Safe Alternatives to Dangerous and Damaging Cookware
With all the available choices today in cookware, how do you know what cookware is safe to use for yourself and your family?
Not only are there so many choices, there seem to be just as many varying opinions as to which types of cookware are truly safe. First, let’s determine which types are, without question, potentially dangerous and damaging, and then we will explore what I consider the safest alternatives.
The Granddaddy of Dangerous Cookware
Any discussion about unsafe cookware must start with non-stick pans. Americans have loved them and used them for years. When first introduced, they quickly became a “staple” in just about every kitchen. People found them to be easy to use and clean, and were delighted that they could cook with little or no fat.
The “granddaddy” of non-stick pans is of course, Teflon, made by DuPont. Introduced in 1946, Teflon contained an essential ingredient known as C8 for more than 60 years. C8, or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is an unregulated industrial chemical that’s responsible for Teflon’s slippery cooking surface.
Over the past 15 years, lawyers have been waging a battle against DuPont over Teflon and C8. This is about the same time I started warning my readers about the evidence that was accumulating about this dangerous substance.
Lawyers have discovered hundreds of internal communications proving DuPont employees knew for many years that C8 was harmful. Yet, they continued to use C8 and other dangerous PFOAs or poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), exposing workers and nearby residents to the harmful substances.
In addition to incriminating communications, lawyers have also uncovered documents hidden away for decades in DuPont’s files describing a wide range of health effects and deaths of lab animals, including rats, dogs, and rabbits, from C8 trials.
Considered by some to be the “tobacco of the chemical industry,” no fewer than 3,500 personal injury claims against C8 have been filed to date. Regardless of what anyone says, there are no safe limits for C8 or other PFOAs. They accumulate in your body and the environment. Save yourself from their potential ill effects. If you still have any Teflon or Teflon-like pans in your kitchen, please discard them right away.
The Newer Non-Stick PFOA-Free Cookware May Not Be Much Better
There’s a famous quote penned by Robin Cook: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!” I believe that might apply to the newer non-stick pans labeled “PFOA-free”.
Manufacturers of newer non-stick pans claim they don’t contain Teflon or PFOAs like C8. While it may be true that some of the long-chain PFOAs and PFASs are being regulated or phased out, they are commonly replaced with short-chain PFASs with similar structures and qualities.
In May 2015, more than 200 scientists from 40 countries signed the Madrid Statement, which warns about the harms of all fluorochemicals (PFAS), both old and new. It lists many of the documented health effects associated with the older, long-chain PFASs.
Addressing the newer short-chain PFASs, the Statement points out:
- While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances or have persistent degradation products.
- A switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be required.
- Little information is publicly available on these alternatives’ chemical structures, properties, uses, and toxicological profiles.
- Increased use of these alternatives will lead to increasing levels of degradation products in the environment, and possibly also in humans. This would potentially increase the risks of adverse effects on human health and the environment.
It’s difficult to know for sure what’s being used to make the newer pans slippery and non-stick. DuPont fooled us for decades. Can you really trust them and other chemical manufacturers?
Watch out for “green” non-stick cookware. It’s often ceramic-coated and some of that inexpensive ceramic material may contain heavy metals.
Metal Pots and Pans – A Safe Cookware Alternative?
Along with non-stick cookware, many homes are also equipped with metal pots and pans. Are they any safer?
- Aluminum cookware is not a type of cookware that I can recommend. This heavy metal is easily absorbed into food. Aluminum is a strongly suspected causal factor in Alzheimer’s disease, so the less contact with aluminum, especially for cooking, the better. Even anodized aluminum with an oxide layer to help thicken the surface of the pan may have the potential for aluminum toxicity.
- Enameled cast iron cookware is a safer option as they don’t leach metals or chemicals into your food. However, they can be a more expensive option, but they are durable, and high-quality enameled cast iron cookware will last a long time. These are safer to use than regular cast iron cookware that can leach iron into your food.
- Stainless steel cookware has alloys that contain nickel, chromium, molybdenum, and carbon. For those individuals with nickel allergies, this option may not be the best. Some inexpensive stainless steel pots and pans are more likely to contain a higher proportion of nickel filler that can leach into your food. Higher quality stainless steel will cost you more, but it may be a better choice if you’re looking for safer cookware.
- Copper cookware is lined with other metals. This type of cookware must be lined to prevent the copper from releasing into your food and causing copper poisoning. Depending upon which metals are used in the lining, the same concerns apply for each of those metals, especially if nickel is used.
- Titanium cookware may be another safe cookware option. It doesn’t react with food while cooking, but tends to be one of the more expensive options.
- Ceramic, enamel, and glass cookware may be manufactured with lead or coated with toxic materials, especially if they are of lower quality. My high-quality Healthy Chef Ceramic Cookware contains no lead nor does it contain any other metals like cadmium, aluminum, copper, nickel, chromium, iron, or other heavy metals.
The Dark Side of Cooking With Cast Iron Cookware
Many cooks swear by cast iron cookware, and their grandmothers likely did, too. Well-seasoned cast iron cookware quickly cooks foods to perfection with minimal sticking.
However, there is something that every cook who uses cast iron cookware needs to be aware of. Cast iron that is not ceramic-coated leaches small amounts of iron when you cook foods. Cooking with high acidic foods like tomatoes will cause higher levels of iron absorption.
This may be a minimal concern if you are a woman who is still menstruating. You likely lose iron every month. However if you are a man or a post-menopausal woman, you may be at a higher risk for iron overload and its toxic effects. Iron can build up in your body and high iron levels can potentially lead to the production of free radicals that can damage neurons in your brain.
If you use cast iron cookware, be sure to monitor your serum iron levels with a simple blood test, called a serum ferritin test, and take appropriate steps if your levels exceed the healthy range between 20 and 80 ng/ml.
Safe Ceramic Cookware: My Top Choice for Everyday Use
Authentic ceramic cookware will be made only with water and inorganic materials and minerals from the earth’s crust. Because it doesn’t contain any metals, a true ceramic pan is non-reactive and free of harmful toxins. No odors or gases are released into the air even when heated to extremely high temperatures.
The ceramic used in the Mercola Ceramic Cookware is similar to a common brick which is also kiln fired ceramic. Both are durable, sturdy, and long lasting.
Unlike the PFAS in non-stick cookware, ceramic is not associated with any ill effects on your thyroid, liver and other organs, brain, immune system, hormone levels, cholesterol levels, and weight. Ceramic cookware is safer for you, your family, your pets, and the environment.
Safe ceramic cookware, like my Mercola Healthy Chef Ceramic Cookware, is not made using PFOA or PFAS, nor does it contain any heavy metals.
Its benefits include:
- No trace metals or dangerous chemicals leach from the cooking surface to affect the flavor of your food or your health
- No toxic or harsh chemical coating to flake off into your food
- Can withstand temperatures as high as 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (steel melts at 2,200 degrees)
Be aware of decorative pottery that may look like ceramic cookware. Pottery tends to be weaker and more brittle. It is not like true ceramic cookware. Much of it is not designed to withstand high oven temperatures or everyday use. Imported pottery can also contain high levels of lead that can leach into your food when heated.
Beyond Safe Cookware: How You Cook Matters
Many cooks like to cook foods at high temperatures, believing they taste better. Cooking at lower temperatures offers many advantages, both to your cookware and your health. Lower cooking temperatures are easier on any type of cookware, and help keep cookware safe longer.
High cooking temperatures can destroy many nutrients in food. Cooking food at high temperatures can also promote the formation of several carcinogenic compounds, including aromatic hydrocarbon, benzopyrene, and heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which are linked to stomach, pancreatic, colon and breasts cancers.
There is growing evidence that roasting, grilling, or frying protein at temperatures over 180 degrees Celsius plays a major role in the pathogenesis of colon cancer. Heating proteins can also lead to the formation of unnatural peptides and amino acids that can make them less digestible.
Whatever safe cookware you choose, take your time and cook your food gently and at as low of a temperature as possible. It’s easier on your cookware and will be much better for your health.
To start reaping all the benefits of high-quality ceramic cookware mentioned above, order my Mercola Healthy Chef Ceramic Cookware today.