior to transfusion. Putting the stuff into someone’s arm rather than their breakfast black pudding was the problem here.

  4. Microwave woo?!?

    That is a first hearing of that particular nonsense for me. There might be a section or two on the electromagnetic spectrum that is more dangerous to health than microwaves!

  5. It helps to recognize on line tripe if you have an even rudimentary understanding of how science works, and it’s not too difficult to learn.

    Double blind controlled testing, peer review and publication. If the sources of any of those are absent you can bet that it isn’t science.

    And if despite that it’s still cited, it’s almost certainly for the purposes of confirmation bias; tell that to the individual who presents it as science based, and in my experience, their reaction will usually confirm as much.

    • In reply to #6 by Stafford Gordon:

      It helps to recognize on line tripe….

      Personally I love tripe, though I have never consumed it online. It is lovely on a cold winter’s night, soused in milk, with loads of onion and white pepper, thickened with plain flour and served on a bed of boiled fluffy potatoes. One of the forgotten gems of Irish cuisine.
      PS Very slow simmer, no microwave.

      • In reply to #7 by eejit:

        In reply to #6 by Stafford Gordon:

        It helps to recognize on line tripe….

        Personally I love tripe, though I have never consumed it online. It is lovely on a cold winter’s night, soused in milk, with loads of onion and white pepper, thickened with plain flour and served on a bed of boiled fluffy p…

        Just went to Wikipedia to see what tripe means (when it’s not used in a figurative sense that is). All I have to say is Ugghh. I’d sooner eat a deflated soccer ball or a sponge (the texture is likely to be the same anyway)… Am I the only one to see the irony?… Using one’s stomach to digest… a stomach?

        I like meat just fine but I’m not a big fan of animal organs for consumption anyway.

        • In reply to #10 by NearlyNakedApe:

          In reply to #7 by eejit:

          Ah, but, Nearly Naked – I was brought up in immediately post war England, where food was scarce, houses were unheated, except the lounge, and comforts and choices were few. The working class survived on the diet of our ancestors, who were not nearly so precious as today’s generations. We were rough people in an impoverished and rough world.

          • In reply to #11 by eejit:

            In reply to #10 by NearlyNakedApe:

            In reply to #7 by eejit:

            Ah, but, Nearly Naked – I was brought up in immediately post war England, where food was scarce, houses were unheated, except the lounge, and comforts and choices were few. The working class survived on the diet of our ancestors, who wer…

            You forgot to add: And that’s the way it was and we liked it!

            Just kidding, I’m sure I’m at least as old and probably a lot more grumpy than you are.

          • In reply to #11 by eejit:

            In reply to #10 by NearlyNakedApe:

            In reply to #7 by eejit:

            Ah, but, Nearly Naked – I was brought up in immediately post war England, where food was scarce, houses were unheated, except the lounge, and comforts and choices were few. The working class survived on the diet of our ancestors, who wer…

            You were lucky… http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=01f_1314340424

            Try this:
            Clean the tripe under cold running water. Set in a bowl of cold water and vinegar for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Cut into pieces approximately 3-inches square.

            Coarsely chop 1 onion. Peel all garlic cloves.

            In a large heavy bottom frying pan or pot, place tripe and calf’s/pig’s foot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute. Pour off all water and froth or scum that formed.

            Add water to cover tripe in same pan. Put chopped onion and all but 3 peeled cloves of garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns in pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 3 hours.

            Finely chop the remaining garlic and the onion. Cut the Serrano ham into small squares. Slice the chorizo sausage into rounds. Sauté onion, garlic, ham and chorizo in olive oil for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and stir in the paprika. Add the mixture to the tripe. Cut the morcilla into rounds and place in the pot. If using garbanzo beans, add them now and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

            The traditional way to serve callos is in earthenware bowls, accompanied by rustic bread

          • Sounds delicious, Headswap. I must try it. My plain folks, working-class , post-war diet, is moving up the ladder in terms of sophistication and social class!

        • I’m currently watching “Hannibal” starring the awesome Mads Mikkleson, and Hannibal loves animal organs- from we human animals that is. mmmmm… people

          In reply to #10 by NearlyNakedApe:

          In reply to #7 by eejit:

          In reply to #6 by Stafford Gordon:

          It helps to recognize on line tripe….

          Personally I love tripe, though I have never consumed it online. It is lovely on a cold winter’s night, soused in milk, with loads of onion and white pepper, thickened with plain flour and served o…

        • Personally I love tripe, though I have never consumed it online. It is lovely on a cold winter’s night, soused in milk, with loads of onion and white pepper, thickened with plain flour and served o…

          Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls… I’m in good company…O rocks!

      • In reply to #7 by eejit:
        >

        Personally I love tripe, though I have never consumed it online. It is lovely on a cold winter’s night, soused in milk, with loads of onion and white pepper, thickened with plain flour and served on a bed of boiled fluffy potatoes. One of the forgotten gems of Irish cuisine. PS Very slow simmer, no microwave.

        Ah! One of the economy offal delicacies, that seems to be designated as dog food these days.

        I recall it is also very nice simmered with liver and served with bacon!

  6. In the film, “American Hustle”, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) tells Irving (Christian Bale) that his “science oven,” her term for the new technology microwave, takes the nutrition out of food:

    ROSALYN: “You know, I read that it takes all of the nutrition out of our food. It’s empty, just like your deals. Empty, empty.”

    IRVING: “That’s bullshit.”

    ROSALYN: “It’s not bullshit. I read it in an article. (She hands him the magazine, which he reads). Look, by Paul Brodeur.”

    Brodeur has subsequently denied ever writing such an article.

    giggity

  7. Although I agree with main premise that medicine should always be based on science, I find it very ironic that she describes azodicarbonamide as a benign substance completely out of hand without even trying to have a real discussion. The yoga mat analogy is of course ridiculous. Nonetheless, this substance is banned in Europe and Australia. There is some evidence that it might be a respiratory sensitizer, and as such might cause asthma. I don’t think we have enough evidence to draw any definitive conclusions, but there are reasons to be cautious with regard to this substance. Especially since it’s only used for cosmetic reasons. Still, the author just calls it a benign substance without even trying to provide any evidence for her conclusion. That is the opposite of science-based medicine. In general I found this article very amateurish.

    • In reply to #9 by Nunbeliever:

      . In general I found this article very amateurish.

      I must have missed something. I thought the article did a pretty good job of exposing some of the nonsense disguised as information when talking about food. The topic comes up regularly during casual conversation and I’m usually quick to point out that as we are living so much longer, perhaps the dreaded ingredient or vile cooking method is actually good for us. I hark back to the days when people lived in smoke-filled huts and barbecued all their food. Those practices were really bad for us. If people were dropping like flies I’d start looking for something to blame.

    • In reply to #9 by Nunbeliever:

      Although I agree with main premise that medicine should always be based on science, I find it very ironic that she describes azodicarbonamide as a benign substance completely out of hand without even trying to have a real discussion.

      I think you’re being a bit harsh there Nun: the article links to a reasonably-referenced article on NeuroLogica (by the same author). Azodicarbamide in bread isn’t even present by the time you eat it as it’s thermally decomposed to intermediate products of uncertain effect (most of which is passed unchanged from the body) and nitrogen/CO2 as part of its use as a dough-improver (so not just for cosmetic bleaching). Even the WHO report doesn’t seem to come down too hard on it.

      • In reply to #24 by Docjitters:

        In reply to #9 by Nunbeliever:

        I think you’re being a bit harsh there Nun: the article links to a reasonably-referenced article on NeuroLogica (by the same author). Azodicarbamide in bread isn’t even present by the time you eat it as it’s thermally decomposed to intermediate products of uncertain effect (most of which is passed unchanged from the body) and nitrogen/CO2 as part of its use as a dough-improver (so not just for cosmetic bleaching). Even the WHO report doesn’t seem to come down too hard on it.

        The article from NeuroLogica, also by Steven Novella makes a good point about the chemical used in quantity, it reminds me of the anti-vaccine usual suspects complaints about formaldehyde being used in Vaccines. There is 600 times the amount of formaldehyde in a Pear than in a single vaccine.

  8. Marco Pierre White acquired three Michelin Stars at a younger age than anyone, ever. Whether one follows the work of certain Chefs or not, all must surely agree the culinary art is one of the most universal and finest “identifier-attributes” of our species. Likewise, bacon is probably the best thing that can happen to a human mouth. My point?….

    Marco’s bacon recommendation (not even kidding): 2 minutes in the microwave.

  9. I blame religion for cultivating this kind of sloppy thinking. Although there is plenty of reason to distrust conventional anything — industry, education, government. Still, common sense should help people figure out that boiling, baking and grilling also kill enzymes in food. The other complaint that I have heard is that microwaving changes the molecular structure of food. Yup. Just like baking, grilling and boiling. You can tell because it is impossible to mash a raw potato, but a boiled on mashes beautifully.

    • In reply to #14 by cindyeby:

      . Just like baking, grilling and boiling. You can tell because it is impossible to mash a raw potato, but a boiled on mashes beautifully.>

      Pardon my ignorance if on the completely wrong track, but I thought the cooked potato mashed beautifully because the cooking process broke down the cell wall?

  10. If we want to look at real health risks from microwave cooking, they come from poor timing and uneven heating, leaving uncooked areas within food packages – particularly cook-chill foods, where food poisoning is a real risk.

  11. I think the use of the word radiation is a problem. we all know the scientific definition of radiation is “bad ju-ju”. all this talk of ionizing and non-ionizing is meaningless mumbo jumbo used to fool us into thinking scientists know what they’re talking about and didn’t invent all technology through black magic

    we have a dream catcher hanging over ours which seems to balance the chakras a bit but I disagree with the suggestion of throwing out the microwave when burning them on a communal pyre while the village elders dance naked is the only way to dispel the negative enrgies they produce

Leave a Reply