Are Microwaves Safe and Are There Alternatives?

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Are Microwaves Safe

Are microwaves safe? The truth is, the experts aren’t sure, and that’s enough uncertainty to motivated us to find and use alternatives for heating our food.

Over the past few years, we have been trying to use our microwave less and less. This has posed a few challenges as we try to break the habit of “nuking” food just because it’s quick and convenient. We have adopted several new techniques for warming food and liquids as we phase this handy little kitchen tool out of our lives.

Are Microwaves Safe?

Without going into the science of how microwaves work (it’s all a little too complicated for me), I will just say that there’s enough information to make me nervous about using one. So nervous that I can sometimes be found ducking beneath the microwave or hiding around the corner when I have succumbed to using it. I have read about the molecular structure of food being changed when microwaved, thus destroying much of the nutrients. The use of microwaves is a personal preference, and it’s something Matt and I are finding alternatives for.

If you are on the fence about microwaves, maybe the following tips will challenge you to join us in The Great Microwave Phase-Out! (Okay, no such thing exists, but it always sounds fun to be part of something big so we’ll pretend.)

Microwave popcorn alternative

I won’t judge you if you eat microwave popcorn, but it’s one of the items on my “Things That Were Never Meant To Be Microwaved” list. I have been using the same cheap air popper since 1996, and it’s still kicking out killer batches on a regular (almost nightly) basis. I see air poppers at second-hand stores all the time for only a few dollars if you want to try this option without purchasing brand new.

Popcorn is also excellent when made on the stovetop with oil. You can make it in a regular pan with a lid or in a stovetop popcorn popper. My dad would make popcorn on the stove when I was little, and I remember it being one of the most indulgent snacks of my youth. (I won’t suggest Jiffy Pop as an alternative, because the list of ingredients scares me a bit.)

Heating water

Warming up water for beverages, hot cereals, noodles, or baking will only take a few extra minutes on the stove. Grab a pot or a tea kettle and warm it to your liking. The good part? No extra dishes will need to be washed because it was only water.

One idea is a water dispenser with a hot water tap built in; talk about convenient and fast! The downside is those heating elements burn a lot of electricity.

Reheating leftovers

Matt and I love our leftovers. We have been using a cast iron dutch oven on the stovetop to warm things like soups, stews, rice dishes, even noodles. Covered with a lid, it only takes a few minutes to get things to the desired temperature – and the even heat means no “hot spots.” You can also throw a dutch oven or an oven safe pyrex dish into the oven for casseroles, meat, or any other leftover dishes. Preheating the oven takes some time and uses more energy, so the stovetop dutch oven method has become our favorite.

If you own a toaster oven, this is another great way to warm up leftovers. They generally take up less counter space than a microwave and give lifeless leftovers a nice crispy finish. Matt and I put droopy, soggy restaurant leftovers on a cookie sheet in the oven for 10 minutes to resurrect them to their once tasty state. (Think burger and fries from your favorite burger joint!)

Infrared ovens like the NuWave are another option for warming food. I have seen the infomercials for these but don’t have personal experience using one. They have a fan that blows the heat around inside to ensure even cooking. Because the heat circulates, it won’t end up trapped at the top as it can in conventional ovens. Several of our friends use a convection oven for all their cooking and reheating, and they swear by its usefulness.

If you wonder, “are microwaves safe?” It makes sense to use these other methods to reheat your food.

Melting moments

It seems like I’m constantly melting butter, either for baking or for drizzling on my popcorn. Our gas stove melts butter in less than a minute in a small pan. This is probably less time than microwaving when you factor in all the time you waste checking on the spattering butter.

There are a few other things we used to melt or thaw in the microwave, that we now just run under hot water, heat in a double boiler, or submerge in a sink of hot water.

Bread and rolls

Since I’m a huge carb-aholic, I frequently warm rolls and bread to go with meals. These can be warmed on a cookie sheet in the oven or under the broiler for just a few minutes. A toaster oven or regular toaster could also be used on a low setting.

Can you live without your microwave?

Want to know what else is on my “Things That Were Never Meant to be Microwaved” list? Brownies. I made microwaved chocolate brownies in a mug one desperate night, and Matt begged me to never try it again. It made both of us gag, and I vowed to always take the extra time to do it right.

We’re learning to live without the convenience of microwaving, although we still own one, and it’s not as tough as I thought it would be. (And it’s saving me from having to compulsively hide from the microwave’s rays.) The easiest way to stop using the microwave is to simply get rid of it. Trust me, you’ll find alternatives.

Are microwaves safe to you, and have you found a way around using microwaves?

You may also want to check out our article on the safest cookware and bakeware.

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About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebook, Twitter, and her +Betsy Jabs Google profile.

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Comments

  1. Nicola says

    Growing up we never had a microwave as my Mum didn’t want us to be exposed to it. I’ve learnt how to cook and reheat everything on the stove as if it was normal which is great and shows that it can be done. The best way to cut down on your usage is to simply get rid of it. If you don’t have one, you just figure out another way.

  2. Tammy says

    We threw our microwave away in October of 2010. I had been doing some reading about how microwaves change the molecular structure of foods. So I dug deeper. I came across an obscure study done in the 80’s by a team of Swiss researchers. They took blood sample from “normal”, healthy folks before eating microwaved foods and again after. 100% of the samples of “after” blood showed reduced white blood count levels. I kept that in the back of my mind as I researched further. Russia actually banned the use of microwaves based on the Swiss study….then the researchers were sued and made to keep the study quiet for 10 years. (Can you say GE???) I knew my hubs would balk at losing the microwave, so I compiled all this info and showed it to him. He was as horrified as we both were when we first learned about Round-Up Ready seeds. The microwave was out of the kitchen the same day. It took some doing to get used to it, but we’ve never looked back. Several months after we stopped using it I was helping out with caring for an elderly neighbor couple…who used the microwave for pretty much everything. One evening I heated their dinner and thought, what the heck, once isn’t gonna hurt…so I ate some of the reheated pasta. Shortly after eating, I got SO very TIRED! Thought that strange, but didn’t give it much thought. The next week – same scenario: Me, exhausted. They, hungry….leftovers, microwaved. I ate with them again – and again got extremely sleepy after eating. That seemed like more than coincidence to me and I remembered the impacted white blood counts in the Swiss study…hmmmmm….I’m no scientist or expert, but I know that lowered white blood cell count is the hallmark of anemia…and anemics tend to have very low energy levels. Just a theory, but I thought the connection was very interesting. I’ve not eaten microwaved food since. Good luck on your journey – perhaps you should consider just getting the thing out of your house. I am convinced any food eaten in the microwave is not only devoid of nutrients but also potentially damaging.

    • Matt Jabs says

      Good stuff Tammy. Ours is built into the wall but we may not be living here much longer and the new place we’re looking at doesn’t have a microwave.

  3. Mercedes says

    I have been living without a microwave for almost 2 years now, and I have to say I really don’t miss it. I do have to plan any meals with frozen meat a day in advance so I can move it to the fridge to defrost, but other than that I really have no problems living without the microwave.

    People look at me cross eyed when I tell them I don’t have a microwave, and I’ve even had people I work with offer to purchase one of me. But I tell them I actually prefer not having one and if I’ve made it this long without it, no need to change now!

  4. Heather :) :) :) says

    This is an excellent post. My father and I got rid of our microwave, cold-turkey, about 4 years ago now. We were making nothing but junky, unhealthy processed foods in that thing…and it wasn’t making us feel good. So I just decided to throw it away…and we did. We have not regretted it at all. we use a toaster oven to heat up small things, because it uses less energy than a regular oven. If we need to heat water, we have an electric water kettle or the stove. Popcorn? Well, I do that the old-fashioned way in a giant stockpot with kernels and oil…on the stovetop 🙂 🙂 Plus, now that I”m eating real food, a microwave isn’t good…because you’re not just heating up the food inside, but containers, too…and I didn’t want any plastic chemicals getting into my food. Anways, good post today 🙂 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 😉

  5. Cindy Brown says

    This made me nostalgic. I was raised with a microwave and then defiantly moved out of the house at 18, ready to take on the world. I ended up with no microwave and no money for a microwave and I can remember being nearly in tears trying to figure out how to cook anything! How am I going to cook these hot dogs!? In water?!!!! GROSS! And how on earth do I re-heat this spaghetti? It was such a lesson for me. I also remember crying because I burnt at least half a loaf of bread trying to toast it in the oven (no toaster money either). I so appreciate my gadgets now and although I’m going greener and greener over the years, I’m not sure I could give the microwave up.

  6. Melissa V says

    I have also tried to scale down our microwave use. We have the over the stove model and I find that after a dish is ready from the stovetop, I put it into the microwave to keep it warm. It seems to hold the heat in and no powering up necessary. I have also found that softening butter is a tempting way to use your microwave but in winter I just set it on a plate (still wrapped) on the heat vent. Nice warm air softens it faster than room temp but no extra power is needed. I love this site! Thanks for all your great tips!

  7. L says

    We decided to ditch our microwave and tiny toaster oven as well when they both gave out at the same time. We opted for a larger toaster oven. Later on, we got another one that had no digital stuff, only dials, and it sealed better and so the convection and bake settings worked more efficiently. This is something to pay attention to. The toaster oven allowed us to bake most things with a smaller oven, saving energy and not heating up the house in the heat of summer, and also allows us to reheat meals on our plates or in a dish. It cuts down on the plastics use too.
    I really don’t miss the microwave. As someone said earlier, I did at first for the frozen things, but I didn’t miss the rubbery or still frozen spots in the foods. Now, I take it out beforehand to thaw, or as in the case of ground meat, I sometimes cook it from frozen.
    Food tastes better for you done more conventionally, and is better for you as well. I will never again have a microwave in my house and will encourage my kids to not use them. It just really is not necessary.

  8. Cynthia says

    Love this article! We took our microwave out of the kitchen last April so the temptation to use it was not even there. Sold it in a garage sale in July and haven’t turned back. I can honestly say there have only been a couple of occassions I thought “wish I had the microwave” but managed without it.
    Thanks for your website. I have learned so much from it. Love the laundry detergent!

  9. martie says

    Love this article. Like Dallas ours is used as a bread box (or other foods box). The only thing i really use it for is to melt butter for popcorn but i think i will try your tips. The only thing that i use it for that i have yet to find a good alternative is i have a “pillow” full of feed corn that warms up well and helps my neck and back, if anyone has any ideas let me know .

  10. Anne says

    I recommend using microwave ONLY as a timer for cooking (IF it has a timer w/o setting off the microwave itself)- microwaving changes the chemical structure of your food …have you ever been on your cell phone with the microwave running? very sobering to hear the electromagnetic frequencies colliding and the lightening bolts hit my ear drums!

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx

    A great way to heat up leftovers on a stove top is to put about a tablespoon of water in a pan, let it heat up, then add the food on top, and within 10-15 minutes covered on low heat and, voila, the food is naturally steamed and heated evenly by the small amount of water. Works well for rice, pasta, stir-frys, even chicken or meats. Heat milk and liquids on the stove-top. Toast bread in the oven within 10 minutes just by starting up the oven. Popcorn is a synch stove-top and tastes better, or get a popcorn popper. ANYTHING can be re-heated in the oven too if it is covered or moistened correctly. Instead use your microwave compartment to store something as it is a great little closet space in the kitchen!

  11. Lauren says

    I’m new to having a toaster oven, but I really do need to read through the manual and start using it more than the microwave! I’ve heard from other sources that using an oven or toaster oven to reheat things is (probably) much healthier for you, I’ve just been too scared to try it!

    I will second the stovetop method for popcorn though, I’ll never go back to microwave popcorn now that I can make it in my wok in about 5 minutes and be able to completely control the seasonings and how much fat goes into it!

  12. Michelle says

    We love our Nu-Wave oven and rarely use the microwave. We purchased the mini one and it’s perfect for cooking up more than enough for 1-2 meals for us, quickly too. And I believe with the shorter cooking times and smaller heating element, it must be a money saver, too, for electricity. My other kitchen helper is the crockpot – while it’s not FAST, its a great way to get all the ingredients in and let the marinating do its job. Then at the end of the day – POOF – dinner is served.

  13. Mom says

    Great article Betty Lou! One more point about discouraging the use of microwaves….there seems to be a whole food culture built up around the use of microwaves….complete frozen dinners, main entrees, side dishes, frozen vegetables designed to be nuked in a plastic bag, etc. I have always avoided those types of “foods” for many reasons. The main reasons are these. There is way too much packaging that is discarded after preparation which contributes to the waste management problem. Nuking anything in plastic releases toxins that are dangerous to human health. Fresh food is much more nutritious and tasty than food that has been loaded with preservatives and then frozen. Convenience seems to play a big part in choosing to use the microwave, but when I weigh convenience against the unknown risks to my health of consuming the processed foods that are prepared in a microwave or even the unknown risks of using the technology of microwaving, stove top cooking or eating fresh raw foods wins every time.

    • Matt Jabs says

      Great point Mom, discouraging microwave use also discourages all the crappy food and packaging that goes along with microwave culture!

  14. wendy white says

    I love this article! I lived overseas for several years and did not have a microwave in one of our homes…I was worried for a very short time, but never missed it! I’ve gotten back in the habit here in the states, but your article reminds me to so without…thanks!

  15. aj says

    I have the same problem as Jessica…I just haven’t found a solution to reheating leftovers at work with the microwave.

    We still have our microwave at home but I do not use it anymore.
    My husband uses it once in a while to heat up coffee that has set in the pot all day long, and the teens use it to heat up a Hot Pocket every once in a while, but other than that we do not use it at all. I LOVE my toaster oven & air popper!!
    I think I am going to suggest donating our microwave to get it out of the house once and for all!

    I feel so bad remembering how much I hounded my parents when I was younger-saying we really needed to get a microwave-until they finally caved and bought a big ol’ monster microwave oven. Now I won’t use one, lol.
    (and thankfully Mom uses hers for a bread box also)
    We live and learn.

  16. Jessica says

    I totally agree that curbing microwave use is a good idea! My only issue is that I work in an office and frequently bring in leftovers that need to be heated up. I guess I could get creative and figure out good cold meals to take to work everyday…my husband would probably be bummed if I told him he couldn’t take food to warm everyday! Wish there was another option.

    • Krystal says

      For Christmas this year I purchased a Thermos food jar from Target for my sister as she’d been spending all nighters on her college campus in the IT department without a microwave in sight. It was a bit more expensive than their regular grade product but it promised the food wood be HOT after 5 hours. So that morning she filled it up with water from the kettle and opened it up after dinner to find steaming hot water. She’s had great luck with it ever since. One but of advice for food is that you should fill it full if its food as leaving air in the container will cause it to cool a bit.

      • Kathy says

        One of the gals at work found a nice toaster oven at a yard sale and brought it into the office lunchroom. Hopefully that give someone a good idea, we love her “gift”.

  17. Caeryl says

    Interesting post – We actually did the same thing in October for many of the same reasons. We just didn’t trust that the food wasn’t Frankenfood when we thought about it. The only thing I stumbled over at first was frozen food that I didn’t take out in advance. So that is successful with a bowl of hot (not boiling water) changed several times. Thanks for the post!

  18. Dallas says

    I have been trying to use my microwave less and less as well. Actually, our microwave has become our new bread box. It’s where I store my bread 🙂

  19. Jill says

    Oh, one more idea. I often melt butter in small pyrex glass bowls either in the toaster oven or, if I’m using the regular oven anyway, I will either put it in the oven briefly (in the pyrex bowl), or place the bowl over the burner (which is off of course) where the oven vents hot air. It is hot enough to melt the butter or coconut oil while I’m busy doing other prepping, but not hot enough to boil it.

  20. Jill says

    YES! Thank you for sharing this! We bought a house recently, after moving from out of state and I refused to purchase a microwave because we had one in storage. But in the months that passed before we were able to get to our storage unit, we got used to NOT using a microwave and decided to yard sale it after we got all of our stuff. I love having the counter space and it really is no big deal to heat stuff up the way everyone did it BEFORE microwaves were invented. We affectionately call our little toaster over our “microwave” now because it works brilliantly for heating up leftovers in small pyrex dishes or on the small metal tray it came with. We also heat up foods with more moisture content (soups, stews, some stir fries, etc…) on the stove as you suggest. We have an electric kettle that gets used several times a day for heating water (Hamilton Beach stainless steel) and love it. Thanks for addressing this issue. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean we should use it!