Can certain cookware materials be considered safe or healthy? We've all heard the phrase "We are what we eat." We probably haven't thought of that in terms of aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, glass, or polytetrafluoroethylene. In the next few paragraphs, I will address the issues of cookware and our health.
Introducing Our Exclusive "Healthy Cookware" Logo
Your Cookware Helper tries to make your cookware decisions as easy as possible. We were the first to introduce a logo to easily identify dishwasher safe cookware. Now, I am happy to introduce you to the Healthy Cookware logo. Soon, you will be seeing it on all the pages identifying the cookware known to be safe and healthy.
You Are Ultimately Responsible For Your Health
As I write this article and summarize the facts, I must remind you that ultimately it is you who has to take control and responsibility for your health. As you review this information, you have to decide if what you are presented with makes sense for you. Understand that cookware manufacturers are always going to claim their products are safe. There are industry associations, representing manufacturers, who may conduct some tests and claim certain cookware as safe. Regardless of these claims, it is still you who has to decide whether you believe the tests and arguments presented. History is prolific with examples of products claimed to be safe, tested as being safe, but ultimately recalled or slowly banned from use. Doctors once advertised and promoted cigarette smoking as good and safe. That is one example the medical community would love to forget. So as you read what is presented, it is OK to be skeptical of certain claims and tests. It is your health, and you are responsible for your own health.
What Can Make Cookware Healthy or Unhealthy?
The most important health factor to consider is the transfer, or leaching, of the cookware cooking surface to the foods being cooked. External surfaces that do not come in contact with food are not a health concern. Copper cookware was once used as a common material to cook food. It was later discovered that native copper interacts with foods, especially acidic foods, and is highly toxic. Today copper is only used clad in between other cookware materials or on the outside, and not on internal cooking surfaces. Another factor is not just the internal cooking surface, but what happens to that cooking surface when it is heated. Heat changes the composition of materials. What may be safe at room temperature can be extremely toxic when applied to a heat source.
Is NonStick Cookware a Safe and Healthy Cookware?
That is the million dollar question, and most probably, millions of dollars have been spent arguing each side. Additional information can be found on our Nonstick Cookware page. Here's a synopsis of what we know:
- Teflon is a patented product, discovered in 1938 by DuPont, and approved for cookware by the FDA in 1960.
- Many lawsuits have been filed over the nonstick surface both as a cookware and in its manufacturing.
- "In 2004, DuPont agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle another class-action lawsuit brought by Ohio and West Virginia residents who contended that releases of PFOA from a plant in West Virginia contaminated supplies of drinking water."
New York Times, Alina Tugend, October 14, 2006
- DuPont acknowledges that when their non stick surface is heated beyond a certain level, it can kill birds and create a sickness in humans they call Polymer Fume Fever. It produces symptoms resembling a cold.
- All non stick surface manufacturers claim their products are safe. The FDA does not OK a product as "safe" but rather that it is safe for cookware.
- There have been no published studies on the effect of ingesting chipping and peeling non stick surfaces have on humans.
Is Hard Anodized Cookware Safe and Healthy?
Since the 1970s when Canadian researchers reported that the brains of Alzheimer's disease victims contained abnormally high levels of aluminum, aluminum cookware has been under fire. "Now cookware manufacturers have developed a process for treating aluminum that retains the heat conductivity properties of the metal, but changes aluminum in other ways. The process, called anodization, involves a series of electrochemical baths that thicken the oxide film that forms naturally on aluminum. This supplemental coating hardens the metal, making it more scratch resistant. Food barely sticks on the hard, smooth surface of this altered aluminum, making it easier to clean." FDA Consumer Magazine.
In reference to anodized aluminum cookware, I am not referring to the variety that has a nonstick surface applied to the inside. When it comes to health matters, the reality is that there are no published studies indicating safety one way or another. Here are some other things to consider:
- Manufacturers and industry lobbyists all claim it is safe. There is a strong argument in their favor in that the aluminum has been treated, albeit electrochemically, and what the food is cooking on is technically no longer standard aluminum.
- Aluminum is ingested from so many food sources today, the amount leached from cookware, about 35 micrograms, is a fraction ingested from a single antacid tablet, as much as 5,000 micrograms.
Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookware that is in perfect condition appears to be safe. My caution comes under 2 circumstances: 1) Avoid anodized aluminum cookware once it has become scratched and the native aluminum can leach through, and 2) Avoid it if your health routine already has you avoiding aluminum from your diet. Additional information can be found on our Anodized Aluminum Cookware page, or the article Is Anodized Aluminum Cookware Safe.
UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this article, most anodized aluminum cookware comes with a nonstick surface at least on the inside. There are very few product lines available today where food is cooked on the anodized aluminum surface. When it comes to the health aspect, you have to consider the nonstick surface.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe and Healthy?
Stainless Steel is considered a safe and healthy cookware, with one caveat. It is usually recommended that the inside cooking surface of stainless steel cookware be 18/10 stainless steel. That 18/10 means 18% chromium and 10% nickel. The published safe intake rate of chromium is 50-200 micrograms per day. One meal prepared in 18/10 stainless steel cookware gives you about 45 micrograms. So, that is fine. When it comes to nickel, some people are allergic to nickel. It is thought that the average adult consumes between 150 to 250 micrograms of nickel per day. Even when cooking highly acidic foods like tomatoes or rhubarb, it does not give off anywhere near that amount. If someone is highly allergic to nickel, an alternative is to use a stainless steel cookware with less nickel, like 18/8 or 18/0. Additional information can be found on our Stainless Steel Cookware page.
What Cookware Materials Are Considered Healthy?
Most cooks desiring to cook with healthy cookware will usually use glass/ceramic/stoneware, cast iron, and stainless steel. There is a reason why glass is used in lab experiments. It is not porous and does not react with its contents. Glass cookware has been around for a long time and still used heavily today. Ceramic cookware, though can chip, can have excellent heating properties and be easy to clean. Stoneware can be shaped and colored to be suitable for many decors. Though used primarily inside the stove, there are some pieces that can be used on the stovetop. Additional information can be found on our Glass Cookware page.
Cast iron, plain or enameled, is an excellent choice because of its long lasting heating abilities. The enamel surface is glass based, not paint based. Additional information can be found on our Cast Iron Cookware page.
In this article I summarized the findings on the health aspects of dominant cookware materials. Be sure to check out the links to the individual materials of interest. It is important that everyone take charge of their health, and become knowledgeable about cookware materials.
Your Cookware Helper
Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2011 14:23