Are microwavable meals actually bad for you?

Not everyone has time to plan a grocery shop and cook meals from scratch. Not everyone is free to prepare a 3-course meal everyday. That's why busy people prefer going with convenient options such as pre made microwavable meals. But are those meals bad for you? There is a lot of contrasting information on whether microwavable meals and microwaved foods are actually bad for you and in this article we provide an easy guide on this topic.

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Are microwavable meals actually bad for you?
Huma Khurshid

Huma Khurshid

Consultant Nutritionist and Qualified Health & Fitness Writer

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4

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Microwave meals are an excellent option to-go for a sudden lunch/breakfast on the days when you don't feel like cooking or when you just do not have the time. However, on a daily basis, you will need to ensure that you pick the right meals which contain the right level of nutrients and not too high levels of sodium, for instance. 

Here's what you need to know about pre made microwavable meals, how they can affect your health, and what to lookout for.

Is Microwave Cooking Safe?

In terms of concern on the radiation from microwaves, since 1971, microwaves have been considered safe to use by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In terms of whether microwave cooking reduces nutrients, there has been slightly more contrasting research. In a 2003 research, broccoli was cooked in 4 ways - high boiling, low boiling, steamed and microwaved. It was found that the broccoli lost 97% of the flavonoids after cooking in a microwave.[i]

However, another study in 2019 on the same topic research revealed that microwave preserving and cooking doesn't decrease any flavonoids; in fact, it increases them.[i]

In all these conversational studies, we're still confused are microwave foods good for you or not?" Another research from 2005 focused on the total phenolics of foods after cooking them in the microwave.[iii] Conclusively, some veggies such as squash, peas, and leeks lost total phenolic content. However, the quantity increased in spinach, peppers, broccoli, and green beans. 

One thing to make sure, microwave meals and microwave cooking are two different things. We can say that the safety of microwave cooking depends on the type and the situation of food. Some healthy foods can be prepared in a microwave, but not all prepackaged microwave meals are healthy. In the next section we tackle the potential health concerns of cheap and low quality store-bought pre made meals.

Taco Bowl from Premier Meal Prep,
available on Marvin's Den

What Are the potential Health Concerns Associated With Microwavable Meals?

The store-bought microwave meals that you grab in bulk during groceries are typically not healthy at all. They are loaded with added sugars, sodium, and plenty of preservatives and unhealthy fats, which can cause some serious health concerns for you if consumed regularly. The following are some of the most associated potential health concerns:

1.  High Blood Pressure

As highlighted above, frozen foods, canned foods, or other microwave meals have lots of sodium content, which is dangerous for blood pressure health. Such an amount of sodium added to your blood stream can alter how your blood pressure regulates in your body and disturb your cardiovascular system. 

According to CDC, we need to consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day to stay in optimal health. If exceeded, it can cause hypertension, chronic heart disease, and stroke.

2.  Water Retention

Having too much sodium in your body can increase the amount of fluid outside your cells. As a result, your body may retain water and trick your brain into thinking it has lots of fluids (making you less thirsty), while in reality, your body is retaining excess water. 

Water retention can lead to serious health concerns such as kidney failure, heart failure, kidney damage, kidney stones, and liver cirrhosis.

3.  Increased Weight 

Some companies may sometimes advertise microwavable meals as low caloric and optimal for losing weight. However, most of them are nothing more than an advertising trap. Microwave meals can be loaded with excess sugars, salt, artificial flavours, and high-calorie ingredients that can raise your weight in just days. 

If buying microwave meals, make sure to check the total calories, sodium, and sugar on the back of the pack before buying.

4.  Chemical Ingestion 

Cheap microwavable meals are unhealthy because of the chemicals and preservatives added to them. To keep the food safe cheaply, companies tend to use loads of preservatives and chemicals during the manufacturing of microwavable meals. All of those can directly harm your health when consumed in high amounts. 

Pre made meals companies which avoid unhealthy preservatives, they do that by blast chilling the meals and by accepting a shorter use-by date. New packaging technologies and innovations have also resulted in more companies being able to avoid to add harmful preservatives.

One last thing to look out for regarding chemicals, when microwaving foods make sure to use the correct microwave-safe plastic containers to avoid ingesting phthalates (plastic additives), or simply use other container materials such as ceramic and glass.

What Can You Do Instead?

Now you know why microwave meals can be unhealthy and in what ways, look out the nutritional information before purchasing pre made meals. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid buying cheap store-bought microwave meals. Instead, we would recommend you to order meals from specialised, independent and high-quality pre made meals companies, or even meal prep companies if you are into fitness or have a fitness goal such as losing weight.

In the last few years, many new companies have launched as a result of the covid pandemic so now in the UK there is a lot of variety and choice in terms of healthy pre made meals.

The ideal option, if you have the time and the skills to prepare healthy meals, it is to prep your own meals. You can prep your meals at weekends when you're free from work. Meal prepping can benefit you by choosing the ingredients you like and are the most nutritional for you.Such meals can be reheated in the microwave when needed. This way, you can efficiently manage time as well as keep your health in check.

Conclusion

Microwave is safe for reheating meals, but the case is not the same for microwave meals. Added sodium, preservatives, packaging, extra calories, excess sugars, chemicals, etc., are the primary reasons why microwave meals are bad for you?

If you are interested in ordering from high-quality meal prep and pre made meal companies, then look no further than Marvin'sDen. Marvin’s Den is a mobile app in which you can order from a selection of the best meal prep and pre made meals companies. All-in-one app so that you can order from a different meal prepper as often as you want.

Visit our website Marvin's Den, or download our app for iOS orAndroid for more information and for placing your orders.

References:

[i] Vallejo, F., Tomás‐Barberán, F. A., & García‐Viguera, C. (2003). Phenolic compoundcontents in edible parts of broccoli inflorescences after domesticcooking. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 83(14),1511-1516.

[ii] Wu,X., Zhao, Y., Haytowitz, D. B., Chen, P., & Pehrsson, P. R. (2019). Effectsof domestic cooking on flavonoids in broccoli and calculation of retentionfactors. Heliyon, 5(3), e01310.

[iii] Turkmen,N., Sari, F., & Velioglu, Y. S. (2005). The effect of cooking methods ontotal phenolics and antioxidant activity of selected greenvegetables. Food chemistry, 93(4), 713-718.

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