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Myth Busters (Microwaving Vegetables)

Posted Mar 13 2008 4:59pm 1 Comment

In recent years there has been some debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to microwave your vegetables. I decided to nip this nasty rumor in the bud and asked my friend Cassandra Forsythe for her insight on the matter. Apparently the source of this tomfoolery stems from a study published in 2003 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture where Spanish researchers claimed that microwaves killed the nutrients in broccoli and presumably in other vegetables as well.

Microwave

From the Washington Post, 2006:

The researchers cooked broccoli florets in four ways: microwaved, steamed, boiled and pressure-cooked. Among other things, they measured the percentage of healthful flavonoids removed from the vegetable by each cooking method. Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that are widely distributed in fruits and vegetables. In addition to giving these foods their colors, they behave as antioxidants; that is, they destroy the free radicals that can damage our DNA, possibly leading to cancer, stroke and other diseases. Flavonoids are therefore among the “good guys” in our foods.

The Spanish researchers reported that microwaving broccoli removed 97.2 percent of its flavonoids, boiling removed 66.0 percent, steaming removed 11.1 percent and pressure-cooking removed 8.8 percent.

Broccoli

A more thorough look at the actual study done by Robert L. Wolke, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh revealed the following:

1. The researchers only measured the before and after totals of total flavonoids, as well as two flavonoid derivatives while totally neglecting the plethora of other antioxidants and vitamins and minerals found in broccoli. Generalizing these results to ALL nutrients is unfair.

2. During microwaving, the broccoli was immersed in water, while the steamed broccoli was placed on a rack above water. Flavonoids are water soluble, so it stands to reason that many of the flavonoids would be “lost” during the microwaving process and would explain the huge discrepancy between the two.

3. Microwaving was done at 1000 watts for five minutes; an arbitrary “scenario” that was chosen for the study. Whatever that means.

4. Cooking causes nutrient loss no matter what the mechanism. In other words, cooking (ie: heating) food changes its properties in ways we call “cooking.” As Wolke noted, the more heat — that is, the higher the temperature and the longer the food is held at that temperature — the more cooking changes take place. And all cooking inevitably causes a certain amount of nutrient loss.

All in all, Wolke suggested we should cook our veggies with as little heat and with as little water as possible. We can’t do away with heat while cooking, but we can control the amount of water used. Fear not people, microwaving your vegetables is totally safe and it wont cause as much nutrient loss as you think. In other words, TV Dinners are still a viable way to romance your woman. Rest assured gentlemen, nothing says “I love you” more than microwaved meatloaf with brussel sprouts (and all their “mostly” flavonoidally intact glory). Don’t forget the boxed wine. P to the IMP, son!

Comments (1)
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Thanks for following up on this. Due to a busy life and time constraints sometimes the microwave is the only viable option.
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