Already got rid of junk food? Happy with your selection of healthy edible oils? Stopped using white sugar and fine flour? Did you reduce your carbohydrate and fat intake? Increased consumption of proteins, fruits, vegetables and water? Well done, but there might be some areas that have not grabbed your attention yet. Any guesses what these might be?
Let us tell you; it is the containers you are using to handle your food and it is your way of cooking and reheating meals. Experts warn of using aluminum foils, utensils and plastic containers. They are also critical of microwaves, which are our go-to for reheating food. Let’s take these concerns one at a time to delve deeper into their good and bad effects.
Usage of Aluminum Foils and Utensils
All metals are excellent conductors, and aluminum is not only great, but also affordable and easy to wash. It distributes the heat evenly, making the cooking process smooth. Owing to these qualities, it has replaced copper and brass utensils over time. With modern ways of cooking, the use of aluminum foil has increased extensively; frozen food comes wrapped in it, and restaurants also use it to pack food items before delivering.
Although the human body can get rid of small amounts of aluminum without any worry, the trouble ensues when the safe limit is crossed. Other than utensils and foils, certain types of foods, like herbs, spices, tea, corn, salt, cheese, etc., some medicines, and purified water are also sources of aluminum. When you cook food in an aluminum pan or wrap it in foil when baking, the particles enter our food. Acidic and liquid foods are more vulnerable to this.
Its harmful effects include Alzheimer's disease, bone problems and renal issues. The growth of brain cells can also face hindrance due to excessive amount of aluminum in the food. What is the solution? It is advised to boil water multiple times in a new aluminum pot to get a matte base. It will not be shiny and attractive anymore but it will be safer. The same technique cannot be applied to aluminum foil, so stop using it for cooking. For baking, porcelain or glassware can be good substitutes. Foils can be used to wrap cold food though.
Use of Microwave Oven
A kitchen without a microwave oven is hard to imagine in today’s homes. It is deemed the best friend of beginners for being incredibly quick, super efficient and convenient. It is also a money saver for the people who cook in bulk, divide into portions, freeze, and then reheat one portion at a time. Microwaving prevents the leftover food from going to waste.
What is the reason then, behind terming this workhorse as harmful to health? A bit of science here. In a microwave oven, electricity is converted into high-frequency electromagnetic waves that stimulate the food particles to increase their temperature in a short interval of time. The same waves are used by cellphones but they are somewhat weaker versions. Now, you must have heard microwaves are a kind of radiation. Yes, they are. And so is the light coming from the sun, rest assured, not all radiation is bad. The manufacturers install a metal shield and a screen in the ovens window to prevent radiation from escaping.
An important question arises here: does the food cooked or reheated become radioactive, too? The answer is in the negative. The radiation causes water molecules to vibrate, which increases friction between them. It also spins and rotates food particles to make them clash. The heat produced, as a result, warms the food leaving without any trace of radioactivity.
According to research, microwaving the food mostly retains its nutrients, as does baking, unlike boiling and frying. This retention, however, primarily depends on the temperature, cooking time and the nature of the food. It also better saves antioxidants as compared to pressure cooking and boiling. It kills germs faster in most food types with only some exceptions.
There are many myths surrounding the use of microwaves. While all of them are not correct, some certainly hold credit. First among them is food poisoning as the short-time exposure of food to microwaves fails to kill certain kinds of bacteria. Secondly, microwave ovens are blamed for uneven heating even though the tray keeps rotating. Furthermore, it is considered a potential threat to the traditional ways of cooking. Having said that, let’s talk about the safety measures to reduce the risks.
Avoid overheating as it can affect nutrition value, don't underheat either as it can leave some harmful bacteria, use microwaves for reheating instead of cooking, stand at least a foot away when the oven is on, cover your food while microwaving, and never use plastic containers/bags, aluminum foil or newspaper in the microwave. Use wax paper, cooking bags, microwave-safe plastic or paper wraps instead.
Use of Plastic Containers
Another culprit is plastic. The harm it does to the environment is no more a secret and so many people are following the “no plastic” trend now. The fact we ignore is that it is equally damaging for our health. It not only causes pollution but also migrates to living beings’ bodies one after the other via the food chain.
We are easily tempted towards neat and clean, artistically-shaped, affordable plastic containers. But the cost of this reasonably cheap material becomes too high when we consider the danger it poses.
To reduce our dependence on plastic, adopt the following:
Prefer buying glassware, metal ware or earthenware rather than plastic stuff, stop using plastic bottles for water as it is a sure way of consuming micro plastics, reusable beeswax paper is a suitable alternative to plastic wrap.
But what should be done with the plastic containers you already have in your home? Or what to do when you are unable to find a proper substitute for plastic for certain purposes? Understand that plastic and heat are never meant to be good friends and so your plastic container should not go into a microwave oven or a dishwasher. Single-use plastic is supposed to be used for a single time as the name suggests. Plastic containers don’t tear away easily but it doesn’t mean that they can be used for eternity. Discard discolored items and the ones that have developed scratches on them. Don’t put oily foods in plastic containers as plastic tends to get dissolved in oil or fat-based food quite easily. HH
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