By Dr. Julianne Monica ANJC Nutrition Education Council Chair Well
It is most likely that a part or all of your cookware leaches metal and/or other toxic elements: Fluoride, aluminum, tin and nickel, primarily. We are so used to associating these things with cookware that we have forgotten how “poisonous” they really are. And non-toxic elements can leech from cookware too like copper and chromium. We might want the convenience of “dishwasher safe” cookware and not want to bother with the care of cast iron and the like. Maybe non–stick cookware is essential for your kitchen survival, and functional performance takes a secondary role?
A little understanding of what your current options are and their value, performance and health impact may help with more informed choices. We can create for ourselves less toxic metal exposure just by choosing better pots and pans. I have metal toxic patients whose exposure we could only associate with cookware. This is getting to be a more common issue. While the medical establishment recognizes the acute toxicity that may occur from high levels of metals/toxins in your body, far more people suffer the adverse effects of low-level, chronic exposure. And cookware may be a main contributing cause. Nickel and other metals and poisons flood the environment and invade your system. Managing how you cook your food each day can give you some control over your toxic load.
High toxic levels lead to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain and neurologic disorders. But clinically we find these toxicities problematic to many systems and overall functioning. Many products are developed for the sake of convenience without concern for human health – Cookware has been no different. Teflon coated, non-stick cookware when heated has proven to be a primary source of a dangerous toxic fluoride derivative, specifically, perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs). Teflon cookware is probably the worst cookware of all time.
I mention this because so many people still seem to use these pans. A word about copper cookware: It is toxic. Not a good option. When you heat uncoated copper – it leaches! Even copper cookware that is coated can contain and leach nickel. Too much copper in the diet will depress a zinc level which is linked to malfunctioning of the adrenals and the thyroid. And zinc is most essential for immune functioning. So, let’s reap the benefits without the ills! I rated the cookware below based on: least leaching, heat responsiveness and price.
The healthful choices are:
- 100% ceramic cookware (non–coated) is very safe and functional cookware to use and to avoid these toxic issues. But ceramic, even 100%, does chip and that would be an issue in my kitchen.
- Enameled coated, cast iron cookware is virtually heavy metal free on the cooking surface with superior performance and durability. Although, this cookware can be heavy to use on a day-to-day basis, and it is also pricy. An example of this is Le Creuset cookware.
- Cast Iron is another healthful option. This cookware minimally leaches iron – a micronutrient that we need. High blood levels due to cookware are rare. Accumulations could be managed by discontinuing use whereas it is much more difficult to rid the body of toxic, heavy metal buildup as the body does not utilize or easily discard these substances.
- Stainless steel can leach small amounts of nickel into your food. This has always been a concern of mine. How is that metal mixed and bonded? For a long time, stainless was one of the top “health” pics. The optimal nickel-chromium ratio for the least amount of leaching for stainless steel is 18-10 and the 316 grade. You should be able to see these product details on the labeling when buying. I noticed online they are usually well noted.
- My overall best, and most healthful, pick is carbon stainless steel (CSS). These fry pans are made of a strong, durable, 12-gauge carbon steel. The leaching/oxidation factor is far less than stainless. Some brands come pre-seasoned with soy oil. This offers a natural easy-release, low-stick finish that only improves with use and seasoning. You’ll be cooking healthier by limiting the overall amount of added oils needed, too. They have been a staple in most commercial kitchens worldwide but are just being utilized in American home kitchens more lately. These metal pans of course, do not chip. There is no type of surface covering them to damage and peel. Some brands producing thinner pans have been known to warp. Buy smart! Examples of good brands are:
- Matfer Bourgeat, a family owned, French business established in the 19th century. They sell CSS pans globally and with a commitment to sustainability. All of their manufacturing sites are ISO – environmentally certified and target minimal carbon footprints. And of course, I rated them for overall performance too – A solid choice for CSS.
- And my #1 pic for a CSS brand is, Lodge. They are well known for their cast iron products but their carbon pans are getting great reviews. The only con for some might be that this cookware, and most all CSS, is not stainless steel shiny and they do not come in a wide variety of matching sets. They have a great weighty feel but are not near as heavy as cast iron. You buy for instance, a crepe pan, for its specific use. And of course, there are pans in all sizes. They are all about their function! This choice is based on manufacturer’s quality, superior price point and these pans are made in the good old U.S. of A. (See: Lodge.com). And there are many informative YouTube videos for their use and care.
Jensen CS, Menné T, Lisby S, Kristiansen J, Veien NK. Experimental systemic contact dermatitis from nickel: a dose–response study. Contact Dermatitis. 2003;49:124–132. [PubMed]
A-J Manufacturing. “304 vs. 316 Stainless”.