Ryan Andrews, RD: All About Microwave Cooking

I’ve looked for solid information on microwave cooking a few times and found very little. I recently learned of an interesting article by Ryan Andrews, RD at Precision Nutrition which he posted last March and thought I’d pass it on:

All About Microwave Cooking

Not being completely clear on his conclusion, I wrote Ryan and he confirmed that the take-home message is that it’s safe to microwave your food as far as the food goes, but you should stand a few feet away from the microwave oven when it is on to prevent any accumulation of radiation entering your body.

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5 Responses to “Ryan Andrews, RD: All About Microwave Cooking”

  1. LynnCS Says:

    I gave mine away.

  2. David Steele Says:

    Hi Jack,

    I’ve messaged you via your FB page (as Earthsave Canada) on this since the email address we last corresponded via seems to be no longer in service. There are some serious problems with this article and i’ve explained why in my message.

    All the best,

  3. David Steele Says:

    While there is a great deal that is accurate in the piece, there are some serious errors as well. I think that it hurts our credibility when we propagate some of these claims. Thus, I feel compelled to write.

    To save time and space, I’m only going to discuss the errors that I see in the article. I’ll take them in the order that they appear in the piece.

    The first, under Protein, is a very minor one. Yes, microwave ovens denature legume trypsin inhibitors. So does regular cooking. The inhibitors are labile proteins that are easily denatured (Steiner, R.F., Frattali, V.J., Agr. Food Chem., 17, 513 (1969)).

    The comments on blood, under Breast Milk are interesting. It would seem very, very foolish to heat blood for transfusion in a microwave oven – akin to heating it by pouring it briefly into a heated pan sitting on a burner set to high. Amazing that someone has tried that!

    Under the Health Effects of Microwaves, Citing Hertel and Blanc simply perpetuates very bad information. Their article, published in a Swiss new age ‘alternative physics’ magazine, Raum & Zeit, makes wildly outrageous claims based on no significant evidence shows that microwave ovens are dangerous. Most of the article was available as part of the European Court of Human Rights judgment (http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/521). That anyone would cite this “paper” at all indicates that they either haven’t looked at the content of the article or they are not good at all at critically evaluating scientific evidence.

    To be blunt, most of the claims are just plain idiotic, e.g., the final sentence of this excerpt:

    “The artificial production of microwaves is based on the principle of alternating current. Matter (atoms, molecules, cells) which is irradiated by this electromagnetic radiation thus undergoes, according to the radiation frequency, between one and a hundred thousand million polarity reversals or oscillations per second. Not a single atom, molecule or cell of a living organism would be able to resist destructive forces of such power, even if it was only of the order of 1 milliwatt.”

    Well, so does much of the infrared light used in conventional cooking, of which roughly half the energy imparted to the food is by the same basic quantum mechanism as microwaves, albeit affecting a wider spectrum of atoms (see e.g., Shibihara, Quantum molecular dynamics study of light-to- heat absorption mechanism in atomic systems, Int. J. Heat Mass Transfer 41: 839-49, 1998). As I am sure you are aware, all radiative heating, be it from microwaves or infrared or visible light is a result of the molecules absorbing energy from “elecromagnetic radiation.” The “scary vibrations” are heat. Microwave radiation is actually lower energy than infrared (and much lower energy than visible light). It is absorbed by a smaller number of molecules, e.g., water, than is infrared.

    Amazingly, almost nothing claimed by Blanc and Hertel is backed up by any data at all. Included in the surprising findings is the supposed creation of iron (generally, that requires nuclear fusion under the immense pressures present in the cores of stars considerably more massive than the sun), and an unfortunate increase in the stress levels and aggressiveness of milk. Really, no one should be citing their article. It’s an instant credibility deranger.

    The other serious problem I have with this section is the claim that the negative effects of exposure to the levels of microwaves emanating from a microwave oven adds up. Unless you’re getting burned, this is highly unlikely – as likely as the effects of being warmed by outside heat is likely to add up. At these wavelengths, unless you’re feeling the pain of burning, you’re likely not being affected at all.

    There are more minor points I could make, but the above are the serious ones. And, unfortunately, the one serious concern about microwaves and health is left out. Like radio waves, because of their wavelengths, microwaves induce electrical currents in metals. This can be a very serious problem for cardiac pacemaker wearers in the vicinity of a leaking microwave oven. If I had such a pacemaker, I’d be very careful about approaching running microwave ovens.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Thanks for your analysis of the article and for all the info. I’ll let Ryan know about your comments.

  5. Ryan Andrews Says:

    Hi David,

    Jack passed along your comment. Thanks for posting.

    Regarding Hertel & Blanc:
    At first I was hesitant to include any information regarding Hertel & Blanc in my article. Then the more I read, the more I thought it was an important story to tell when learning more about the history of microwave cooking. Since their data was never published in a peer reviewed journal, to me, it’s not worth much more than simply mentioning it as a story.

    Regarding the cumulative effects of electromagnetic radiation:
    As far as I understood, since we absorb electromagnetic radiation from various sources (e.g., cell phones, airplane flights, etc.), the long-term effects aren’t clear and might build up over time. Microwave radiation might play a role here.

    Overall, it was a challenging article to write. There was a lot of information to sort through. If you have any resources I can add to my file, feel free to post them, you seem to have solid knowledge base about microwaves.

    Thanks for mentioning the points about cooking/trypsin inhibitors and pacemakers.

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