Healthy Cookware: It’s Important for You (and Your Pets!)
I often have patients and clients asking me about the best options for healthy cookware. This post will review both the good and the bad regarding the detriments and benefits of different types of pots and pans.
Did you know that people with pet birds are told to avoid cooking with nonstick teflon cookware because the gasses they release can kill them (the birds not the owners…)? Sadly it’s true.
Birds are generally very sensitive to gasses. Canaries were at one time used in coal mines by miners to make sure there were no poisonous gasses in the air. Because of their fast metabolisms, if it wasn’t safe, the birds would die alerting the miners to get out of the mine as soon as possible.
Independent research has shown that pans with nonstick coatings can release up to 15 toxic gases and chemicals, including two known carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds). Teflon (the cookware coating that has been known to kill pet birds) contains an ingredient called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA.) PFOA has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer in animal research studies and is currently classified as a possible carcinogen in humans. A recent study showed that when humans are exposed to this chemical have greater weight gain, and a lower resting metabolic rate.
Because of this, some manufacturers are phasing out PFOA cookware and replacing it with other nonstick compounds. Unfortunately, these compounds are very similar to PFOAs and may well carry the same risks. It’s best to avoid them in general.
Other Potentially Toxic Choices
Any time you heat a metal pan it leaches some of that metal into the food you are eating. This is potentially dangerous with aluminum cookware as excessive intake of aluminum can lead to toxicity. Some studies are pointing to aluminum toxicity as one of the causative factors in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Copper cookware is often lined with other metals including nickel. Lower quality stainless steel cookware also typically contains high amounts of nickel. For individuals with nickel allergies this can be a big problem. If enough of it is consumed it can cause toxicity.
Healthier Cookware Options
When considering a healthier option for cookware, I look for materials that do
not cause toxicity and may provide some health benefit. In my research, I have found that you usually have to spend a little more for high-quality options, but it’s worth figuring out a way to make it happen. Amazon and even Target now carry some very good brands that are affordable.
Silicone cookware is purported to be inert and safe. As with any sort of material, it has the potential to break down and release toxins if you heat it at high enough temperatures. It’s best practice to use silicone cookware at low temperatures.
Cast iron is a great option for cooking. If you season it well it is essentially a nonstick surface! It heats evenly and well. It is relatively affordable. And bonus, if you are low on iron, are vegetarian, or otherwise want to get some extra iron, cast iron will actually leach iron into your food and up your blood levels!
The amount of iron that gets into your food is dependent on the particular food. For instance, if you put spaghetti sauce in a cast iron skillet the amount of iron in your food can increase nearly ten times (so much so that you might even be able to taste it!) If you put rice in a cast iron skillet the amount of iron in the rice present doubles.
Coated cast iron (enameled) is a better choice If you already have high iron. Iron, when not needed, can cause oxidative damage to your cells. If you use enameled cast iron the metal will stay in the pan and not get in your food.
Other good choices include ceramic, titanium, high-quality stainless steel (nickel-free), and glass. These of cookware are nonreactive and will not leach anything into your foods. Be aware though that often cheaper pots and pans are lower quality and may be manufactured with potentially toxic metals or chemicals. Just do your research. Hat tip: try Craig’s List, Goodwill, or freecycle for one-off pieces of higher quality brands!
If you’ve got any more questions about cookware feel free to be in touch via my contact form, I’m always happy to help.
Yours in Health,