Table of Contents
- Why You Should Care
- The Materials to Watch for
- Alternative Non-Toxic Choices
- Make the Right Choice for You
- Other Toxins to Avoid in Your Kitchen
Selecting the right cookware is not a cut-and-dried choice, these days.
When you become aware of the chemicals used to manufacture and to coat cookware and how these may affect you and your family, it’s worth the time it takes to research your cookware choices before you purchase.
The choices between cookware can seem overwhelming, especially when considering not only how well they cook, but also how they impact your health.
Many types of conventional cookware will give you even heat and will sear your food to perfection, but the ingredients used to make or coat these pots and pans can actually be harmful to you.
It can feel a little defeating when you realize you’ve spent many hours and lots of money to buy and prepare healthy foods using organic ingredients, only to discover that your cookware is unhealthy.
Educating yourself about the materials to avoid in cookware will help you make the best choices for you and your family, and you can use this information to select the right type of cookware for your cooking style.
Our guide will help you understand the various features and benefits of different materials.
Why You Should Care
The link between metals in your body and various diseases and disorders is very clear.
As researchers learn more about the specific effects of these toxins on our bodies and our brains, it is important to consider the various ways these metals may be getting into your body.
While many of us spend a great deal of time and energy focused on eating healthy foods, it is worth considering if the cookware you are using to prepare those foods is itself contributing to the buildup of metals and other toxins in your body.
Nearly all cookware is made from metal, including iron, stainless steel, copper, titanium, and aluminum.
In addition, cookware is often coated with surfaces to make them non-stick or scratch-resistant, and these coatings can contain other harmful materials.
Depending on the type of surface and the material used to make the cookware, your pots and pans could be contributing to some significant health issues, including nerve disorders, degenerative neurological diseases, thyroid and kidney problems, and much more.
When your cookware begins to show signs of wear, you could actually be ingesting particles from the non-stick coating, which can also be harmful.
Some of these materials have even been labeled as carcinogenic, so it is important that you know what you are using.
Not all metals have been studied in the context of cookware, but simply for their impact in general on people and animals; if however, we extrapolate from these studies to our own homes, it is worth the caution and consideration when selecting the cookware you use to prepare your food.
Whether you are considering buying new cookware or want to learn more about the pots and pans you currently use, it is always better to be informed.
If you are concerned about infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, headaches, mental health disorders, ADHD, liver disease, or other health problems, keep reading to learn which cookware is the best choice for you and your family.
This guide explains the concerns raised about various materials traditionally used in cookware, as well as provides some excellent non-toxic alternatives to use in your home.
The Materials to Watch for
There are reasons to be concerned about the materials used in some conventional cookware.
Metals are often reactive to certain foods, and when these are used in cookware, they can leach into your food if protective coatings are not intact.
In particular, aluminum, steel, iron, and copper are all reactive metals, and when exposed to acidic or alkaline foods, your body can suffer ill effects.
In addition to these metals, other chemicals commonly used in cookware, like Teflon, have been linked to medical problems.
Teflon is a brand name for a non-stick coating commonly used in cookware.
It is made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and is generally applied to base materials like aluminum in cookware.
To apply the PTFE to the base material, manufacturers utilize perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to bond the coating.
Both PTFE and PFOA are poly- or perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).
PFAs have been studied a great deal, and there are many cautions that scientists have made regarding these chemicals.
These chemicals are extremely resistant to biodegradation, which means that they remain in the environment and inside your body for a very long time.
In fact, scientific studies suggest nearly everyone has PFAs present in their body at this time.
The danger of fumes from PTFE has been known for some time.
When heated to high temperatures, non-stick coatings made from this chemical release harmful fumes that can be dangerous to people and animals.
In fact, polymer fumes can kill birds and other small animals.
There have been insufficient studies to determine the long-term effects of inhaling these fumes, but studies show people can develop flu-like symptoms when exposed for even short periods of time.
When you use cookware coated with PFAs, you should also be concerned about the coating leaching into foods.
Also, this type of coating can scrape off of the base material, exposing the potentially-reactive metal underneath, as well.
Why should you be concerned about exposure to PFAs like Teflon?
There has even been recent speculation about a link between PFAs and ADHD in children (4).
The EPA and other agencies are studying the effects of PFAs, and a group of scientists concerned about PFAs released an important opinion paper, known as the Madrid Statement, to warn against their continued widespread use (5).
The Dangers of Cooking with Teflon:
- Can produce flu-like symptoms from fumes.
- Has been connected to lowered birth weights in infants.
- Is connected with lowered immunity, thyroid disorders, higher cholesterol, liver inflammation, ADHD.
- Has been labeled a possible carcinogenic.
Aluminum has been around for a very long time, and it is found in many products related to food.
You’ll find aluminum in cookware, drinking containers, foil, and even some foods and medicines.
The problem with aluminum is that it is not a mineral your body needs, so too much of it can cause problems when ingested.
When you consume products with aluminum, the metal builds up in your system, including in your brain, kidneys, lungs, thyroid, and liver.
Excess aluminum causes problems with your central nervous system can cause cognitive problems and has links to several diseases (6).
Elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s disease often test positive for elevated levels of aluminum.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s are still being studied, this correlation is concerning (7), particularly in the study of aluminum in drinking water.
Aluminum has been shown to cause oxidative stress in the brain.
Oxidative stress is known to cause different neurological diseases and contributes to many other types of disorders.
A 2012 study examined aluminum in infant formula and documented the oxidative stress loads within neonatal brains (8).
This study and others of its kind raise serious concerns about aluminum and its impact on our brains.
An overexposure to this metal, which your body does not need, can cause neurological problems, according to a 2009 study in animals (9).
Aluminum toxicity is also a risk factor for other degenerative diseases, such as osteoporosis, which has been indicated since a 1985 study which examined aluminum’s influence on the absorption of calcium and other minerals (10).
At high levels, aluminum affects the muscular, skeletal, and respiratory systems, as well.
So, how does aluminum get into your food from cookware?
Because there have not been long-term studies on the safety of hard-anodized aluminum, which is the most popular type of aluminum cookware available today, it is important to understand the risks and make informed choices when selecting cookware.
Anodized aluminum is non-reactive, and cookware treated in this way has an anodized layer on the outside.
This creates a non-stick surface, which is desirable in pots and pans.
This inert layer is also non-reactive to acidic foods.
It’s not always clear how thick the anodized layer is, and as cookware is used, the outer layer can wear off or be scraped away by utensils, revealing the reactive aluminum underneath.
Because the anodized process is relatively new in cookware, it is unknown for how long anodized coatings remain intact.
When the reactive aluminum underneath is exposed, your food can absorb aluminum as it is cooking.
The Dangers of Cooking with Aluminum:
- It has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurological diseases.
- It has been shown to cause learning and behavioral disorders.
- It has been linked to osteoporosis.
- It can cause seizures and sleep disorders.
- It has been linked to anemia.
Copper was a popular material for cookware at one time, but cookware made from copper can cause significant problems if you are not careful.
Copper is an extremely reactive metal, which means many foods can cause copper to leach into whatever is being cooked when exposed directly to the metal.
Because many types of copper cookware were traditionally lined with tin, another reactive and problematic material, you must be careful even with lined cookware.
While copper is an efficient and even conductor of heat, it really should be avoided in cookware, regardless of its beauty.
Excessive levels of copper in humans have been linked to insomnia, headaches, and certain mental illnesses.
Any type of damage to the lining of copper cookware can expose you to harmful levels of this metal, so avoiding copper cookware is the best choice.
The Dangers of Cooking with Copper:
- It has been linked to several types of mental illnesses.
- It causes insomnia.
- It causes headaches.
Modern cookware does not use tin, but it is still common to find it in older pans and pots.
Tin, along with lead and mercury, are neurotoxins that can have a significant impact on your health if you are exposed to elevated levels.
Elevated tin levels are linked to male infertility (11).
While tin is less concerning than other metals, it is still considered to be dangerous, particularly to your hematological system, to consume food that has been exposed to the tin for longer periods of time (12).
While this material is less common in cookware than others listed here, it is one you should be aware of.
The Dangers of Cooking with Tin:
- It is a neurotoxin.
- It has been linked to male infertility.
Enameled aluminum cookware starts with a base of hard-anodized or regular aluminum and is then coated with enamel.
While enamel is actually a non-toxic material, if the enameled coating becomes damaged or chips off, it can expose the aluminum underneath.
Aluminum can then leach into your foods, causing the problems previously listed.
Enameled coatings should be considered safe only when placed over non-reactive or non-toxic metals.
The Dangers of Cooking with Enameled Aluminum:
- Enamel can chip off, exposing reactive aluminum underneath.
Alternative Non-Toxic Choices
Knowing the potential dangers of certain types of cookware is the first step toward making healthier choices for yourself and your family.
If you are looking for alternatives to these conventional materials, these listed below are all good choices for your cookware needs.
Stainless steel is an excellent material for cookware, as it is durable, versatile, and heats very evenly.
While stainless steel does require slightly different cooking techniques and careful cleaning, the benefits of this type of cookware are also very great.
Stainless steel is scratch-resistant, so you can use most types of utensils with this cookware.
You do not need to season stainless steel, which is an advantage over other materials.
It can be used on the stovetop as well as in the oven, and it is also attractive.
When stainless cookware is created using a copper or aluminum core, it will heat very evenly and will require lower temperatures to achieve the desired results.
Be sure to purchase quality stainless steel pots and pans, as bargain varieties are not likely to be made with the appropriate combinations of metals to make them non-toxic.
Most stainless cookware contains chromium and nickel, which in large quantities can be toxic.
Ideally, stainless cookware should be 18% chromium and 10% nickel for the best efficacy and safety, and to prevent rust.
This balance minimizes the risk of toxicity, as well as promotes a better cooking surface overall.
If you are concerned about the chromium present in stainless steel, it is best to understand your risks.
While it is true that stainless steel contains hexavalent chromium, which has been named a carcinogen, when you purchase quality stainless steel that is manufactured under the appropriate guidelines and using the proper balance of metals, you will receive all the benefits of chromium without any of the concerns.
The risk from hexavalent chromium occurs when it is present in large quantities, like those associated with manufacturing and industrial applications (13).
There are a few cautions to consider when selecting stainless steel cookware.
While cooking with stainless steel has raised concerns over chromium and nickel leaching, these concerns are only worrisome when you cook for prolonged periods and over very high heat with acidic ingredients.
To minimize any risk from stainless steel cookware, you can take these precautions.
First, be sure to use other types of cookware for high-heat and acidic applications, or for cooking for long periods of time.
Second, do not use abrasives to clean stainless steel, as this can release trace metals into your food.
Third, the guidelines here apply to cookware only, and not to stainless steel utensils which have been linked with an increased risk of nickel and chromium leaching with high heats and acidic foods.
It is best to use non-reactive materials in your cooking utensils (14).
By following these simple guidelines, you will eliminate the minimal risks of stainless steel, and have a great cooking surface for many of your kitchen applications.
Because stainless steel heats differently than other types of cookware, it can take a bit of practice to adjust to it.
Remember to use slightly lower heat than normal, preheat the pan when frying before adding oil, allow food to sear for one to two minutes before moving it around in the pan, and add salt to liquids after they have been heated.
Stainless steel is easily cleaned with just soap and water and by using a plastic scraper or brush when needed to remove debris.
Because stainless steel has a tendency to show water spots, dry it immediately after washing to maintain the shiny surface.
The Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware:
- It has an attractive finish.
- It is very durable.
- You can use it in the oven or on the stove top.
- It is resistant to scratches from different types of utensils.
- There is no need to season your pans.
- It produces even heat, and you can heat at very low temperatures easily.
- It is the choice of professionals, as it offers the best cooking surface of all materials.
Titanium is a pricey cookware option, but its safety and longevity mean you won’t have to worry about your pots and pans after buying it.
True titanium cookware is rare and most often seen in outdoor gear, but titanium-composite and titanium-ceramic layered cookware are both options if you are considering using this material.
Titanium is very durable and extremely light, making it ideal for those who need to transport cookware often, such as caterers and backpackers.
The Benefits of Titanium Cookware:
- It is very lightweight.
- It is extremely durable.
- It will last a long time if properly maintained.
True ceramic cookware contains no metals and has no outside layering or coating.
Because there are no metals, ceramic is truly a non-toxic option.
There are more choices for ceramic cookware than ever before, as well.
The benefits of ceramic cookware are many. It is scratch-resistant, so you can use any utensils you like.
It’s very easy to clean, and if you do have stuck-on material, you can remove it with any scrubbing material you wish.
You can use ceramic in microwaves, ovens, on the stovetop or grill, or in the freezer because it is great at all temperatures.
Ceramic distributes heat evenly, and it does not require seasoning, like other types of cookware.
When considering ceramic cookware, be sure you know what you are buying.
Some ceramic-based pots and pans actually have a non-stick coating made from toxic materials, so be sure to research your selection thoroughly before purchasing.
The Benefits of Ceramic Cookware:
- It contains no metals that can leach into your food.
- It is very versatile, withstanding extreme hot and cold temperatures.
- It heats evenly.
- It resists scratches, including from cooking utensils.
- It is easily cleaned and you can use scrubbing and scouring materials.
- It does not need to be seasoned.
Another durable and long-lasting material for cookware is cast iron.
Particularly good for frying foods and cooking meat, cast iron makes a great staple item for your cookware inventory.
Cast iron is known for its ability to distribute heat evenly and to hold it for extended periods of time.
Cast iron can go from stovetop to oven to grill with no problems, and its cleaning is easy after it has been properly seasoned.
Cast iron is made by melting iron at very high temperatures, then pouring the molten metal into molds, also known as casts.
The high heat of melting removes impurities, such as lead, and leaves behind a great cooking material.
Cooking all the time with cast iron could result in elevated iron levels, but using it for specific purposes and with non-reactive foods actually provides your body with small amounts of this needed mineral.
As with other metals, if you use cast iron to cook acidic foods or cook at very high heats for prolonged times, you will see increased levels of iron in your food.
For everyday cooking, though, the amount of iron transferred into your food from cast iron cookware can actually be healthy.
A small portion of males and a larger portion of females are iron deficient, so the traces that are consumed with food cooked on cast iron can have health benefits for some (15).
Iron is needed to transport oxygen to all parts of our bodies.
Anemia, which is iron deficiency, can be caused by a number of factors, so getting the proper amount of iron in your diet is an important component of a healthy one.
If you are normally healthy and have a proper digestive function, you are not at risk of iron toxicity from the things you eat and drink.
Research into the impact on our bodies of cooking with cast iron has demonstrated the added benefits and minor concerns of this practice.
Acidic and reactive foods are more likely to absorb more iron from cast iron cookware than non-reactive foods, so these foods should be cooked for short periods or in a different type of pan.
Most cases of reported iron toxicity can be attributed to taking too many vitamins or supplements, not from simply cooking with cast iron (16).
If you use cast iron, it is recommended that you use other types of cookware as well, as cast iron is really best for frying and cooking meats, but not for all applications.
Cooking small meals or using it a few times per week will reduce any risk you might have of iron overexposure, and avoiding both cooking acidic foods and using it for long cooking times will also help reduce any possible risk from using cast iron cookware.
Properly seasoning your cast iron cookware is the key to using it successfully.
Seasoning involves the use of fat or oil to create a protective layer on the iron, making it non-stick and helping to create an easy-clean surface.
Once the pan has been fully cleaned with soap and water, heat the pan in a 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes, then rub oil all over the pan’s surfaces to create a thin film.
Place the upside-down pan back in the oven for two hours, then turn the oven off to let the cookware cool completely.
If you are not satisfied with the coating after this step, repeat this process again.
Once properly seasoned, you should not use soap to clean the pan.
Simply use water and a scraper to remove debris, rinse, and dry immediately to prevent rust.
You can wipe the pan with a paper towel coated with a bit of oil before placing it in storage if you like.
The Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware:
- It has a great durability that, with proper care, lasts for many years.
- It conducts heat evenly and holds it very efficiently.
- It is versatile, going from stove to oven to grill with ease.
- It can provide you with trace amounts of needed iron if you are deficient.
- Once it is properly seasoned, it is easy to care for and clean.
Enameled Cast Iron
If you love cast iron but are concerned about the iron residue or don’t like to worry about re-seasoning your cookware, enameled cast iron is a great alternative.
Enameled cast iron starts with the same process as traditional cast iron, and the cookware is then coated with a vitreous enamel glaze.
This type of cookware has the same even heating benefits as traditional cast iron.
Enameled cookware does not require the regular seasoning that the unglazed version does, and is relatively non-stick.
It is very durable and versatile, as well.
Cleaning enameled cast iron is easy, and many people prefer this version of the classic cookware because it adds a touch of color to your kitchen.
Enamel can chip, so treating your cookware appropriately is important.
The biggest danger is not from the cast iron cookware beneath the coating but from the chips of enamel themselves.
As long as you are careful to care for your enamel coating, this type of cookware is very safe.
When selecting enameled cast iron cookware, be sure to do your homework.
You want to select products the glazes of which do not contain harmful materials.
Lead and cadmium are sometimes used in the brightly-colored pigments in enamel glazes, and these materials have been linked to significant health concerns (17).
Quality enamel products from companies like Le Creuset and Lodge comply with strict governmental guidelines regarding their use of minerals in their glazes.
The Benefits of Enameled Cast Iron Cookware:
- It is very durable.
- It is very versatile, going easily from to oven or grill.
- Cleaning is very easy.
- The bright enamel colors make a great accent for your kitchen décor.
- It conducts heat evenly, making it easy to cook on low heat.
- There is no need to season your cookware.
- The smooth finish means, with the right cooking techniques, food won’t stick easily.
Make the Right Choice for You
If you are in the market for new cookware but not an entire set of the same material, consider purchasing individual pieces made from various materials to reap the benefits of many different types of surfaces.
Understanding the benefits of each material is important, and always do your homework on the manufacturer of any product you are considering to be sure that they follow guidelines for the use of non-toxic materials.
With so many healthy choices in cookware materials, you’re sure to have many great options from which to choose.
Other Toxins to Avoid in Your Kitchen
Now that you are on the lookout for all the potential pitfalls of your cookware, it is also a good idea to take a look around your kitchen to see other ways you might be putting toxins into your food.
Consider everything your food touches, from the time you bring it home to the moment it passes your lips.
There are many different sources that could be adding additional toxins or harmful substances to your food.
Most of us are aware by now of the issues related to bisphenol-A, or BPA.
It is used in the manufacture of plastics which can be found in many items in your kitchen, not just plastic containers.
Avoiding BPA in your water bottles is an important first step, but BPA can be present in many other plastic items, including canned foods and items packaged in plastic.
When possible, it is best to avoid purchasing foods wrapped in plastic.
Not only is this better for the environment, but it ensures your food is not exposed to this harmful chemical.
To avoid BPA as much as possible, look for canned goods with a BPA-free label, especially for highly-acidic foods like tomatoes and pineapple.
Buy fresh foods whenever possible to avoid packaging altogether.
Regardless of the type of plastic, if it is exposed to high heat, such as from a microwave, chemicals will leach from it and may come into contact with your food.
Avoid heating plasticware in the microwave, and always wash plastic containers by hand instead of in a high-heat dishwasher.
Plastic is ubiquitous in most kitchens these days, so look beyond the plastic containers in yours to consider all the other ways plastic comes into contact with your food.
Avoid plastic items such as cooking utensils and cutting boards.
As utensils heat up, they release the same chemicals as plastic containers into your food, and many plastic cooking utensils are also treated with fire retardants. Select bamboo or silicone utensils instead.
Plastic cutting boards are also common work tools, but every time you cut on these boards, you are potentially nicking small pieces of plastic off and into your food.
Select wood or bamboo cutting surfaces instead, which are easy to clean and sanitize with natural materials like lemon juice and salt.
You’ll avoid plastic in your food, and avoid adding more plastic to our landfills later on, as well.
Plastic bags are equally problematic, particularly those designed for cooking.
Bags that steam in the microwave are used to line crockpots, or are designed to making roasting meat easy are all potentially contributing chemicals to your food.
Opt for unbleached parchment paper to keep foods from sticking, and invest in simple kitchen tools that accomplish your cooking goals instead of relying on these plastic bags.
Bleached Paper Products
Bleaching is a common process for creating many of the paper products you use in your kitchen.
While their appearance may be desirable, the chemicals used to bleach these paper goods are not.
Paper towels, coffee filters, tea bags, napkins, and baking cups are just a few of the paper products many of us use every day in our kitchens, but if these materials have been bleached, you are exposing yourself to residual chemicals left over from that bleaching process.
Chlorine is used to bleach paper, and the bleaching process creates dioxin, which is a chemical byproduct.
Dioxin is linked to several health issues, including cancer and disorders of the immune and endocrine systems.
Dioxin has also been shown to cause fertility problems.
To avoid these potential problems from this toxin, purchase unbleached paper products instead.
If you can, avoid wasteful paper altogether by using reusable alternatives.
Washable tea towels can replace paper towels, cloth napkins are simple to launder, and reusable tea and coffee filters are widely available.
These products will eliminate more needless waste, as well as protect you from bleaching toxins in your kitchen.
The final, most obvious contributor to potential toxins in your kitchen are the chemicals used to clean it.
While most commercial cleaning products provide us with a sense of safety and cleanliness, they can also contain many dangerous chemicals that should not come into contact with our food or our bodies.
While many chemicals such as triclosan, ammonia, perchloroethylene, and phthalates are good at cleaning up messes, they can also cause a whole host of health problems when we are exposed to them.
These chemicals have been linked to everything from immune problems to hormone disruptions to cancer and respiratory issues.
While the smaller amounts present in most commercial chemicals may not be extremely harmful, they could still cause problems and should be avoided when possible.
Instead of filling your kitchen cupboard with commercial cleaners, use natural alternatives that have cleaning and disinfecting properties.
Natural acids like lemon juice and vinegar are great, as are castile soap, essential oils, and other natural materials.
These non-toxic materials will cost you less money, can be used for a variety of cleaning tasks, and are safe to use around children and pets.
Your house will be clean, smell great, and won’t have the remnants of chemicals or toxins to worry about.
When looking for ways to eliminate toxins in your home, the kitchen is a great place to start.
In addition to your cookware, consider all other aspects of your food preparation and cleaning routines for ways you can eliminate the need for toxic substances.
There are many easy alternatives that are just as effective but will offer you the peace of mind you need.
Making simple swaps for reusable materials or buying whole foods, to begin with, are sure-fire ways to avoid these toxins.
Thinking carefully about your choices is always a good strategy, and now that you know the potential sources of toxins in your kitchen, you can make informed decisions.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
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