We go to great lengths to eat right, avoid GMO foods and foods laced with pesticides, antibiotics and steroids. But if we truly care about our health we will give as much consideration to the cookware we use to prepare our food as we do the food we eat.
Our bodies are already under a full-time chemical assault. In addition to the chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers used on our foods while they are growing and the chemicals they are exposed to during processing, there are chemicals in the packaging.
We don’t want to exacerbate the problem by using cookware that emits poisons into the air or leaches them into our food. So the cookware in which we prepare our meals is as important as our foods.
Non-stick cookware is a source of polyfluoroalkyls and perfluoroalklys, also known as PFAS. PFASs are fluorinated chemicals that create the non-stick surface. When heated, PFASs release perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – also known as C8 — a long-chain perfluorinated chemical linked to a host of health problems. Among them are thyroid disease, infertility in women, organ damage and reproductive problems.
About 12 years ago a lawsuit against DuPont uncovered evidence that the company had hidden information about known health hazards from its Teflon-coated cookware. In 2004, DuPont agreed to pay up to $343 million to settle the lawsuit alleging that PFOA, used in the manufacture of Teflon at a certain plant, had contaminated drinking water nearby. The Environmental Protection Agency determined that PFOAs were likely carcinogens. In response, DuPont settled with the government and agreed to phase out PFOAs. But it replaced them with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are just as harmful.
The EPA likewise considers PFCs as likely carcinogens, yet they continue appearing in coated pans, furniture, stains, protective sprays, food wrappers, paints and cleaning products.
If you use cookware coated with Teflon or similar products like Greblon, Silverston, Supra or Excaliber, you should remove them from use. You should also avoid cooking with kitchen utensils made from nonstick materials and silicone.
Ceramic-coated cookware consists of a metal pan coated with ceramic coating. The pan is usually made of aluminum. While the ceramic coating (if it’s made by a reputable American company to current standards) will not leach toxins, if the ceramic coating becomes chipped, cracked or worn it can leach aluminum and even lead (if it’s an old pan and lead was used in the processing).
Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain diseases. Aluminum cookware is often coated, but, like in ceramic-coated, the coating can wear off resulting in exposure to aluminum leached into foods. And the human body stores aluminum in the lungs, brain, tissues and bones, which leads to muscular problems, memory loss and other issues.
Copper is a soft metal that begins leaching into the foods quickly in the heating process. Exposure to copper results in copperiedus, or copper poisoning. Acute symptoms of copper poisoning include vomiting (including blood), hypotension, melena, coma, jaundice and gastrointestinal stress.
Some copper pans are coated – but many of them are coated with compounds containing nickel. Nickel is a carcinogenic metal known to be an environmental and occupational pollutant.
The New York University School of Medicine warns that chronic nickel exposure has been connected with increased risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological deficits, developmental deficits in childhood, and high blood pressure. Nickel has also been linked to liver damage and breast cancer.
Glass, stainless steel and cast iron cookware are all far superior to Teflon – and ceramic-coated, as well as aluminum and metal cookware. Neither glass nor stainless steel leaches toxins. Cast iron will leach some iron during use, but Americans don’t get enough iron from their diets, so any iron that gets into the food from the pans is beneficial.
Unlike aluminum, copper and lead, which are toxic heavy metals, iron is an essential mineral. It’s an important part of hemoglobin, which transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, and a component of myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Iron is essential for normal cell function and synthesis of some hormones and connective tissues.
I’ve been cooking with cast iron cookware for decades and I wouldn’t cook with anything else. And when I cook I use only stainless steel or wooden utensils.
I have pans more than 100 years old and they function better than new because the more they are used the better the seasoning becomes. Properly seasoned and cared for, cast iron is truly non-stick, lasts forever, is multifunctional and provides health benefits.
Next week I’ll discuss how to choose, season and properly care for your cast iron cookware.