You’ve made the commitment to eat clean, but are you cooking all of this healthy food on cookware covered in toxic substances…that are leaching out into your healthy food? I’ve put together a series of several articles on this topic, and today we are going to examine non-toxic cookware options.
First of all, I want to ensure I’m completely clear in that I am not telling you to go out and replace all of your cookware – especially all at once. It’s expensive to do. When we went clean, it was food first, cleaning and bath/beauty products second, and cookware third. In fact, at the time of this article being published, we are still only 75% by replacing our cookware. I’m here to give you the facts, and it’s up to you to discern if, when, and how you decide to replace some or all of your cookware.
Rest assured, I will walk you step by step through the toxins, the toxic cookware, healthier alternatives, and where to start. I won’t leave you hanging… pinky swear promise!
Teflon and Non-Stick Surfaces
Let’s start with non-stick cookware because it’s a mainstay in pretty much every kitchen. Non-stick coatings, including Teflon, Anolon, Caphalon, and Tefal, are made with a carcinogenic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which emit toxic fumes that you inhale every time you cook with a non-stick pot or pan. (*note – you may also look for polytetrafluoroetheylene or PTFE). In one study, over 90% of people tested showed significant levels of these carcinogens in their blood. Non-stick chemicals have been linked to birth defects, liver toxicity, cancer, the flu, and other diseases.
While Teflon (Chemours) claims that Teflon is safe for humans, it warns that “cooking fumes from any type of unattended or overheated cookware, not just nonstick, can quickly kill pet birds and damage a bird’s lungs with alarming speed,” (source). Even the EPA admits that PFOAs have been “linked to cancer… developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, liver damage, and immunity and thyroid issues,” (source).
We use a lot of aluminum foil in our home. There. I said it. I understand the dangers of aluminum, but it’s still one step at a time. I’m being completely open and honest with you because this whole process isn’t something that most people can do overnight. Because of what I’ve learned from researching this article, I started substituting parchment paper on top of baking sheets instead of cooking directly on the baking sheet or with aluminum foil. Baby steps.
Aluminum is a toxic heavy metal that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, some cancers, autism, and asthma. It is a highly reactive substance, especially with acidic foods…. meaning… when aluminum is heated, the harmful chemicals will leach into your food. There is an environmental impact to aluminum cookware as well, as aluminum must be mined and processed, which contributes to pollution.
Baking Sheet Alternatives
Stainless steel is your best bet here. This cookie sheet is a great alternative. If you’re using an aluminum baking sheet, as long as it’s not nonstick—just make sure to use either non-bleached parchment paper, or try these awesome French-made Silpat baking sheets. Just as an FYI… there isn’t a lot of research on silicone. Everything I could find points to the fact it is safe to use, but it doesn’t have a complete vote of confidence yet. Put it this way, silicone is safer than Teflon or aluminum.
The Safer Alternatives
Now onto the four safer alternatives…
Stainless steel is one of the good guys, but you need to be mindful of the quality. Stainless steel is an alloy of several metals, including chromium, cadmium, and nickel, which can leach into your food, so it’s best to ensure these metals are limited. Stainless steel is durable, resists cracks, and is the least reactive of all metals.
Recommended Brands: All-Clad and Cuisinart
Cast iron has been a staple in homes for years. It is inexpensive, durable, chemical-free, and an excellent heat conductor. And, when properly seasoned, it becomes naturally non-stick. The seasoned coating has a polymerized fat which acts as a barrier between the iron and your food and becomes a non-stick surface.
Cast iron pans are best for cooking food that is not extremely wet – such as sauteing vegetables or making frittatas.
Recommended Brands: Le Creuset, Lodge, Staub
Resource Article: Cast Iron 101: How to Care, Clean, and Season
Stoneware is another cookware that has been around for years. It is naturally non-stick and non-reactive. It heats evenly. Stoneware is great for baking. Like cast iron, stoneware needs to be seasoned with a layer of fat or oil when first used.
Recommended Brands: Le Creuset
Glass is safe, but is not a top heat conductor and does not respond well to dramatic temperature changes. If you are heating up leftovers, you don’t want the container to go immediately from the refrigerator or freezer straight into the oven. Hot glassware should never be placed on wet countertops or placed in water while still hot.
Eco-Friendly and Price-Conscious Shopping
Since cast-iron, stoneware, and glass are all made to be durable, these are items you can look for used/pre-owned instead of buying new. Be sure to purchase from trusted sources, and inspect the item carefully when purchasing to identify any chips or cracks. And if you are purchasing through CraigsList or a similar source, be sure to exercise safety and meet in a public place! Here are a few eco-friendly and less expensive sources to consider:
- Yard sales or flea markets
- Neighborhood swap
- Local Facebook “yard sales”
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