If you want to reheat last night’s leftovers or warm some veggies, a microwave is probably your quickest option.
It’s also largely a safe one, as long as you avoid zapping several materials. It even can be better than using your oven back at home.
“It is a good and healthy option for reheating, defrosting or even baking potatoes,” says Laurie Mitchell, a registered dietician and nutritionist.
You shouldn’t microwave metal, including aluminum foil. No plastic wrap, either, because it can melt — but if you must use it, make sure it doesn’t touch your food. If you heat your food in a plastic container, make sure it’s got a microwave-safe label. Same goes for styrofoam, which can sometimes be heated, according to Harvard University.
But the best material for heating your lunch is glass, which won’t leach anything into your food.
A microwave’s main nutritional perk is that it works quickly. The best way to keep nutrients in your food is to cook it for the shortest duration possible and use as little liquid as possible (for example, steaming instead of boiling veggies), according to Harvard Medical School.
What’s more, too much heat can destroy some vitamins — vitamin C, for example. Turns out microwaves do a better job of preserving vitamin C than your oven because of their speedy heating.
On the other hand, a few minutes of heat makes it easier for our cells to absorb the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene, which is in tomatoes and some other red-colored fruits and vegetables.
“Cooking, no matter how you do it, makes some food more flavorful and digestible,” Mitchell says. “Conversely, overcooking, no matter how you do it, will leach nutrients from foods.”
Overcooking in a microwave can happen quickly. “Remember your food continues to cook after the bell dings,” Mitchell says.
A few other tips:
- Use the settings on the microwave touch-pad for the best results
- Cover your food to retain moisture, but be sure to vent it
- Stir partway through heating for even heat distribution
- Old, scratched or cracked containers can leach chemicals (so can containers microwaved too many times)
Bottom line: If you’re smart about how you use the microwave, it’s worth your while.
Journalist Mitra Malek writes about wellness, fitness and innovation. She has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor for Yoga Journal magazine. Learn more at mitramalek.com.