What To Know Before Investing in Cookware

With numerous studies showing the health dangers associated with household items like those found in our kitchens , cleaning cabinets, body care products etc, I thought it would be helpful to share some knowledge on cookware, in order to help you make safer, healthier choices for your family. Remember, ‘do what you can with what you are able’. Each conscious swap you and I make, puts us one less step away from toxins; and that, my friends, is a laudable achievement! #progressoverperfection

A couple of weeks ago, I made my one annual ‘big’ purchase; and if you can’t guess what it was, it was a Non-Toxic, non-stick pan! yup! #adulting at its very finest.
A lot of the time, we focus on the fruits and vegetables aspect of ‘health’. We forget that there are several factors that, perhaps, play an even bigger role. I mean, you don’t need yet another blogpost telling you to add a salad to your meals to keep up with your veggies, right?

You do, however, NEED to know that endocrine disruptors find themselves in the most unassuming ‘places’: your cookware, your body care products, your household cleaning products, your kids’ plastic toys, etcetera….etcetera.

Today, let’s talk about cookware, and game changing facts about what you may be using in your home.

What does Safe/Non-Toxic Cookware Mean?

Safe/Non-Toxic cookware are those that are said to have minimal percentage of chemicals, that can potentially leach into foods – and even into the air- and eventually find their way into our bodies. A lot of these chemicals fall under the big umbrella of carcinogens/endocrine disrupting chemicals, which mess up the equilibrium of our bodies. (Read more about that here.)

These days, there are an overwhelming number of cookware options to choose from:
stainless steel
cast iron
ceramic
aluminum
clay
non-stick.

Some of these are safe, while others are as problematic as can be for your health, and our planet.

I consider cookware an investment. And I also like to keep it simple. Better to have a mindfully curated selection of non-toxic cookware, than so many pots and pans with carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals.

No matter how small your budget is, you’ll also want to determine the following:
-Durability
-Cooking Needs
-Composition (in terms of chemicals) and of course
-PRICE.

My first ever safe cookware I invested in with my hard-earned money was a cast iron pan. I had just started working full-time, I still wanted to stay with healthy options where I could. I chose cast iron because it’s affordable, it’s durable, it’s so versatile, and if we’re really getting down to food, cast iron can give any meal the best flavor! especially animal protein!
I don’t say this to say you only need cast irons pans in your home, but rather to share that you can start slowly. #ProgressOverPerfection

So now, let’s break down the determinants.

Chemicals:


The worst offender.
I mentioned earlier that cookware is a key medium through which carcinogens and endocrine disruptors can enter our bodies. We need to work hard to control what we can, and trust that our bodies will fight for us when we face what we can’t control. Consider the pots and pans which leach the most harmful chemicals, and AVOID them as best as you can. Remember, we are doing the best we can with what we are able. Always.
The chemicals used in the cookware don’t just stay in the pots and pans. They can actually leach into the food you cook and get released into the air when the cookware is heated up to certain temperatures. Which ones leach the most, and have the most harmful chemicals? It depends on what the primary components of the cookware are, but brands of non-stick cookware that contain PTFE and PFOA are among the worst offenders. (more on this later)

Durability:

How long a cookware will last is an important factor. If the pan is serving you really well, and not showing any strong signs of wear and tear, you have no cause to keep changing it after a year or two right? When I say invest, durability definitely counts. You want to make a purchase that makes monetary sense and can last a long long time. While this is largely dependent on maintenance, other factors are how easily scratched or damaged it can get. It’s ultimately your choice to make, but if you were to ask me, I would always start with cast iron. You get so much for your money’s worth. Another good option here is good quality stainless steel! Can’t go wrong with stainless steel when it comes to durability.

Cooking Needs:


What is your cooking style most of the time? Do you cook a lot, or occasionally? Are you more of a sautéing/searing/ boiling/steaming type of person? High temperatures or low temperatures? Small family or big family? Bulk cooking or cooking by the day? These are all important factors to consider before investing in cookware. If you cook a lot and in bulk, you are better off investing in a cooking set than single pots and pans.

Price:


The thing with cookware is: if you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, in the end, you get what you pay for. This is why I am careful to use the word invest. HOWEVER, it doesn’t mean spending money you don’t have on top notch brands. There are reasonable priced, relatively safer options that can and will get you started. For example, for cast iron, I buy Lodge because its been around for years, its a very well known brand and it’s relatively affordable. In the same way, I stalked Le Creuset for monthsss to get a good, reasonable deal before investing as my big annual purchase. My mother has a Tramontina dutch oven set, and I have used it several times. It’s affordable, and splendid! It’s a great brand for everything of theirs that I have used, as a matter of fact. So always know there are affordable brands out there.

Are Non-Stick Pans bad for you?


The simple answer is IT DEPENDS.

Non-stick cookware suits a convenient lifestyle, aka, not having to scrape the remnants of every meal you make, just to have a clean pot again. However, not all non-sticks are made the same!

Original non-stick pans were coated with compounds like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE has another name you will easily recognize – the brand TEFLON. I have studied so many debates about teflon… it made my brain hurt. The conclusion is this: I would avoid any pan with PTFE and/or PFOA, and advice that you do same. WHY?

“Experts tend to agree that Teflon itself isn’t a problem. The coating itself is considered non-toxic. Even if you ingest small flakes of it, it passes right through you“. The actual concern is what happens when Teflon gets too hot. “When pans are overheated, that PTFE coating begins to disintegrate,” and it releases a host of toxic gases. Of particular concern, however, is PFOA- one of the chemicals released when Teflon pans heat up. This chemical is considered an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with the body’s hormone system. Long-term exposure to PFOA is linked to a host of conditions that range from cancer to thyroid disease.(LiveScience)

So, the main issue here, is the chemical used in manufacturing the pan when exposed to high temperatures. If you cook on high heat a lot, you want to make sure all of your everyday pans aren’t non-stick. You have to also note that, when non-stick pans are exposed to high levels of heat constantly, they wear out, and that means you need to keep replacing them. Unlike cast iron, there is no restoration of non-stick pans.

Just to provide some context:
A PTFE-coated pan can reach 750 F (399 C) if left for eight minutes at high heat on a stovetop, according to a 2017 article published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research. And at lower temperatures, Teflon coating still breaks down over time, according to a 1998 article published in the journal Polymer Degradation and Stability. If you consistently heat your pan to 500 F (260 C); the temperature at which we sear steak), the pan should last around 2.3 years, according to the 2001 Nature study. 

My Everyday Pots and Pans Are Non-Stick, Now What?


It’s not realistic to replace every non-stick pot, pan, and cookie sheet at once. If you’re still cooking on non-stick surfaces, here are some tips for safer cooking:
-Use the pans on low-to-medium heat — empty pans can rapidly reach high temperatures. Heat at the lowest temperature possible to cook your food safely.
-Don’t use utensils that will scratch your non-stick cookware. Stick with wood and silicone
-Don’t put nonstick cookware in an oven hotter than 500 degrees.
-Use an exhaust fan over the stove if possible.
-Skip the self-cleaning function on your oven. It cleans by heating to high temperatures, which can release toxic fumes from non-stick interior oven parts.
-When the time comes to replace your cookware, use the opportunity to choose a safer alternative (cast iron, stainless steel, oven-safe glass) when buying new cookware.

Pros and Cons of Cookware Options

I hope this information helps you make healthier, safer decisions for your family when it comes to cookware options.

Always in Love and Health,

Nana.

References:

  1. http://static.ewg.org/reports/2003/canaries_in_the_kitchen/infographic_thermometer.pdf?_ga=1.180149159.2012341462.1452124527
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa.html
  3. https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2009/11/healthy-home-tip-6-still-skipping-non-stick#.WjrWxBM-f_Q
  4. https://www.livescience.com/are-nonstick-pans-toxic.html
  5. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/healthy-cookware/

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