Navigating Non-Toxic Cookware
The holidays are right around the corner and along with that are lots of delicious home-cooked meals, slowing down a bit, and spending time with family and friends. As we give thanks for our health and the health of others, it only seems fitting to talk about how the cookware we are using to create these meals may be contributing to our toxin load. The idea of non-toxic cookware seems tabu, but if you think about it, the materials used to make our cookware are coming in very close contact with the food that we are ingesting. So for this holiday season, we want to educate you on what types of toxins are commonly found in our cookware and what cookware we can use to know that we’re safe.
Common Toxins in Kitchen Pans and Cookware
Let’s take a closer look at some of the toxins that might be lurking in your cookware. Keep in mind, this post is meant to highlight cooking pots, pans, and baking sheets. There are other toxins lurking in water bottles, Tupperware, take home containers, etc. but for the purpose of simplicity, we will save those for another post.
PERFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAs)
Known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they build up in your body and never break down in the environment (yikes!). This class of polymers gives cookware it’s non-stick coating. You may have heard about these popular PFAs below, but these are only 2 of thousands of PFAs that are still used as non-stick coatings. Not only is it important to avoid the chemicals listed below, but it’s also important to head caution when buying anything labeled as “non-stick” as it might contain another type of PFA not listed here, which is still as toxic to our health. These chemicals are labeled as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The EWG has some great information to learn more about PFAs.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) Also trademarked as “Teflon”, this chemical gives cookware a non-stick coating. One of the main concerns with this compound is that when it heats up, we inhale the toxic fumes during cooking. Teflon is possibly carcinogenic and should be avoided in cookware.
Until 2013, Perfluorooctanoic Acids (PFOAs) were used as a non-stick coating. They are resistant to water and lipids which make them a frequently used option on various types of cookware. This chemical is linked to cancer, can cause endocrine disruption leading to infertility and weight gain, as well as mental health issues and problems with the liver.
Although these two chemicals have been mostly phased out, most non-stick cookware will still use some type of PFA to achieve that non-stick coating.
If you have non-stick pans now, practice using them safely. Never use metal utensils on them as the coating is more likely to scratch off and be ingested. Store them properly so that the coating doesn’t scratch from rubbing on another pan. Only use it when you’re cooking things on low heat and make sure to run the kitchen exhaust every time you cook.
ALUMINUM + COPPER
Both aluminum and copper can build up in our bodies and create toxicity. The jury is still out as to how bad aluminum and copper are in cookware and how much we’re actually consuming, but we tend to lean toward precautionary principle, which means if it’s not proven safe—it’s best to avoid it. Avoid cooking your turkey in an aluminum pan and opt for a stainless steel pan instead.
When we use anodized aluminum or aluminum foil with anything acidic, the aluminum can leach into our food and we can consume it. Aluminum has been linked to neurological disorders, specifically Alzheimers and could be worse for people who may have kidney issues, as they are less likely to process the aluminum.
Some copper can be good for us, but if you’re using copper, avoid cooking anything acidic in it, as that has the highest potential for leaching into whatever you are cooking and high levels of copper in the body can cause toxicity.
LEAD AND CADMIUM
Lead and cadmium can be in the coatings of ceramic cookware and should definitely be considered when purchasing glass or enamel products. Both lead and cadmium have been limited in dish-ware but are not very regulated. To avoid these metals in your kitchenware, look for California Prop 65 warnings and avoid buying dish-ware with this warning.
There is no safe level of lead and it can cause neurological issues, especially in children who are still developing. Look for options that are “certified lead free” and unglazed—and keep in mind where they are being manufactured. Some countries have stricter lead regulations, where places like China and Mexico do not. An amazing resource to learn about lead in your cookware, dishes, and toys is Lead Safe Mama.
Cadmium is a natural metal found in nature and can also be found in the pigments of certain glazes on ceramic dish-ware to create an orange or red pigmentation. Exposure to cadmium can lead to certain neurological disorders and is best avoided.
What to Look for in Safe Kitchen Pans and Cookware
Be wary of non-stick pans labeled as “PFOA Free” or free of one of the above chemicals may actually have been replaced with something similar in toxicity, so beware.
Consider what the raw material is of the pan. Does this cause harm to your health?
Does the pan contain a glaze or enamel? If so, be wary and make sure it doesn’t have a California Prop 65 warning.
Is the pan durable? How long will it last? Consider the environment and your pocket book by investing in lifetime pieces as opposed to ones that will end up in the landfill.
STAINLESS STEEL = Safe!
Stainless steel is my top choice for healthy cookware. Not only is it non-toxic, it’s going to last a lifetime. The main concern with stainless steel is clean-ability and the best way to clean your stainless pieces is to use Baking Soda to clean it. Your pans will sparkle like new forever with the right care and maintenance. Also, these pans can become incredibly non-stick with the right oil. My favorite oil to use, specifically when cooking eggs, is coconut oil. Coconut oil creates a nice layer to keep those eggs from sticking to the pan.
Pictured: All-Clad Stainless Steel cookware
CAST IRON AND ENAMELED CAST IRON PANS = Safe!
Cast iron is another great option for cooking! It distributes heat evenly and can be used on both the stove and oven, it’s inexpensive, and when seasoned and maintained properly it is non-stick. It’s best used with non-acidic meals, as the acidity can leach some iron into your food. This can be good or bad depending on your current iron levels. If you’re worried about leaching, enameled cast iron can be a great option as it has all of the same great qualities of cast iron. Pay attention to make sure there’s not a California Prop 65 warning, so you can avoid high levels of lead or cadmium that might be in the glaze and pigmentation of enameled cookware.
Pictured: Lodge cookware
CERAMIC COOKWARE = Safe!
Through body ceramic cookware can be a healthy option as well and works great for many people. Ceramic offers great heat conduction for a nice even cook. Similar to cast iron, it can be used on both the stove and the over. Because it is through-body there is no concern of the coating peeling off over the life of using the product. It does not leach into your food and works well with acidic dishes!
Pictured: Xtrema cookware
Be Cautious of "Green" Cookware and Ceramic Coatings
Be wary of companies claiming to be green or “non-toxic”. Alternatives used in replace of the chemicals above don’t always mean “non-toxic”; they might be just as toxic but not have mainstream awareness yet.
Ceramic coatings on cookware can wear off easily and only last a couple of years. You may end up buying multiple pans when you could have just invested in one of the high quality options above that will last you a lifetime.
We’re a fan of slowly swapping out our products over time so it’s not as big of an investment to swap to cleaner products for our home. Many of these companies will be having Black Friday sales, so take advantage of those while you can! If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of healthy homes and learn how you can specifically improve the health of your home head on over to www.awakeningspaces.com to learn more about how we might be able to help. We wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season!
This article was written and contributed by:
CEO, Owner, Lead Designer at Awakening Spaces
Ashley, the founder of Awakening Spaces, supports environmentally susceptible and health-conscious individuals in creating safe, healthy, and beautiful environments. As a licensed Interior Designer, she combines her expertise of the construction industry with her knowledge of health and wellbeing to support and empower you along your own journey in creating a healing environment. Ashley is currently pursuing a triple certification in Building Biology and will soon be certified to assess your home for mold, electro-magnetic radiation, and other harmful environmental toxins. Awakening Spaces offers both Full Service Interior Design as well as Environmental Health Coaching services for those looking to improve the health of their home. Ashley finds inspiration in her work through nature and is most grounded when spending time outdoors and exploring new places.