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Safe Cookware: The Safest Cookware and the Most Toxic Cookware

Safe Cookware - Safest Cookware vs The Most Toxic Cookware

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).

Toxic Cookware

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 Skillet
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!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade!


Cookware The Safe and the Toxic - The Nourished Life

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73 Responses to Safe Cookware: The Safest Cookware and the Most Toxic Cookware

  1. Great post! I’m curious though- what about those glass pots from about 20 years ago? I haven’t been able to find any recently, but I’m not a fan of stainless steel, and I’d thought to keep my eyes peeled for vintage glass pots for soups and sauces.

    I’m also a bit torn. I have a mad love for my Nordic Ware (Made in USA) non-stick, but the fact that it IS non-stick has bothered me for some time. Once my mother passed on my grandmother’s cast iron skillets to me (she has a flat top stove and can’t use them easily), I’ve compromised by frying in the cast iron, but things like chili are still being made in my Nordic Ware.

    • the glass cookware is called visions and it’s made by corning ware. The corning ware outlets still have and I believe it is very safe to cook with. Just don’t put the hot pan in cool water… ;-)

    • The safest cookware to me would be the one which is un-glazed, metal and chemical free. I have replaced most of my metal and ceramic cookware with pure clay cookware and they do a great job in my kitchen. I use them to cook almost any recipe except for the dry fries. The most important fact about it is that they seal all the water soluble nutrients in and give you a healthier food. The clay used is tested to be lead and cadmium free and is sourced and handcrafted in US. I got mine from mecware.US

  2. Have you checked out Xtrema ceramic cookware? It’s totally non-toxic and recommended by Debra Lynn Dadd, the “queen” of non-toxic and a speaker at the WAPF conference. See http://www.ceramcor.com. I’ve been replacing my stainless steel pots with Xtrema.

  3. Great post. I recently came across a new finish I hadn’t seen before… it was a muffin tin and it had like a nano-ceramic nonstick finish on it. I’ve been using it for a few months and it works great. The label said it was free of the Teflon type toxins. It was pretty cheap too – $12!

    • The Xtrema cookware above uses a nano-ceramic coating and seems to be pretty safe, but not sure about the less expensive brands. Sometimes you get what you pay for. But I would say it’s probably safer than Teflon for sure!

  4. What I’ve been trying to figure out is what is the best LARGE stock pot for making slow-cook tomato sauces? Not supposed to use cast iron, or stainless steel. Haven’t seen anything big enough in ceramic or glass. So what to do?

    I’d be wary of nano-anything. Not enough research done yet.

    Slightly OT, have you done research on the pliable silicone bakeware?

      • I need 16 qt! I have a 12 qt now that’s too small! I haven’t seen any enameled ones that big, but I’ll keep looking.

          • Hey! I haven’t used a water bath canner for stockpot but I did have a graniteware stockpot which is the same material. After 9 months the enamel was flaking off and you can see the carbon steel. When this happened it gave the food an off taste. I am wondering about this SS that is magnetic though. I take it that as long as it’s induction compatible it’s magnetic enough? (just so I can know what to go by when looking)

      • UGH, after my last batch of chili, my 12 qt anodized Calphalon pot that I’ve had for 3 years has obviously reacted this time – the bottom is definitely no longer good. Why now? Coincidence? I think not! So now the search for a tomato-safe BIG stock pot goes critical!

    • Every time I mention Xtrema cookware, someone says it is not safe because of nanotechnology. I mentioned this to Debra Lynn Dadd some time ago and here is her reply:

      “This is what happens when people do not understand the technology of how things are made.

      The problem with nanotechnology is the particle size. If you have a nano powder, such as in sunscreen, those particles can get into your body through your skin.

      In cookware, the nano ceramic particles are bonded together to form one solid mass when they are heated to over 2500 F. It’s just like glass. There are no particles in the finished cookware that can be released into the food. It is 100% nontoxic.

      These two cookwares [Xtrema and Cuisinart Green Cuisine] are the healthiest I’ve found and I see no danger from using them of any kind.”

      Also, I told Xtrema that I needed a larger pot than their largest pot for making stock and they told me they will be coming out with larger pots this fall.

      Personally, I do not consider silicone bakeware safe. Some people have reported smelling fumes from it and one person said the color came off it and got in their food.

      • Well that sounds better than typical nanopartical application. Of course, they used to say how Teflon was inert and non-reactive, so, I take any new technology with a grain of salt until it’s been around awhile. Plus, you’re right, no big pots!

        I’ve never used silicone because it didn’t seem like a good idea, but the difference in toxicity may be the difference from Made in China versus higher quality products. Kinda like cheap Chinese enameled pots are not that safe.

  5. If you’re talking about Pyrex and CorningWare, the old stuff is safe. There have been problems with the modern stuff exploding. Also, old cast iron is made better than new–it’s finished to a finer, smoother, surface, and often, someone else has spent 50 years making sure it is beautifully seasoned. And even, yucky-looking, rusty cast iron can be scrubbed with a wire brush and re-seasoned–and you’ll still be using it decades from now. So save a few bucks and buy used for both of these sorts of pots. You’ll be happier with what you get–and so will your pocket!

  6. What about dishware..as I understand it only clear plates etc…are safe…even Corelle and Fiestaware contain small amounts of lead ?

    • I believe you are right that clear glass is the best. I’m sure most modern dishware and crockpots are generally safe (though probably not perfect). I think cracks and chios may be of concern. Older items are not as safe because they may be damaged from wear, plus regulations were not as strict in the past as they are now.

  7. a couple of years ago I wrote many many of the major dish companies out there to include Corelle…and Fiesta…and even China..they all said there was a LEGAL amount of lead in their process…most is made in China..and with all the stuff that comes in from China that is being found to have have so much more then what is allowed, are you not concerned..wish we could find some research on this.
    I just read on Dr. Mercola’s site so much about the microwave so mine sadly might have to GO….I am on this path…2 months now and just want to keep going…I have a naturopath, a Bastyr Graduate and I am thankful for his help and keeping me sane through this process.

    • I’m definitely wary of cookware/dishware manufactured in another country, and I certainly wish information on this sort of thing was easier to come across–and that alternatives were easier to find!

      I haven’t used my microwave to heat food since I read Nourishing Traditions a year and a half ago. I now view it as a storage unit above my stove. ;)

  8. I never know where to sign up for your drawings. Do I just post a comment here? I already receive your emails-newsletters?? Please inform me- ty.

    • Many stainless steel products contain other metals like nickel which can be toxic if they leach into your food (which is more likely happen with acidic foods). There are higher grades of stainless steel that are more pure. You can do the “magnet test” if you want to see how pure a stainless steel piece is: simply see if a refrigerator magnet will stick to it. Cheaper, lower quality stainless steel won’t hold a magnet and should be avoided as it likely contains other types of metal that are considered less safe to use for cooking.

      • so…. I’m under the impression that higher grade stainless should NOT be magnetic. I worked making lots of steel parts and we used nothing but 440 stainless steel – very strong, good, pure stuff, and it wasn’t magnetic. So one of us might be wrong. Or maybe they wouldn’t used that kind of steel for pots? I’m not sure; you’ve probably done more study than me.

        • The magnet test is supposed to identify the amount of nickel in the cookware, since high levels of nickel are often a concern–if the stainless steel contains more nickel than chromium, it won’t be as magnetic as one that contains less. (You’re right, this wouldn’t work on certain grades of stainless steel that aren’t magnetic at all, but I don’t believe those grades of stainless steel are used in cookware–stainless steel in cookware is usually combined with other metals.) Then again, there might also be concerns about the level of chromium in stainless steel as well, so the magnet test isn’t exactly the end all be all.

    • Ha! I can’t believe you were the first one to catch that. For some reason my fingers just typed out “adonized”… ah, aren’t typos fun? Thanks for pointing that out to me. I fixed the errors! :)

  9. Q for Elizabeth W: do you consider the Zwilling ‘Thermolon’ (ceramic coated) frying pan to be completely safe? Does the ‘ceramic’ coating contain any plastics, teflon-like, silicon-like, or any other manmade components that could break down and leach into food? Also, is the coating durable?
    i usually cook on low to med heat.

  10. Really helpful info! I am curious if you could comment on a new pan? It is Zwilling JA Henckels Thermalon which they claim is environmentally-friendly nonstick ceramic surface PTFE- and PFOA-free, and safe up to 500 degrees.

  11. I have even heard that ceramic, if it is a colored glaze even from the US, contains lead in the colors. I’m not 100% sure on this, but I remember looking it up a while back because I wanted to make sure my crockpot was safe. Thanks for this!

  12. Oh, on the dishware note, ever since I started reading up on the “safe amounts of lead” on my Corelle and even other mainstream brands of dishes, I got rid of my corelle and switched over to glass completely for dishes. My bowls and plates, I got from IKEA for a great price. Sad to see my pretty dishes go, but for me, there’s no “safe” form of lead!

  13. I just bought Corelle for our dinner set after being indecisive forever.. arghh! Hope the lead concerns aren’t too bad.. I need to stick with it now!

    What do you think of Neoflam? I’m in Australia, and these appeared to be the best non-stick option around when I purchased my saucepan set. https://www.neoflam.com.au/

  14. Anybody know anything about copper pots and pans? I know people love them because they distribute heat very very well, but toxicity? I’ve never heard anything. Guess I’ll do some study…

  15. I use stainless steel and cast iron cookware. LOVE my cast iron! It certainly can be very expensive unless you’re patient with your local thrift stores. I just recently found a 9-inch skillet at Salvation Army for less than $5! I didn’t take the time to actually season it properly. But I have noticed that using butter instead of any kind of oil usually seasons it a little mm ore each time you use it, while keeping your food from sticking with each use. This works for me because turning on my oven these days means I livebin a sauna for the next week!
    After a few butter uses to cook my eggs I can use olive or coconut oil just fine! Never scrub my cast iron with a scrubber, only get food out while the pan is still hot or use a brush, and NEVER use soap! Hot hot water does the trick fantastically! And I always heat up my pan first to burn up the germs and get it evenly heated before dropping my eggs in.

    What do you think of those glass cooking pans? I see them at the thrift store periodically and wouldn’t mind trying them out, but don’t know how they behave. Anyone have any experience with them?

    • Great cast iron tips! I’ve only had a little experience with glass–it’s definitely not non-stick and the handles do get hot (so pot holders are a must!), but it does work with some things.

  16. I want to buy a large stockpot for a gift…checked Le Creuset and they have an affordable selection but are made of a steel interior, as compared to their high-end bakeware which is cast iron. What do you think? What brand of stockpot would you buy?

  17. Our cookware is not just stainless steel, but surgical stainless steel. At the time we bought it, the research said that it was safer than the ceramic because ceramic cookware often has lead in it. Or it did. Maybe they are making them safer now.

    • I’m not 100% sure, but I think the concerns about ceramic and glass cookware containing lead is mainly when they’re manufactured in China or other countries. I think (?) that those manufactured in the US and Europe are okay.

  18. Lodge brand cookware is inexpensive and made in the USA! I had one tiny problem with my very first enameled pot and they exchanged it with no questions asked. I’ve found cast iron at yard sales, and flea markets too.

  19. I cook in my crockpots 95% of the time because they are ceramic — breakfast, dinner, dessert and just about everything in between. So far I haven’t convinced my husband of the benefits of shelling out for a set of ceramic cookware.

  20. I have All Clad pots and pans and love them. I learned the proper method of cooking with stainless steel from this video: http://rouxbe.com/cooking-school/lessons/173-the-water-test-heating-the-pan

    I have not tried this method yet, but here is an interesting video on how to “season” stainless steel pans: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1376ITxF1Oc

    I hope these videos help those who have problems cooking in stainless steel. Make sure you buy quality stainless pots and pans as the cheaper ones have various alloys that can leach into your foods.

    I also have the old glass vision pots for cooking more acidic foods and they work well too. You can still find them at most of the kitchen outlet stores. I have a few pieces of Pampered Chef clay baking pans and they work well too.

    From what I have learned in my research post-menopausal women and men cannot shed the excess iron that leaches into the food so it can build up so I do not use iron to cook in. I plan to add a ceramic coated iron pot and pan or two to my collection for recipes that call for a heavy iron pan. Any suggestions for brands and which particular pan or pot that works well for you?

  21. Salad Master Cookware is the best!!! I have had a set 50+ years. Within the last 20 years they have upgraded the steel & have detachable handles. Some of my handles have come off my old set, but has a lifetime guarantee. I bought a new set about a year ago. Go to Saladmaster.com and check it out!!!

    • Copper toxicity is a concern since at high temperatures copper can leach into your food, which is why copper is often used as a core but then lined with stainless steel or another material.

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