Sure, we take time to choose organic and to avoid chemical food additives when we can, but these aren’t the only toxins that can be present in our food. Our cookware may also be contributing to our toxic state.
Think about it, you want to cook with your pots and pans, but you don’t want to eat them! And frankly, most modern cookware leaches toxins right into the food we’re eating. So that’s not just an omelet you’re tasting–you could be munching on some not so nourishing aluminum or fluorocarbons.
The topic of safe cookware is somewhat controversial. For instance, some say stainless steel is safe, while others warn that acidic foods may cause toxic nickel, cobalt and chromium to leach into your food (read more about that in this article).
Aluminum. This is a highly toxic metal, linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia among other conditions. Aluminum conducts heat quickly, which is why it’s often used in cookware. The problem is aluminum also leaches very easily, especially when heated or exposed to acidic foods (tomato soup, anyone?). Avoid cheap cookware made of aluminum. Now, some cookware has an aluminum core surrounded in a safer cooking material, and these may be an acceptable choice. But they carry a risk if the surface is damaged. Basically, you don’t want your food touching aluminum, especially if it’s heated.
Teflon/Non-stick. This is one of the most common types of cookware, but Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can release toxic fumes into the air when overheated (and how often have you accidentally left a pan too long on the stove?). And another trouble is this cookware scratches easily if you’re not careful, so flecks of non-stick material can mix in unnoticed with your food. Plus your food is exposed to the metal underneath–most likely aluminum. So, non-stick cookware is a definite no-no.
Safe Cookware (Maybe)
Stainless Steel. Even though there are concerns with stainless steal cookware, I’m not quite sure I’d put it on the “never buy” list. It’s still a safer option than the two types listed above and still in a somewhat affordable price range. I would caution against using stainless steel for acidic dishes, especially those that need to be slow-cooked for longer periods of time. Stainless steel is definitely not non-stick, so keep that in mind when using it so your eggs don’t glue themselves to the pan.
Note: A good rule of thumb is to check your stainless steel cookware is to test it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it’s good. If it doesn’t, then there is a higher percentage of undesirable metals in your cookware. You can also do the “vinegar test” as described here.
Anodized Aluminum. While it is made of aluminum, anodized aluminum cookware has been electro-chemically anodized to make a more stable cooking surface. As long as it’s in good shape, this may be a safe option. I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse it as harmless, but it is kinda neat that it’s also non-stick and scratch-resistant.
Generally Safe Cookware
Ceramic. This old-fashioned cookware is one of the safer kinds. There’s also some kind of nostalgic enjoyment in using ceramic cookware. Things just look nourishing when served up in ceramic. The one potential problem with ceramic is that if it’s produced by individuals or made in a foreign country it could very well contain lead in the glaze. Larger, domestic producers would be the safer bet.
Cast Iron. Another old-fashioned favorite, cast iron cookware is probably one of the safest cookware options available. It can also be pretty non-stick if seasoned properly. Seasoning requires a little extra work (typically coating with oil and baking at high heat for about an hour; your cookware should come with detailed instructions), and cast iron is pretty heavy (maybe cooking with it could be considered a good workout?). But overall I say no kitchen is complete without at least one or two cast iron pieces. And it’s very versatile: it can go straight from the stovetop and into the oven. Trust me, you can make some awesome cornbread in one of these.
Enameled Cast Iron. This is even a step up from regular cast iron, because the enamel surface is easy to cook with and clean (dishwasher-safe). You also don’t have to worry about seasoning enameled cast iron cookware. It generally comes with a hefty price tag, but if you have the cash to spend, it would probably make a worthy investment. The pricey Le Creuset brand even offers an impressive 99 year warranty!
The Bottom Line
Of course, it’s not easy to shell out the cash for new cookware, especially when you’re trying to afford better quality food. But it’s definitely a good investment for your health. If your current cookware is in good shape, you can probably squeak by if you’re being careful with it and replacing a little at a time. However, if you’ve got scratch-and-dent Teflon you might want to consider taking the plunge and replacing it with something safer.
What kind of cookware do you use? What do you think is safe? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!