Do Microwaves Cause Cancer? Why They Might Be One of the Healthiest Tools In Your Kitchen

Studies have found that microwaves might benefit your health.

By Madeline Merinuk
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Why You Should Cook Your Vegetables in the Microwave (2:01)

Almost every American household has a microwave. It’s a useful and convenient tool to reheat a meal (we’re looking at you, Chinese food leftovers!), and it's perfect for people who are on-the-go. Many have no issue reheating practically anything in the microwave, but some use them infrequently, or refuse to use them at all, fearing microwaves cause cancer due to the radiation they emit.

According to an article published by the American Cancer Society (ACS) in 2018, microwaves may not be as dangerous as you think. In fact, reheating food in the microwave may actually be beneficial for your health, meaning you may not have to sacrifice this incredibly convenient cooking tool. In order to find out whether using  a microwave is good l for your health or not, and to make sure that you’re using yours properly, The Dr. Oz Show investigated all of your microwave-related questions. Tune in on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 to see Dr. Oz’s full segment on microwaves, and learn the best, healthiest ways to use them. 

RELATED: Subscribe to the Dr. Oz newsletter for wellness tips, recipes, and exclusive sneak peeks from The Dr. Oz Show.

The Burning Question: Do Microwaves Cause Cancer?

According to the ACS, there is no evidence to prove that the radiation from a microwave is enough to cause serious harm to your health when used as instructed by the manufacturer. In the U.S., federal standards prevent manufacturers from creating microwaves that emit unsafe radiation levels. In fact, the ACS states that the radiation coming from a microwave is far below a level that would harm people. For reference, the amount of radiation that could seriously harm you is about 75 rad (unit that measures radiation absorbed in a person or object). This is equivalent to getting about 18,000 chest X-rays distributed over your entire body in a short period of time, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

So, how did these rumors about dangers of microwaves get started in the first place? 

Microwaves use high levels of a certain frequency of radiation to heat food. This may sound unsafe if you don’t know the facts. Microwaves don’t use X-rays or gamma rays (which are harmful to the body), nor do they make food radioactive, and the chemical structure of your food won’t change by heating it up in a microwave. And since the radiation levels are low and contained mostly inside of the microwave, they don’t pose any threat to your health. While you probably shouldn’t stand directly in front of a microwave for hours on end, you can rest assured that standing by it while waiting for your food to heat up has not been proven to cause cancer.

Heating Up Certain Veggies in the Microwave Might Make Them More Nutritious

Yes, you read that correctly. America’s Test Kitchen chef, Julia Collin Davison explained to Dr. Oz that certain foods become more nutrient-rich when nuked in the microwave. It turns out the best cooking method to retain nutrients is one that heats food in as little time possible and uses the least amount of liquid. 

Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach are actually healthier when cooked in a microwave, according to Davison. In fact, she says, boiling your broccoli instead of microwaving it could cause it to lose up to two times the amount of vitamin C, as the nutrients can get lost in the boiling water. Davison also recommends microwaving — not boiling — your tea to retain the best taste and reap all of the health benefits, including caffeine and antioxidants released and activated at a higher rate.

How Often Should You Clean Your Microwave?

According to Davison, a lot of people believe that the heat in the microwave can kill any germs, so therefore it doesn’t need to be cleaned. This is not the case. Davison says that your microwave doesn’t get hot enough to kill bacteria in the short amount of time you usually cook your foods. So if you’re defrosting raw chicken, the bacteria from the chicken can still linger in the microwave after you use it. Once you close the door to your microwave,, the germs can actually get trapped, fester, and grow. So make sure to clean your microwave weekly.

It’s easy. The only supplies you need are a sponge or dish towel, water, and apple cider vinegar. Good Housekeeping recommends using lemon juice if you don’t have vinegar on hand. Mix one cup of water with several tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave the mixture for several minutes until it starts to boil. Then remove and clean the inside of your microwave with your towel or sponge, and voilá: your microwave is germ-free. 

How to Reheat Food Evenly

You know the struggle: you put your (insert frozen food here) in the microwave, set it for the recommended time, and wait. But when you take it out, half is still freezing while the other half is burning hot. This is a common issue with microwaves, but there are ways to fix it. One thing you can do is change the power setting on your microwave. According to Davison, when you change the power setting, the heat in your microwave pulses on and off intermittently, which allows heat to be evenly distributed to your food. According to GE Kitchen Appliances, certain foods need certain heating power. For example, it’s best to heat meat or fish and boil liquids on 100 percent power, while it's better to heat foods like cheese or bread on 10 percent power. 

According to the TODAY show, another mistake people make, as simple as it sounds, is not properly following the instructions listed on the food you’re heating up. It’s important to pay attention to the directions so heat can be distributed to all parts of your food, not just the top portion. So if you’re heating up a burrito and the package says to flip it over after  one minute  of cooking, don’t forget to flip it. No one — no one — wants a half-frozen burrito. 

So don’t shy away from your microwave — they may do more good than harm.

Article written by Madeline Merinuk