Sadly, many manufacturers of cookware care little for the health of their customers. They know people are always looking to save money and they happily sell them pots, pans and baking dishes that are made with dangerous (yet less costly) metals, substances, chemicals, and ingredients. In this module, I go down the totem pole of safe cookware. While good cookware isn’t cheap, I do have a few tips at the end for getting safe pots and pans at a bargain.
The Unhealthy Choice
There’s a large variety of plastic cooking devices on the market: plastic kettles, plastic rice cookers and plastic vegetable steamers. They are all made of hard plastic, and they all involve bringing water to a boil. Plastic is a toxic petroleum-based product. When you heat soft plastic, it melts. When you heat hard plastic, it can leech some petrochemicals into the food or liquid that it is heating up. I discourage the use of microwave ovens, but if you use one, do not put the food in a plastic dish. Use microwave safe glass or ceramic dishes. And, especially, try to refrain from using the disposable plastic containers that are used to package most processed food.
The Next Most Dangerous Cookware Award Goes To…
Teflon – it’s also plastic! Along with Teflon include any “non-stick” cookware that uses an imitation form of this technology. Teflon is made with a plastic polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). An estimated 95% of the American population is said to have traces of this chemical in their bloodstream.The point is that even if you’re not eating the food from Teflon cookware, you really don’t even want to be in the same room as it when it’s being heated up.
Evil Cookware #3
Cooking with this aluminum will only leech into your food and your body and tissues. If you have to choose between aluminum, plastic or Teflon, aluminum is the best of the worst. Most restaurants use aluminum. A little exposure once in a while is no big deal as you can detox it — but personally I don’t recommend you cook with it.
My Nickel’s Worth of Warning
Stainless steel really wouldn’t be bad at all if it weren’t for the fact that as much as 8% of its alloy is often made of nickel. Due to allergic reactions many earrings are now made nickel free and there are strict regulations in Europe regarding how much nickel is allowed in products that will touch human skin. Now, we don’t know how much nickel leeches from the cookware when heated. It may be a lot. It may be none. Some stainless steel cookware is coated with enamel. Enamel can chip over time, leaving you without protection from leaching metals.
What About 100% Stainless Steel?
If your stainless steel cookware says 100% stainless steel, then it’s a safe product. Check out stainless cookware crafted with a layer of aluminum in a thick disk at the bottom of the pot – nowhere near your food. Some products have a layer of copper either alone or with aluminum to help conduct the heat.
Cookware So Safe You Can Cook With It
The safest types of pots and pans to use and ones that conduct heat well are: iron (used for thousands of years), ceramic, glass, and stone. That’s it in a nutshell!
So Exactly What Should I Do?
If you have non-stick pots and pans, seriously consider throwing them away. Here’s how to make up your mind. If you have non-stick pots and pans (Teflon) older than a year, or that have scratches, consider replacing them when you can. Invest in safe iron, glass, ceramic or stone cookware.
If you are not very strong or suffer joint or muscle pain, iron cookware may not be the best choice. It’s very heavy even when empty. It also takes longer to heat up. But once it is hot, it stays hot and provides a very even and reliable heat source (perfect for Saturday morning pancakes). But keep the potholders handy because the handles also heat up. If you suffer from high iron levels or don’t do well with iron-rich food you may want to avoid iron pots. If your iron levels are usually low or you suffer from anemia, then iron pots may be ideal.
They tend to be expensive when bought new, but literally last for generations. Unlike other pots and pans, which can be ruined in a half-hour because you forgot to turn off the burner, iron pots are hard to damage. Oh, and don’t worry about them being hard to clean. Unlike stainless steel or Teflon, you can take a wire wool scrubber to iron without worrying about scratching it. Cleaning requires some backbone, but it’s not as difficult as working with stainless steel that burns easily and scratches when you look at it.
You can also move an iron pan from a hot burner to cold water without any concern about damaging it (unless, of course, it has a ceramic enamel coating, which I mentioned above). Just remember to use thick kitchen mittens when moving hot iron pots and pans. The iron handles can heat up as much as the pan. Use both hands and know exactly where you are going. Don’t just use one hand to carry the pot while you are making a space with the other hand. These babies are heavy!
Glassware works fine and is relatively inexpensive. The only thing to worry about with glass is that it breaks easily, shatters sometimes and explodes on occasion. That got your attention, didn’t it! You need to make sure glassware is always exposed to even heat. Never put a big glass pot on a small burner, for example. You also never move it from a hot burner or oven to cold water; that’s when the shattering and explosions occur.
Ceramic baking dishes are inexpensive and fairly easy to find. Pots and pans are a little more difficult to find and more expensive.
Many stoneware products are coated with a “non-stick” or aluminum exterior. When looking for stone cookware make sure they have no exterior coating or you might settle for a ceramic coating and beware of enamel coating.
Questions and Answers
I can’t afford to change my cookware. What can I do? Because of their heavy weight and not being as easy to clean as good ol’ toxic Teflon, you can often find iron cookware second hand at a very good price. Visit thrift shops and yard sales. You may be surprised at what you find. Also try phoning friends or family. Many people have forgotten that they have old iron cookware in the attic or basement collecting dust. And, your grandmother might not be using her old iron pots and pans because they just got too heavy.