Safe cookware is foundational for a healthy kitchen. But how do I know which types are truly safe? Here is a brief overview of the three basic categories of cookware.
This type of cookware is the most hazardous. The compounds react with food and can allow harmful chemicals to leach into foods and therefore our bodies.
Aluminum Aluminum conducts heat well but is highly reactive, particularly with acidic foods. Aluminum is toxic to humans, and while proponents of aluminum cookware contend that the aluminum molecules don't get into the food, is it worth the risk? Aluminum foil is also best avoided for cooking purposes.
Teflon-coated Nonstick chemicals have been linked to birth defects, liver toxicity, cancer, and more. The maker of Teflon warns consumers to keep pet birds away from the kitchen when cooking because "cooking fumes, smoke and odors that have little or no effect on people can seriously sicken and even kill birds, often quite quickly." Even the EPA admits that one of the chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)If nonstick cookware must be used, cook at a lower temperature and avoid cooking on high. One additional note: Microwave popcorn bags are commonly coated with nonstick chemicals and are best avoided.Stainless Steel Stainless steel is durable, resists cracks, and is the least reactive of all metals. Good quality stainless steel is essential. Less expensive stainless steel cookware may contain nickel and cadmium, which leach into food. To test your stainless steel, combine 1 teaspoon baking soda with 1 cup water and bring to a boil, then taste the water. If a metallic taste is present, the cookware may not be suitable for your kitchen.
Most stainless steel pots will have a number on the base. Look for 18/8 or 18/10. (18 indicates the level of chromium; 8 or 10 is the amount of nickel.)
Cast Iron Cast iron is durable, a supreme heat conductor, and naturally nonstick. It must be maintained properly to avoid undesirable leaching of iron into foods. Some suggest this iron is desirable, while others say it's not. Either way, it is best to be diligent in maintaining your cast iron. See this article for more on the chemistry of cast iron seasoning.Glass Glass is quite safe but does not conduct heat well and does not adapt to dramatic temperature changes. Hot glass cookware should not come in contact with wet counter tops, nor be placed in water while still hot. Options for glass cookware include CorningWare, Pyrex, and Visions cookware.
Enameled Cast Iron Enameled cast iron cookware has been used for more than a century, merging the wonderful heat conductivity of cast iron with the safety of protective, chemical-free glazing (assuming the old-fashioned methods are used). Enameled cast iron can withstand high cooking temperatures, and the heat is evenly spread throughout the cooking surface. This cookware is quite heavy and more expensive, but it can last a lifetime! Options for enameled cast iron include What about baking? Aluminum and nonstick cookie sheets can react with foods and are best lined with parchment paper to avoid direct contact. (Parchment paper is commonly found in most grocery and big box stores.) Glass is always a safe option for baking, and porcelain is often used as well. The German company Villeroy & Boch makes top-of-the-line porcelain bakeware.
Whether you cook a lot or a little, safer cookware will go a long way toward improved health and simpler living. In the following video, I take a look at the various types of cookware and demonstrate an alternative magnetic test for metallic content.