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Are Microwaves Bad for You?

Concerns over radiation from microwave ovens have floated since their invention – but do they impact your health?

Microwaves are a useful kitchen appliance, allowing you to make meals at speed and quickly reheat cooked food. However, there have long been questions surrounding the possible dangers of microwave use on your health. So, are microwaves really bad for you, or are people simply misinformed?

In this article, we take a look at some of the common fears and risks people associate with using microwaves. As well as offering explanations of the scientific principles behind microwave operation and assessments of their safety, we consider the reasons microwaves have become less popular in recent years.

Is using a microwave bad for your health?

If you’re concerned over whether the use of a microwave oven is bad – or even dangerous – for your health, the short answer is that there’s nothing to worry about.

As explained in our guide to how microwaves work, the appliance cooks food by generating electromagnetic waves through a component called a magnetron. This wave radiation penetrates food, agitating the water, sugar and fat molecules contained within, thereby generating heat and cooking your food.

Understandably, the word “radiation” generates much fear and misunderstanding; but you don’t need to worry about a microwave making your food radioactive or dangerous to consume. This is because microwaves create a low-energy type of radiation called “non-ionising radiation”, which isn’t powerful enough to alter the makeup of atoms and molecules in the way that more intense and dangerous forms of radiation do.

Another common worry about microwave radiation is that it can cause cancer – but there’s no evidence to support any link between microwave radiation and cancer. Furthermore, microwave ovens only produce electromagnetic radiation while they’re turned on and cooking, and are built to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifications that ensure that electromagnetic radiation doesn’t escape the appliance during the cooking process.

However, note that if your microwave is damaged or faulty and allowing radiation to escape, then there is the danger of receiving painful burns – but this is true of any faulty cooking appliance. If your microwave is damaged in any way, or is more than 10 years old – which is considered the general upper limit of the appliance’s lifespan – it might be time to replace it.

Why have microwaves become less popular?

Sales of microwaves in the US have fallen, or remained flat year-on-year, across the past decade. This has largely been attributed to health and lifestyle concerns – although not related to radiation or safety. US consumers have shunned the frozen foods and ready-made meals that microwaves excel at cooking, instead increasingly embracing fresh ingredients and home cooking.

The dip in the popularity of microwave ovens can also be explained by the increase in competition they face in the countertop cooking space. Appliances such as air fryers, multicookers, crock pots, rice cookers and pressure cookers have become increasingly popular, powerful and affordable in recent years. With more viable options available now than ever before, users with limited kitchen space are putting more thought into which they choose, basing their decision on appliance versatility, value for money and suitability for cooking fresh, full meals.

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