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Ashley Chambers, R.D., a dietitian at Indiana University Health offers five smart strategies.
It can create a hot, filling, figure-friendly breakfast in a hurry. Cereal is easy, but it also can be full of sugar if it’s sweetened or tasteless if it’s not. But who has time for something healthier and heartier — an omelet, for example? You do, says Chambers. In less than five minutes you can put together an omelet in a mug. Simply beat two eggs in a bowl, mix in leftover or frozen veggies, season with salt and pepper, and pour into a microwave-safe mug coated with non-stick spray. Cook on high for one minute, stir, then cook for a minute or so longer until the eggs set. Serve with a side of microwaved bacon, which Cornell University researchers found had significantly lower levels of cancer-causing nitrosamines than stove-cooked bacon.
It helps protect the nutrients in produce. It’s a myth microwaving veggies zaps nutrients. Actually most vegetables retain more of certain nutrients in the microwave. In one study, also at Cornell, spinach lost 77 percent of folic acid when cooked in water on the stove, but retained nearly all of this vitamin when microwaved. Another study, published in the Journal of Food Science, found that of a variety of cooking methods, microwaving (along with griddling and baking) caused the least amount of loss of antioxidants. “Microwaving is also a fast way to cook vegetables, which means they’re more likely to make it onto the dinner table,” says Chambers.
It can create tasty, lower-calorie popcorn. It’s a popular snack, but oil-popped corn can be high in fat. The same is true of many brands of prepackaged microwave popcorn. What’s more, notes Chambers, the lining of microwave popcorn bags often are coated with a carcinogenic chemical called perflurooctanioic acid. You can still use your microwave to pop up a healthier snack: Put three tablespoons of plain popcorn into a paper lunch bag, fold the top over three times, and put it in the microwave on high. It will start to pop quickly; take it out when the popping slows down — usually after two minutes and then season. Two cups of popcorn made this way will have only 62 calories and no fat (unless you add butter), compared to oil-popped corn’s 110 calories, 6 grams fat, and 1 gram saturated fat.
It can make mealtime easier. If your go-to dinner on busy nights is pizza, fast food, or take-out Chinese, you could be short-changing your family of nutrients, and loading them up with excess calories, fat, and sodium. With some planning, says Chambers, your microwave can come to the rescue. “Nearly every food group can go in the microwave, so just about anything you cook from scratch on the stove or in the oven can be made ahead of time and frozen,” she explains. When you have time to cook favorite dishes, double the recipe and freeze the rest. “This way you can have a healthy meal on the table in the same amount of time it will take to wait for a pizza delivery,” Chambers says.