by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Updated February 27, 2019
Cooking your favorite foods can be a fun activity—whether by yourself or with loved ones.
When cooking, have you wondered about the safety of your cookware? Few people have. But we do!
And parents can teach children an important life skill and habit: how to cook. Cooking with children (or others) also offers a unique opportunity to nurture curiosity and wonder about the ingredients we use, how different cooking approaches affects the science of cooking, and which materials we cook with and how they may contaminate our diet. We know...a bummer topic, but it's also one worth knowing.
Concerns with different type of cookware
Some cookware may leach heavy metals and chemicals into food cooked in them. These exposures may contribute to health issues.
- Non-stick cookware is made of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) or other chemicals that have not been tested for their impact on health. PFCs have been “linked with lower birth weight and smaller size in infants, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, and a weakened immune system (EWG 2015g).” The C8 Science Panel, consisting of three epidemiologists who were chosen jointly by the parties to the legal settlement of a case between plaintiffs and DuPont regarding releases of C8 from a plant, found the following to have "Probable Link to C8 exposure: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension."
- Aluminum cookware can react to certain foods—particularly acidic foods (like tomatoes or citruses)—and give a metallic taste.
- Cast iron cookware can leach iron into the food. While we need iron in our diets, too much iron can be a health concern.
- Copper cookware can leach copper into exposed food. Similar to iron, too much copper in our diets is unhealthy. Higher doses of copper can lead to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea , according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
- Stainless steel cookware can leach nickel and chromium into food—particularly when cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes).
The safest pots and pans to cook with are those that leach the least amount of chemicals and heavy metals.
- Cast iron. While iron can leach into food, it’s generally accepted as being safe. It’s certainly one of the most durable types of cookware. Be sure to season the cast iron pan according to manufacturer instructions to avoid a metallic taste. Consider using ceramic or glass cookware for acidic foods, such as spaghetti sauce.
- Enamel-coated cast iron. Made of cast iron with a glass coating, the cookware heats like iron cookware, but doesn’t leach iron into food. Glass is one of the materials widely accepted as being healthy. This is what I use when I'm cooking with acidic foods, like tomato sauce.
- Stainless steel. Stainless steel is made with varying amounts of nickel and chromium. Cookware with 18/8 or 18/10 stamped on the bottom are the least likely to leach into food. If cooking acidic food in stainless steel, remove the food after cooking and store it in a non-metal storage container. Stainless steel is a durable material and can be recycled.
- Glass. One of the healthiest materials around, glass cookware is widely available and inexpensive. It’s unable to handle extreme changes in temperature and will break. Make sure the glass cookware is at room temperature before putting it in the oven. Most glassware cannot be used on stovetops; however, some are made for stove, oven, and freezer use. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out if their particular cookware can be used on the stove.
- Lead-Free Ceramic. As long as the paint or cookware coating is lead-free, ceramic is another healthy option for cookware. Similar to glass, ceramic will break if exposed to extreme temperature changes so be sure to bring it to room temperature before cooking in ceramic. Be sure to read manufacturer guidelines to know if their cookware is for stovetop or oven cooking methods.
- Copper. Copper pans lined with stainless steel offer several benefit: copper’s quick-heating properties, and stainless steel's lesser likelihood of leaching chemicals (if you choose 18-8 or 18-10 grade stainless steel). The lighter weight of copper can be easier for some people to handle.
While there may be no perfect cookware, when choosing safer cookware, it's worth wondering about some of the cookware details, like if there's nonstick coatings. Or, if under certain circumstances, its material(s) reacts differently.
For example, some cookware surfaces (including those that are nonstick, stainless steel, and cast iron) are easily scratched by metal cooking utensils, which may facilitate leaching of heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Instead, use wood cooking tools to minimize scratching stainless steel, ceramic and other types of cookware surfaces.
What does Sophia cook with?
I cook with stainless steel and cast iron. For over a decade, I have been using the combo set below by Lodge. I love the flexible use of the "lid that doubles as a shallow skillet or griddle." I also love that I can sear chicken on the stovetop, then put it in the oven, then serve everything in the cast iron.
Cast iron requires a different care and maintenance, but I find it worthwhile given my practical nontoxic values. It is heavy so please consider that.
After 11 years of living with just black cast iron and stainless steel, I started to crave more color in my kitchen. In addition, for years I knew that acidic foods were not safe to use on cast iron and stainless steel (they can cause a chemical reaction that can contaminate food). It took me a long to find another option for acidic foods, and I settled on the Le Creuset option below, which is what I use when I know I'll be cooking with tomatoes, tomato sauce, or any other acidic foods. It's enamel-coated cast iron.
Please note that I make an affiliate fee if you buy on Amazon from clicking the above images.
Access Sophia's shopping list of household staples
Peek at Sophia's list of household staples, including her cleaning supplies and most cherished kitchen appliances (including pots and pans). To access this (it's free), register for her free Welcome introduction to the D-Tox Academy. Click here to get started.
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- What Are The Safest Pots And Pans to Cook With?
- Is Copper Cookware Safe?
- Why Choose Glass Over Plastic?
- Non-Stick Pans: Why You Should Stop Using Them!
- The Pros and Cons of Ceramic
- Get the Lead Out (because we should be mindful of the possible presence of lead in some ceramic paints and/or glazes)