Clean Cookware Part 1: Safe Pots and Pans
A less obvious part of cleaning up your diet involves careful selection of all of the surfaces that come in contact with your food. If your goal is overall health, this is a step to reduce toxins. Cleaning out your kitchen is a one time job that can have a long term impact. Today’s topic:
Safe Pots and Pans
Now that you have a handy pinnable guide as to what to cook with, let’s talk about why.
Like most of my “Clean Eating Notes,” the following information about safe pots and pans is common knowledge obtainable with a basic Google search, so therefore I don’t provide sources. Links to more in-depth articles containing citations may be provided for your convenience.
Cast Iron – Your great-grandmother may have been on to something. Cast iron lasts forever, goes from stove top to oven with ease, heats evenly, and won’t hurt your food. Iron is one of the few things most people can benefit from as it transfers into food. Unless you have an excess of iron in your blood (the average person does not), have no fear of cooking with these heirloom pans. Some people find cast iron pans easier to clean, as they just need a quick rinse, wipe, and season (no washing!). These pans are also unique in that they get better with age and use – a used pan will most likely have a smoother surface, preventing foods from sticking. The smoother the surface, the less oil that is needed for cooking, yet another benefit of cast iron.
Glass – Glass is generally a safe choice. Glass saucepans were really popular for a long time and then seemed to phase out. The biggest concern with glass is the very rare occurrence of shattering. A small percent of people have experienced issues with glass cookware/bakeware exploding during use. The most common cause of this is switching from a very hot to a very cold environment, or vise versa, although some people have reported the breakage during use for not apparent reason. To me this is not enough of a reason to stop using glass.
High Quality Ceramic or Cast Iron Enameled – High quality ceramic pans are perfectly safe as long as they are not chipped and not marked “For Decoration Only” or “Not For Food” (meaning the piece is probably glazed with lead and/or cadmium). Once ceramic is chipped or the glaze is warn down or heavily scratched, you should discontinue use. Using ceramic under these circumstances may allow lead or other substances to leach through and get into your get into your food. The best case is to use ceramic with non-metal utensils. High quality cast iron enameled pans are also perfectly safe. The enamel on the cast iron makes it non-reactive, which can be preferable for acidic foods, like tomatoes. Some people also find it easier to clean than traditional cast iron. The downfall is mostly the price. A new Le Creuset piece can run anywhere from $75-$350 for one piece! For more information about the differences between cast iron and enameled cast iron, I suggest reading this post from www.derekoncastiron.com.
Next Best Choices:
Anodized Aluminum – Experts seem to have mixed feelings on anodized aluminum as of right now. On one hand, it’s non-reactive, whereas aluminum pans have been constantly criticized for reactive properties when cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce. The process of anodizing seals the aluminum into the pan to mostly prevent it from leaching into food. The bigger concern to some is the non-stick coating, which can differ greatly between brands. If you choose to use anodized aluminum, look for pans marked “PFOA Free,” and never overheat these pans (I use mine only on stove top heat setting 5/10 and below). Because of the potential for some aluminum transference (especially if scratched) and the risks associated with non-stick coatings, I’ve excluded this from the “best choice” category. Anodized aluminum may be the most convenient type of pan available because it is non-stick and easy to clean, but not necessarily the very best choice for health.
High Quality Stainless Steel – High quality stainless steel is relatively safe. Stainless steel is an alloy of different metals, so the higher the grade of stainless steel you buy, the better the quality of metals. That said, small amounts of metals will leach into food, especially acidic food, but the better quality of stainless steel you use the fewer highly-undesirable metals will be leached (namely nickel). Tri-ply 18/10 is the best stainless steel you can buy; it is used in many professional kitchens. Stainless steel moves down on the list if it gets beat up from frequently using metal utensils, abrasive cleaners, or steel wool for cleaning. When stainless steel gets scratched, it may expose the copper or aluminum core in which case I would demote it to unfavorable. Stainless steel is not recommended for people with metal sensitivities.
Copper – Copper conducts heat very well. That is why you’ll often see it on T.V. shows with fancy chefs making fancy delicacies you probably never attempt. Copper is also probably the “prettiest” option. Now the downside. Unlined copper cookware will allow copper to leach into food while cooking, especially when cooking acidic foods. Unlike iron, for most people the adding of extra copper to one’s diet is not desirable. Most copper pots and pans are lined with stainless steel, tin, or nickel. This lining can wear down due to abuse or age, leading to copper leaching out. The linings can have problems as well (leading to you guessed it — metal leaching into your food). For instance, tin melts at very low temperatures. If stainless gets scratched, it’s back down to the copper. Many people have nickel allergies, so nickel lined copper pots and pans are becoming scarce. Another drawback to copper is that it must be polished, meaning copper may be one of the most high-maintenance options.
Aluminum – For many years aluminum cookware was associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, many recent studies have found that aluminum and Alzheimer’s have no link. Just because it may not cause Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean cooking with aluminum is 100% safe though. Aluminum is highly reactive with acidic foods. Although the Alzheimer’s claim has allegedly been debunked, I personally prefer to cook with the safer, less reactive, and less controversial version, anodized aluminum. You can find out more and form your own opinion by reading up on aluminum here.
Teflon – Teflon has been associated with a plethora of health risks. The chemical PFOA has been blamed for most of the problems, including cancer, flu-like symptoms, small birth weight & size in babies, immune system issues, and thyroid issues just to name a few. The toxins emitted by the pans at high temperatures easily reachable on a stove top are enough to kill a bird. If you use pans with a non-stick coating, try to buy PFOA free. Dupont, the makers of Teflon, claims that PFOA is destroyed in the process of making the PTFE non-stick coating, but some studies show PFOA may still be present in small amounts. To use Teflon safely, do not heat a pan past its suggested limit (as I mentioned earlier, I never cook with my anodized aluminum non-stick pans higher than 5/10 heat setting). Do not use metal utensils on a Teflon pan. Throw out any scratched or chipped Teflon pans. Do not use abrasive cleaners on Teflon pans. Do not put Teflon pans in the dishwasher. Finally, don’t leave Teflon pans on the hot stove unattended. You can find out more about the link between PFOA and cancer here and also here.
Still wondering what cookware to choose? Here are some of my suggestions and favorites.
Cast Iron – I have a mixture of Lodge brand and old pieces I’ve picked up at thrift stores and rummage sales. To get you started, I would suggest a basic 12″ skillet or set.
- Suggested piece: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-Inch $23.99 on Amazon
- Suggested set: Lodge 5-Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set, Black $65.00 on Amazon
Glass – I use glass bakeware all the time, and recently purchased my first glass saucepan. I can attest to their quality; my step-mom was always cooking with these as I was growing up.
- Suggested set: VISIONS 5-pc Cookware Set $129.95 on Amazon
High Quality Ceramic or Cast Iron Enameled – An enameled cast iron Braiser will probably be my next investment. If you currently use cast iron enameled, let me know how you like it!
- Suggested affordable pieces: Lodge Color Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven $64.00 on Amazon or Lodge Color Enameled Cast Iron Covered Casserole $53.99 on Amazon
- Suggested high-end piece: Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Round Braiser, 3-1/2-Quart $249.95 on Amazon
- Suggested high-end set : Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 6-Piece Cookware Set $599.95 on Amazon
Anodized Aluminum – I just added a few of these to my collection, mostly for convenience and ease of clean up. I chose T-fal pans with the “Safe Non-Stick Coating” labels, meaning they are free of PFOA, Lead, and Cadmium. I try to only use these as a “last-choice” when other options do not seem practical.
- Suggested piece: T-fal Hard Anodized Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator PFOA Free Fry Pan with Glass Lid, 12-Inch $29.97 on Amazon
- Suggested set: T-fal Hard Anodized Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator PFOA Free Oven Safe Cookware Set, 12-Piece $104.85 on Amazon
Stainless Steel – I love using stainless steel for boiling and steaming. It’s also not bad for sautéing if you use a good amount of oil or butter.
- Suggested pieces: Cuisinart Classic Stainless 1-1/2-Quart Saucepan $14.99 on Amazon or Cuisinart 12-Quart Stockpot with Cover $51.98 on Amazon
- Suggested set: Cuisinart Pro Stainless Steel 12-Piece Cookware Set $224.99 on Amazon