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The wellness and clean-eating trends have trained us to buy clean, organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, antibiotic-free… the list goes on and on. We have adopted BPA-free water bottles and switched out plastic containers for glass. But what we cook our nutritious and natural food in, surprisingly, is a secondary consideration… if we think about it at all!
Nasty chemicals and metals can leach into our food from sub-par cookware, which harms our health. According to the Journal of Food Science and Toxicology, “there are 35 metals that are of concern to humans due to occupational or residential exposure and it has been estimated that around one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of diseases attributed to those metals.” (Emphasis ours.)
Here are the materials and coatings you should avoid to keep your food and body free of toxins.
Materials and Coatings to Avoid on Your Cookware
Polytetrafluoroethylene, or as it is better known, Teflon, has been used as a coating to create non-stick surfaces for cooking and baking since the 1940s. Once it reaches temperatures above 572F (300C), it releases toxic fumes which can lead to flu-like symptoms. Although not fatal to humans, Teflon fumes have been known to kill pet birds.
Teflon coating may also contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which “has been shown to cause cancer, low birth weight, and a suppressed immune system in laboratory animals exposed to high doses,” according to the Ministry of Health of Malaysia. Since 2013, DuPont (the manufacturer of Teflon) has stopped using PFOA, so if your pans are at least seven years old it might be time to chuck them out. However, the post-2013 formulation of Teflon still creates toxic fumes at high temperatures. If you already have new Teflon pans at home, you can reduce the risks of negative side effects by making sure you only use it on low and medium temperatures, and only stir using wooden spoons to reduce scratching.
The most common non-stick alternative to Teflon is ceramic coating (and we have recommendations for ceramic-coated cookware below!)
Aluminum is strong, lightweight, and inexpensive, which is why it is commonly used in cookware, especially in developing countries. In fact, more than half the cookware sold is made of aluminum. If manufactured properly, aluminum poses no health risks, but cheap and uncoated aluminum cookware can leak toxic metals like lead into our food. This is notably prevalent with recycled aluminum.
The Journal of Food Science and Toxicology also advises against using uncoated aluminum cookware “in preparing/processing acidic foods such as tomato sauce” and discourages storing acidic food in aluminum containers for a prolonged period of time in order to reduce leaching.
Uncoated Stainless Steel
Just like aluminum, the risk with stainless steel lies in cheap or non-existent coating and with the acidity of the food it comes into contact with. When exposed to acid for a prolonged period, heavy metals such as iron, chromium, and nickel (which are combined to produce stainless steel) have been shown to leach into food. An experiment published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science has found that after storing lemon in an uncoated stainless steel container for five days, the metal intake was “higher than the permissible limit set by the WHO.” Increased doses of chromium and nickel are known to cause adverse reactions, such as dermatitis.
As a general rule, truly healthy cookware should always come coated in high-quality, non-toxic materials, such as ceramic or tin, which do not pose any health risks to humans. Furthermore, the risk of toxic metals leaching into food increases as the coating of our pots and pans starts to scratch or corrode. Always make sure to take proper care of your cookware and wash them in accordance with instructions. If you see scratched or rust appearing, it might be time to switch up your kitchen tools.
Don’t worry, below are seven brands offering options for versatile, safe, and non-toxic cookware.
Our Place’s signature Always Pan is a one-stop-shop, to reduce your purchases and space needs. (Perfect for a tiny-home owner!) It’s an all-in-one frying pan, steamer, skillet, saucepan, and non-stick pan. It basically does everything… braise, sear, steam, strain, saute, fry and boil. Its non-toxic ceramic coating is free from lead, nanoparticles, and toxic metals. The Always Pan comes with a stainless steel strainer and built-in spatula.
Milo specializes in enameled cast-iron cookware and offers a lifetime guarantee. It offers dutch ovens in two sizes and a skillet. The enamel makes its wares naturally non-stick and they come in a chic black or white colorway.
Caraway offers several ceramic non-stick pans and a dutch oven. Its high-quality ceramic-coated aluminum is free from toxic metals while also providing even heat distribution and easy cleaning. Caraway also certifies that its manufacturing partners provide fair pay, a safe working environment, and benefits. It uses recycled cardboard packaging, low-impact dyes, and cork trivets.
Cast-iron skillets are versatile, chemical-free, and last forever. What’s more, they release healthy doses of iron in your food, which is particularly beneficial for those suffering from anemia. Field Company’s non-stick cast-iron skillets are made in the United States and come with a comprehensive cleaning guide and seasoning instructions.
Great Jones’ non-stick skillets and sheet pans are coated in non-toxic ceramic, rather than Teflon. Its dutch ovens are enameled cast-iron, and pot handles are designed to stay cool while cooking. The color choices are also impeccable!
Finex cast-iron skillets are handcrafted in Portland, Oregon. They’re sturdy, chemical-free and the handles are specially designed to stay cool. The distinct octagonal shape makes it easier to pour and flip, and can be used to evenly release steam.
Copper is the premium material when it comes to cookware. It was one of the earliest metals used by humans and its conductivity is unparalleled, meaning it will heat quickly and evenly. Typically, due to the cost of the raw material, copper pots and pans are reserved for professional cooks or very committed amateur cooks. Amoretti Brothers’ cookware is made entirely out of copper with a tin cladding in Mexico. Each piece is made by hand using traditional techniques.