Cookware: Which Should You Use For Health And Why

At some point in our lives, it comes time to change the cooking tools that we should have thrown away long ago. We may have become accustomed to an old pot, or an old crusty spatula; however, the materials that compose some of these most used cooking utensils may have some health consequences. 

Let’s look at which materials are harmful for cooking and their consequences and some alternatives we can use instead.

Teflon Coated or Non-Stick

Teflon, also known as Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), was produced by accident in 1938 by Dr. Roy J. Plunkett. It was widely accepted 20 years ago for coating cookware due to its nonstick slippery properties. It was popular in food packaging, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, water-repellent clothing, and even some cosmetics. Since 2013 studies, Teflon has been found to be very unhealthy.

All Teflon pans sold before 2013 have perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) a known carcinogen, a liver toxicant, a developmental toxicant, and an immune system toxicant, and also alters thyroid hormone levels. Since 2013 this chemical has been removed from Teflon in the US and Europe, if you live outside this area, most likely that your Teflon pans will have this chemical in them. Check for the label PFOA free.

Another reason to not use Teflon is due to the fact that it is easily scratched, and when it becomes scratched, tiny particles of short-chain’ PFASs in Teflon can be released into the food and consumed inadvertently, having potential health effects including cancer, immune issues and high cholesterol. PTFE – Polytetrafluoroethylene, a dangerous toxic chemical, is also released from Teflon when heated above 572 degrees F. [1]

The American Cancer Association warns against the use of Teflon in cookware for these reasons. 

Furthermore, a study released this year in PLOS Medicine suggests that perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) from Teflon could be contributing to weight gain and lead to obesity. [2]

Aluminum

There is enough evidence to make us wary of the effects of consuming aluminum. Some scientific studies link this metal to such grave diseases as Alzheimer’s disease because it is considered a neurotoxin. [3] The bad news is that this metal is found in many places all around us. Although we may be unable to control our exposure in all cases, we can at least make better choices when it comes to our cookware. Aluminum foil is also best avoided. On another note, deodorants and other personal hygiene products are places where we may be exposed to aluminum, so we must be wary of this and try to avoid these types of products as well. [4] Moreover, most restaurants use aluminum cookware as this is the cheapest cookware one can find, so it is wise to check your regular restaurants.

Copper

Although copper has an excellent reputation for having superior properties for cooking, we have to be careful that the food we are cooking does not directly come in contact with the copper. [5] We can instead choose copper cookware that has another safe material such as porcelain that lines the pots or pans themselves. This way the food is safe from becoming contaminated with copper, but if scratched or broken, the copper can leach into the food which becomes very toxic especially if the food is acidic.

What Cookware Is Best Used?

So if all of these are not good choices, what safe alternatives are we left with? One of the classics is stainless steel, porcelain as mentioned above, also cast iron, glass, and stoneware.

The benefits of these alternatives are that they do not release fumes or particles that are harmful to our health, in many cases, they are easier to clean as in the case of stoneware, glass, and porcelain. 

Cooking with cast iron gives food a charred effect which is great for making grilled vegetables, potatoes and anything that you want to have a crispy flavor. This type of cookware gets extremely hot and gives food an almost smokey taste. However, the iron does leach into the food, which can be useful for females during childbearing years but less favorable for men due to its possible build up in the body leading to free radical damage. Enameled cast iron cookware doesn’t leak iron but is more difficult to find in the marketplace.

100% Stoneware is becoming more popular in recent times. This type of cookware retains a lot of heat; it is non-toxic, non-stick, and also very durable. One benefit is that with time, it becomes well seasoned and this adds flavor to your meals without any extra effort. 

Granite cookware is good only until it cracks and the sub-lying toxic chemical substances are released.

Glassware – If you are not prone to dropping or breaking things, this could be the option for you. This material does not transfer or absorb odors or flavors.

Stainless steel is my personal favorite. It doesn’t alter the flavor of the food, and it isn’t toxic or too difficult to clean. The only problem is during the first few times it is used, food may stick to it if it is not greased with a bit of fat or oil, but 2-3 uses, this should no longer be a problem.

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you liked best about this article.

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Galit Goldfarb

References:
  1. Sajid M, Ilyas M.PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Oct;24(30):23436-23440.
  2.  Liu G, Dhana K, Furtado JD, Rood J, Zong G, Liang L, et al. (2018) Perfluoroalkyl substances and changes in body weight and resting metabolic rate in response to weight-loss diets: A prospective study. PLoS Med 15(2): e1002502. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002502
  3. Klotz K, Weistenhöfer W, Neff F, Hartwig A, van Thriel C, Drexler H. The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure.Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Sep; 114(39): 653–659.
  4. Tomljenovic L, Shaw CA. Aluminum vaccine adjuvants: are they safe? Curr Med Chem. 2011;18(17):2630-7.
  5. Chen P, Miah MR, Aschner M. Metals and Neurodegeneration. F1000Res. 2016; 5: F1000 Faculty Rev-366.

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