We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re cooking in the kitchen, but what about what we’re cooking in? It’s confusing trying to sort out the difference between stainless steel and aluminum versus glass and ceramic. So we decided to break down some of the options:
Avoid: Non-Stick Cookware
Non-stick cookware, specifically Teflon, has taken a beating among health and safety experts in recent years. So it goes without saying that you should absolutely ditch anything in your kitchen that’s coated with it.
Teflon is a coating made from chemicals from the perfluorochemical (PFC) family. Studies have shown that PFCs may contribute to all sorts of negative health effects and environmental hazards. But this category also includes other products like Calphalon and any others that are made with a non-stick surface.
A lot of cookware on the market today is made from aluminum—you’ll probably see labels calling it anodized aluminum. Back in the day, some pots and pans were made from non-anodized aluminum. It was discovered that this type can leach aluminum salts into foods, so improvements were made which is why you’ll see the anodized version now.
The problem still? Aluminum has been called one of the top 200 health-jeopardizing toxins by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. So even though anodized aluminum is better than non-anodized, it’s still not safe enough for our peace of mind. There are better options out there, so it’s best to avoid.
Use Caution: Ceramics
Some ceramics can be safe to cook in, but be wary of some made in other countries or considered to be more craft or collectible rather than cookware. According to the National Institutes of Health, “these may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but may not detect lower levels that may also be dangerous.”
You’ve probably seen beautiful copper cookware at the store, which looks lovely, but is it safe? Some amount of copper from your cookware can dissolve into food. For people who are deficient in the mineral, that may not be an issue. But there is a risk of copper toxicity.
Some pots and pans are coated with another metal to prevent food from coming into contact with copper. But, depending on how long you’ve been using that cookware, the coating can break down and may allow levels of copper to leach into food.
Safe: Cast Iron
Yes, cooking on and cleaning cast iron does take a bit more care than using, say, a non-stick pan. But there’s a reason it’s been a standard for generations. When it’s been properly seasoned with oil and cleaned with a brush and no soap, a good cast iron pan will last for many years and will cook any number of dishes.
The great part about cooking on cast iron is that most people can actually benefit from the extra iron in their diets when a little bit ends up in food. That being said, if you know that your body’s iron levels are already high, consider cooking on something else.
All glass is inert, nontoxic, and safe!
Safe: Stainless Steel
Stainless steel cookware is made from an alloy, or combination of metals. It’s more stable than other cookware, so it’s less likely any metals into your food, making it a safe, affordable option. Anyone with a nickel allergy should avoid stainless steel. But for others, it’s a great option.
People with nickel allergies should avoid cooking with stainless steel cookware.
Just take care when scrubbing your cookware clean, since pots and pans that have been damaged by harsh scrubbing may be more prone to leaching.