About fifteen years ago, the small community where my family lived, just East of St. Paul, Minnesota was turned upside down by chemicals that are used to make non-stick cookware. Just for some background, I’m condensing this saga that lasted for years into a short explanation to give you an idea of just WHAT set me on the path to finding a healthier cookware option.
Essentially, a large corporation disposed of PFOAs (teflon components) improperly, which in turn contaminated a large portion of the private wells in the area. Lawsuits were filed, cancer diagnosis in the area were at an all time high, and it left me with the burning question: Then why are we cooking and eating with this if it’s so toxic?
It was one of my first glimpses into the unfortunate side of consumerism that wasn’t all that honest. I was frustrated that companies were making cookware out of this toxic product and touting it as “healthy.”
The use of Teflon pans before this incident was my cookware of choice. The idea was you don’t have to use any oil in your cooking, so these non-stick pans were actually healthier. After realizing how horribly toxic it was, I made the switch to stainless steel, what my Grandma used ever since I could remember. My second realization was that new technologies are not always better.
I didn’t really look into other forms of cookware until my youngest daughter had a mild iron deficiency. Not enough to cause alarm, but just enough to cause restlessness at night. The only form of protein she really loved that contained iron were eggs. Our pediatrician recommended using a cast iron pan for the eggs to help improve her iron levels just a smidgen.
As we tried this new method, it really seemed to improve most of her symptoms that came along with lower iron levels. I had yet another realization that what we are cooking IN is also entering our bodies, even if in small amounts.
WHY COOKWARE MATTERS
The most harmful way to come into contact with any toxin is through ingestion. Anytime we ingest anything, it has a direct route to the bloodstream and begins affecting the body right away.
You might think that food is the only way you introduce chemicals and toxins through ingestion, but what you cook your food within plays a part too. The pots and pans we cook in play a huge role as our food is in direct contact with it.
First, when a cooking medium is heated, it can often times leach out into food. The higher the heat of a pan, the more of the components of the pan (or toxins in many cases), can leach out into our food.
Second, bits of the pan, especially if there are scratches can end up within our food. In some cases, like cast iron, it’s beneficial to the body. However, in most cases, heavy metals and toxins can be entering our bloodstream through ingestion. Making sure there are no scratches or chips can help this, but really it can be completely avoided by using a safe cookware option.
Finally, the heating process of the pan can cause many of the materials within a pot or a pan to off-gas into the air. If you’re standing over the food you’re cooking, your inhaling those gases, which are entering your body. Using a vent fan can help minimize this, but the ultimate way to avoid this problem of inhaling toxins is by using a safe cookware.
WHAT TYPES TO AVOID
Aluminum: Highly reactive and a known neurotoxin that affects over 200 important functions within the human body (Study) Linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and nervous system damage (Study). Also linked to autism spectrum disorders (Study)
Teflon: Non-stick pans contain polytetrafuoroethylene, which is is extremely toxic. When heated, Teflon releases at least six toxic gasses, most of which are carcinogenic. Teflon is highly toxic when heated, and quickly reaches an unsafe temperature when just preheating. (Study) It has been linked to caner and reproductive problems. (Study)
Perfluorooctanic Acid (PFOA): Another non-stick product linked to development of tumors. It has also been shown to have a negative affect on immune systems, endocrine systems and hormone production as well as the liver. (Study)
Copper: Copper quickly and easily leaches into food when it is in contact with acidic foods. Over consumption of copper can lead to ulcers and liver damage (Study). Copper also suppresses zinc levels, leading to the malfunctioning of the adrenals and thyroid gland.
Lead: Some cookware that is ceramic, enamel or glass can have lead mixed in to reduce breakage. Lead is highly toxic and has a wide range of symptoms as it accumulates in the body. (Study)
Cadmium: Cadmium is also in glazes on cookwear to give them a uniform color and more balanced heating abilities. Cadmium is a toxic metal and a known human carcinogen. It can build up in the kidneys and liver over time and stays in the body for a very long time. (Study)
Nickel: While nickel is a naturally occurring metal, excessive exposure has been linked to lung and nasal cancers as well as dermatitis and neurological effects. (Study)
HEALTHIEST OPTIONS & SAFEST COOKWARE IN 2019
Ceramic: Make sure you find a cookware brand that is 100% ceramic. A ceramic that is coated with a glaze can contain lead or cadmium. (XTREMA)
Carbon Steel: Similar to cast iron, it is also reactive to acidic foods, which should be avoided. (DE BUYER)
Tempered Glass: Tempered glass is much stronger than normal glass and can withstand heat and pressure. Make sure you find one that is free of lead and cadmium in the glaze. (LUMINARC)
Porcelain Enamel: This is a cast iron that has an enamel coating. This is a great option and is a long-lasting material. While the outside of the pot or pan may be colored, often the inside is a natural material. (LECREUSET)
Cast Iron: Avoid cooking acidic dishes in this pan as too much iron can leach into the food, causing iron poisoning in some people. (KOOKANTAGE)
CARE & HEALTHY CLEANING FOR SAFE COOKWARE
- Cook at lower heat will help reduce any extreme off gassing and can help prolong the life of the pan, meaning it won’t chip or scratch as quickly.
- Always use your exhaust fan while your cooking to make sure that gasses from the materials in the pan can be pulled out of the air and displaced outside. This way you’ll avoid inhalation.
- Don’t use harsh metals while cleaning. Abrasive metals can scratch or chip pans, causing materials and components of the pan to easily enter food while cooking.
- Wash with natural, non-toxic dish soap. Why bother with investing in non-toxic cookware if you wash it with a chemical-laden dish soap? Opt for natural dish soap like Thieves or Seventh Generation.
- Visible scratches mean it goes. When you notice chipping or scratches in your cookware, it means it’s time to part with it. The only exception is cast iron.