For as long as I can remember, my mother and father have quietly resisted technological advances going on in the outside world. My parents were the last of my peer group's to convert from black-and-white TV to colour, and still profess to finding no need at all for a video recorder. Bearing in mind my folks' quasi-Luddite ways, it was inevitable that my first experience of microwave cooking was not to be in my own home. At a school friend's house for tea, I was quite fascinated when piping-hot cod-in-batter slabs emerged from some space-age contraption after only a few minutes. When I came of age and got a place of my own, I saw a microwave as much of a must-have item as a fridge, washing machine and video recorder.
Over the years, however, my enthusiasm for microwave cooking has cooled considerably. The way microwaves heat food has given me cause for disquiet. Traditional means of cooking give off radiant heat which makes its way into a food, cooking it from the outside in. Microwave ovens generate an alternating current, causing food molecules to gyrate quite unnaturally, billions of times each second. All this movement creates frictional heat, effectively cooking the food from the inside out.
The unique effects microwaves have on food appear not to be altogether healthy. One study from the 70s revealed that microwave cooking deformed the cellular structure within vegetables. Research published in The Lancet found that microwaving milk led to structural changes in the proteins that might well pose hazards for the body. Some scientists have suggested that one particular protein formed in this way (D-proline) is toxic to the nervous system, kidneys and liver.
In 1989, Swiss research revealed that consuming food thawed and/or cooked in a microwave oven could cause undesirable changes in blood chemistry, such as a reduction in levels of the pigment haemoglobin (predisposing to anaemia) and an increase in the number of immune cells in the bloodstream (generally taken to be a sign of stress, infection or inflammation). Also, exposing light-emitting (luminescent) bacteria to blood drawn after the consumption of microwaved food caused them to glow more brightly. The suggestion is that microwaves may lead to unnatural energetic changes in food that could pass to those who eat it.
There is no irrefutable proof that microwave cooking is hazardous to health. But, in the absence of large, properly conducted studies, there is no irrefutable proof that it is safe. What exists is evidence that microwaving can have undesirable effects on food, and that eating it can have undesirable effects in the body. Two years ago I chucked out my microwave, and have not knowingly eaten microwaved food since. I've come to the conclusion that, in this instance at least, my parents' less-than-enthusiastic attitude to new technology is right on the button.
Conventional nutrition wisdom dictates that wholegrain starches such as wholemeal bread and brown rice are better for us than refined grains such as white bread and white rice. Unrefined starches liberate sugar more slowly into the bloodstream, reducing the body's need to secrete the sugar-lowering hormone insulin. High levels of insulin are believed to be a major factor in the development of diabetes later in life (type 2 diabetes). Recent research has found that the tendency for wholegrain starches to give more tempered increases in blood sugar and insulin levels is good news for those wanting to reduce their risk of diabetes. In a study of 400 men and women published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , those with the highest intake of wholegrains were 35 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those eating the least. The incidence of type 2 diabetes is set to double in the next decade. Eating rolled oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholewheat pasta appears to be one thing we can do to significantly reduce our risk.
I am six weeks pregnant and suffering from horrible 'morning' sickness that seems to last most of the day. Do you have any advice for me?
Morning sickness usually starts before the sixth week of pregnancy and disappears by the 12th week. Although morning sickness is almost always harmless, any woman who is experiencing severe or prolonged problems should consult her doctor. Morning sickness has been associated with large and/ or infrequent meals. It also seems as though symptoms are often worse when the stomach is empty, and there is some thought that low levels of sugar in the bloodstream may play a part here. In general, you might find it helps you to eat little and often. Three small meals (including breakfast) and health snacks such as fresh fruit and nuts in between may help control your symptoms.
Ginger is one natural and effective remedy for nausea, which is safe to use in pregnancy. I recommend you take 250mg of ginger in tablet or capsule form, up to four times a day. Another natural substance known to help women suffering from nausea in pregnancy is vitamin B6. One study found that taking 30mg of B6 each day helped to quell the symptoms of morning sickness.