DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have heard stories from a friend about what a microwave does to food: that it changes the food’s composition, or that your body doesn’t recognize food in the same way after it has been microwaved -- that microwaves change food “at the molecular level.” I thought they caused molecular “friction,” which caused heat. That’s what I learned in my X-ray and radium physics course in college. My friend will no longer heat food in a microwave. Should I be concerned? -- A.G., Phoenix
DEAR A.G.: Searching for “microwave dangers” on the internet will reveal many sources of blatant misinformation, some of which border on the entertaining with their conspiratorial bent. As you correctly noted, microwaves heat food by causing molecular movement and heat-producing friction between the molecules. When you turn off the microwave, that stimulation ends. Except for generating more heat energy, there is no “change at the molecular level.”
One risk would be from overheating an item, but this can happen with any form of cooking. Your college course was correct; your friend is not. Food appropriately heated in a microwave remains food, and will be “recognized” by all bodily systems: appropriately digested to allow absorption and utilization of its nutritive value. We should all get in the habit of challenging nonsense before we swallow it.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am looking for information on automatic hot-water dispensers. We received one of these as a gift, and it will get lots of daily use in our home, seeing as we are all tea drinkers. But we have heard that using this machine over the long run could have adverse effects on our health, due to the heating element coming in direct contact with the water. We were even told that it could cause cancer with constant use. I’m hoping that this is only an “old wives’ tale.” -- S.T., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
DEAR S.T.: I encourage you to enjoy your gift with the knowledge that there is no scientific basis for the concerns you mention. There is no logic, nor is there any objective documentation of “adverse effects” from a normally functioning heating element in a hot-water dispenser. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for use and maintenance; periodic cleaning to prevent the buildup of mineral salts will be key.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have just been turned on to baking vegetables wrapped in parchment paper. They are incomparable in flavor. I wonder why parchment paper rarely shows up in recipes. Is it safe to eat food cooked in this nonstick paper? -- H.W., Hayward, California
DEAR H.W.: Parchment paper is made from cotton fiber and wood pulp. The paper is odorless and flavorless, and can be used as a pan liner or to wrap foods for cooking. Parchment paper provides a moist-heat method to cook foods “en papillote,” which is French for “cooked and served in paper.” It’s unclear to me, also, why this technique doesn’t get more use.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.