So many of us are cooking clean, organic, healthy food and yet, we’re not thinking about the cookware we’re using every day. So in this episode, I’m going to share all of the research I’ve done about this topic so you can start detoxing your pots and pans.
- Bambu (made from bamboo)
- Proteak (made from FSC-certified wood)
- Crate & Barrel (reclaimed teak, FSC-certified)
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Let me start by saying, this episode was a doozy. It took me an entire working day to research, outline and write the bulk of the information I’m about to share, and I still wasn’t able to get to everything. So many of us are cooking clean, organic, healthy food and yet, we’re not thinking about the cookware we’re using every day. So in this episode, I’m going to share all of the research I’ve done about this topic so you can start detoxing your pots and pans.
I will preface this by saying, I do not have a perfect non-toxic kitchen when it comes to cookware. My family spends half of the year in Massachusetts and half of the year in California, and we have renters coming and going, so that’s two kitchens that I’m trying to slowly furnish with better options. It is an ongoing work in progress and I’m telling you this so that you don’t get overwhelmed by this information.
But I am going to start with the one thing that I would recommend changing as soon as you can and that’s the use of conventional non-stick pans. I recently found out that non-stick pans, later coined as “Teflon,” were accidentally discovered by Dr. Roy Plunkett while working with the DuPont company in the 1930s.
This coating material, used on pans so that ingredients don’t stick, polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE material, was first used during WWII to make seals “resistant to the uranium hexafluoride gas used in development of the atomic bomb.” When they discovered its powerful, non-stick properties, they started using it commercially in cookware in the mid-1940s.
Okay, so this coating is atomic bomb resistant, but the other problem with using it for non-stick cookware is that it’s made with an acid called PFOA. These PFOA chemicals have been shown in numerous studies to potentially cause breast cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart attack, stroke, immune system damage, and pituitary gland damage. It’s so toxic that even the FDA is pressuring manufacturers to phase this chemical out due to its health and environmental concerns. And if you’ve listened to the PSA or Organic Food episodes, you know how I feel about the FDA… it speaks volumes that they’re pressuring the removal of this material.
Okay, so any Teflon or conventional non-stick pots and pans (they’re usually smooth and black in color) should be phased out of your kitchen at your earliest convenience.
Then there is the heavy metal cookware — think aluminum, copper and stainless steel. All have varying degrees of concern and properties you want to be aware of, so let’s start from worst to best.
The worst is Aluminum cookware. And in addition to Teflon or nonstick, it’s also something you’ll want to phase out of your kitchen. As I already discussed early on in the podcast during the episode on Deodorant, aluminum is classified as a health-jeopardizing toxin by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Most notably, studies have shown evidence connecting high levels of aluminum in the brain to Alzheimer’s Disease.
As I’ve also mentioned before, in most cases, exposure to small amounts of aluminum is probably not harmful and also unavoidable, but we are exposed to far more than previous generations ever were. Which is why you’re better off avoiding any additional exposure when cooking your food.
The next metal cookware to be aware of is copper, which can leach into your food when heated on the stove or in the oven. While copper is a mineral that is necessary for our health and well-being, it can become toxic when the body is overexposed to it. It’s also far more common to have too much copper than be copper deficient and cause issues like schizophrenia, Tourette’s, autism and bipolar disorder. I know this sounds extreme but unless you’re regularly getting your mineral levels checked, it’s better to avoid potential copper toxicity.
Also, if you are using copper pots and pans to cook, don’t throw them out! Take a decorating note from my grandmother who has a display of antique copper pots hanging on the wall in her kitchen. They’re beautiful to look at and make for great decor.
And the third metal cookware I want to mention is stainless steel. There is some disagreement about the safety of using stainless steel and the general consensus I’ve come to is that the level of safety depends on the manufacturer.
The main concern with stainless steel is that the metals usually include aluminum, as well as chromium, nickel, titanium and other differing percentages of heavy metals that can leach into your food when heated. Other sources say that the metal alloy used for stainless steel is particularly stable so leaching is of low concern.
So, here’s my take: don’t skimp on the stainless steel pots and pans you do buy. If a magnet doesn’t stick to it, then that means the aluminum levels are too high. Stainless steel leaches the highest amount of metals during the first 6-10 cooking cycles and while cooking acidic foods. So, if you are using stainless steel pans now, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of them. Just do the magnet test and save them for foods with short cook times so that they don’t get overheated.
So, what about ceramic coating or pots and pans with enamel? Again, depending on the source, they may be manufactured with lead. Lead is a neurotoxin that you probably already know you don’t want to mess around with. Make sure to look for specifically non-toxic ceramic cookware and if the enamel or coating does start to chip off, then you’ll want to stop using it.
And before we get into the This for That segment of this episode, just a quick note on storage containers. Stay away from plastic! I repeat, do not store hot food in plastic containers. The heating of plastic releases phthalates and BPA that has shown to cause cancer and other major health defects and diseases. Always let your food cool before storing, store in glass containers and never heat up plastic in the microwave or oven, or freeze it in the freezer.
Okay, so let’s get into the This for That segment. I’m going to go one by one and I will link to all of my product recommendations in the show notes at cleanlivingpodcast.com/cookware
As a review, the pots and pans we’re replacing are anything that’s Teflon, conventional non-stick, aluminum, copper and maybe stainless steel, depending on what you have.
The first alternative is the trusty old…
- CAST IRON – Which is still a great choice for non-toxic cookware. They’re pretty inexpensive because they last a lifetime or in the case of heirlooms or antiques, last multiple lifetimes. The great thing is if a cast iron pan is seasoned properly, then it’s virtually non-stick.
- The only reason you wouldn’t want to use cast iron is if your iron levels are already too high. In some cases, that means menopausal or post-menopausal women, as well as some men, should probably stay away from cast iron to avoid any extra iron.
- The alternative cheaper option to your traditional cast-iron is an enameled cast-iron but you have to be careful about the source because the enamel can contain lead. I’ll link to a both a traditional cast-iron skillet and a safe enamel cast iron in the show notes.
- If you use stainless steel pots and pans that pass the magnet test, then you can continue to use them for short cook times. If not, then I recommend switching to non-toxic ceramic cookware for everyday use. And I’ve linked to my two favorite brands in the show notes as well.
- The best slow cooker I’ve found that doesn’t risk leaching heavy metals is the Vitaclay.
- And for storage containers, I’ve linked to several glass storage options in the show notes, including wooden cooking utensils instead of plastic or silicone, as well as bamboo and FSC-certified wood cutting boards instead of plastic.
Again, all of my product recommendations can be found at cleanlivingpodcast.com/cookware
You know how people talk about investment pieces? This is an investment episode. The point being, you may feel right now like spending all of your money to change over the cookware in your kitchen. But it’s going to get very expensive, very fast. That’s all to say, if you’re budget conscious (as most of us are) and don’t have the upfront cash to overhaul every single one of your kitchen supplies that’s okay. You can do this one piece at a time and eventually, you’ll have a kitchen full of nontoxic cookware that will quite possibly last you decades and maybe even become heirloom pieces for your children. Some things are worth the wait.
Before I go, I wanted to let my most dedicated listeners know that the podcast will be taking a two week break for the end of the year. I’ll be back on January 4th with the first episode of 2021. I’m wishing you all a very happy and healthy holiday!
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. If you learned something from this episode, please share with a friend — maybe the person who you know loves to cook. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.