Science Mom: Your Microwave Will Not Give You Cancer, And Might Even Help Prevent It

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science momForget dogs: microwaves are a mom’s best friend. They’re convenient, they’re fast, they’re the omnipresent cure to a raging case of Hangry Toddleritis. But depending on who you talk to, the old “science oven” may be portrayed as a dinner-time villain rather than the hero of your supper-time story. Despite the wide variety of fear-mongering you’ll hear from the anti-technology crowd, microwaves are nothing to be afraid of—in fact, if nutrition is your concern, microwaves are a better cooking choice than most of the other options. Let’s break down some microwave myths.

1. Myth #1: Radiation from your microwave will give you cancer.

The usual anti-science cranks talk about microwave “radiation” like it’s a four-letter word. But while most people associate radiation with the definitely cancer-causing X-ray variety (or possibly the fictional kind that could turn you into the Incredible Hulk), all “radiation” really means is that a chunk of energy is going places. When you stand next to a fire and feel its heat, that’s radiation–just not ionizing radiation, which is the kind that turns your DNA into the instruction manual entitled You Have A Tumor.

UV light and, yes, X-rays are ionizing, but microwaves are not. In fact, visible light (red, orange, yellow, etc.) is closer to ionizing than microwaves are, so if you think microwaves are going to give you cancer, you should probably also avoid rainbows.

2. Myth #2: Microwaves will create cancer-causing chemicals in your food.

Things microwaves do: zap the water molecules in your food to jazz them up with extra energy (i.e., heat). Things they do not do: spontaneously rearrange food particles to turn them into cancer-causing substances. (You know what is linked to cancer, though? The blackened burned crap you may get from cooking your food on the stovetop, in the oven, or on a grill.) Unless you were microwaving your family a hearty supper of benzene-and-formaldehyde stew, you should be OK.

It is possible to end up with some unwanted substances in your microwaved meal, but that’s a result of the container you’re cooking it in, not the microwave process itself. Check labels to make sure your Tupperware or takeout carton is microwave-friendly before you nuke it, because some plastics and styrofoams contain chemical additives that can leach into food. Gross.

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