If you are on a mission to get the most nutrition from your food then you need to consider your cookware. After selecting the finest ingredients and a delicious recipe to tantalize your taste-buds you could be accidentally adding toxins from your choice of cooking pot. Fear not, we have assembled all the information you need to make the safest and tastiest cooking choices and choose the best healthy cookware.
What’s not hot!
To understand where the issues lie, let’s begin with a review of some of the problems associated with modern cookware. This is not to cause alarm and panic, you don’t need to immediately throw out all your kitchen favorites, but you can become more conscious of the choices you are making and gradually restock your kitchen with safer solutions.
Due to its low-cost and light-weight aluminum pans have been sneaking into our kitchens since the first “Ideal Home Exhibition” in 1909. By the 1920’s, due to manufacturing advances developed in World War I, aluminum was the housewife’s most popular choice of pan.
Aluminum is a relatively good conductor of heat, easy to shape and mold (as a sheet or cast metal) and more recently processed to anodize it (making it less porous and potentially much safer). The main issue is the leaching of aluminum into your food. This is worse when food is acidic like tomatoes or when a non-stick coating scratches revealing the aluminum underneath.
Recent studies have linked aluminum to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s – there is no doubt that aluminum itself is a neurotoxin. The debate surrounds how much toxicity our body can manage without it causing “significant” problems and there is controversy around how much aluminum can get into the brain and how much can be excreted by the body.
Fact: Aluminum is the most abundant neurotoxic metal on earth, it is easily absorbed by the body and only very small amounts are needed to produce neurotoxicity. Aluminum inhibits more than 200 biologically important functions and causes various adverse effects in plants, animals, and humans.
Strong experimental evidence has repeatedly shown that the neurotoxicity of aluminum is virtually identical to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s – as far back as 1911 scientists saw the impact on mental function. Unfortunately, since toxicity builds gradually over a lifetime of exposure, and nobody wants to take responsibility for the toxification of humanity, there is still some ‘debate’. Really the debate is more about profit and details of the toxin’s impact on the body, the facts are clear, aluminum is poisonous, avoid it. It does not make healthy cookware!
Some traditional cookware is made from copper, and while it looks lovely on display it’s not so good for cooking up a treat! Like aluminum it will leach into your food and can lead to copper toxicity if used on a regular basis. It’s best to avoid direct contact with copper in your food.
Usually considered a safer option these pans are made from combinations of metals which are not always as inert (inactive) as one would wish. There is the potential to leach nickel, chromium, molybdenum, and other metals into your meals. None of these are desirable additions and there have been associations with fertility and reproductive issues, hormone disruption and cancer.
The slippery substance found on your non-stick cookware is called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) which was trademarked as Teflon by the pharmaceutical giant DuPont in 1941. By 1960 processes had been developed to bond Teflon to aluminum and the Tefal (TEFlon and ALuminiumn) corporation was firmly established.
It’s vital to understand the commercial significance of toxicity to understand why so little is being done about it despite the blatant evidence. Tefal is now part of a global corporation who rake in over $4 billion each year off the back of this toxic combination in addition to their other products and appliances.
The popularity of non-stick surfaces is not surprising: they make cooking easier and cleaning up less hassle, but at what cost? The chemicals in the coatings release carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated over 446oF (which typically happens when you cook with them!). The toxic fluoride vapors are free to roam your house, penetrate your environment and get into your body.
Fact: Studies by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found 98% of the population are contaminated by PFOA while John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health “detected PFOA in 100% of the newborns examined”
PFOA is: toxic to the liver; shows reproductive toxicity and increases the chances of neo-natal death in animal studies; is strongly related to thyroid problems and most recently is being linked to arthritis. While scientists are still ‘debating’ the details of the problem, yet again the evidence is clear, non-stick is no-good. Really this is another one to cross off the healthy cookware list, it is convenient, but at what cost?
Healthy Cookware Options
Now you are more aware of the problems, let’s dive right into the solutions! It will probably not come as a surprise, but, we, and many others, are recommending returning to older, tried and tested, Mother Nature approved methods of cooking!
Our first neo-lithic adventures in cooking began with rough clay pots made directly from the earth. This durable and non-reactive substance is increasing in popularity due to its even heat conduction and ability to be used on both stove-tops and for baking in the oven.
You will find pottery under different names, depending on its constituents and preparation:
- After firing (in a kiln) clay is called both ceramics and pottery but they are the same thing.
- Terracotta pots are made from a reddish clay (originally from Italy) and are more porous and need glazing
- Earthen ware is usually white or gray and also needs to be glazed
- Stoneware is clay which can be fired at a higher temperature making it harder and more durable
The naturally non-stick glazed surfaces is easily cleaned (you can even scrub it with confidence) and very durable, unless you drop them! The initial investment is $40 to $100 per pot or pan (significantly more expensive than cheap toxic pans but in the long run place a greater value on your health) and can last you a lifetime. You may even find some discarded clay crockery in an antique shop, yard sale or your granny’s attic!
Like pottery this is made from the earth, well from sand actually, and is inert: it won’t leach anything into your food and won’t impact the taste. Commonly used for baking you can also get glass pots and pans and they are slightly cheaper than clay pots and just as good for you!
Anodized aluminum (which is safer) can be coated with ceramic which, in theory, provides you with the benefits of both. However, in practice these pots don’t seem much cheaper than the real deal and there is still a possibility of aluminum exposure if the surface is scratched. You need to be careful to use only wooden spoons to prevent chipping the coating but manufacturers say that they are safe up to a much higher heat than Teflon coatings.
While these do seem like a much better option than Teflon, independent tests show the coatings can break down much quicker than Teflon, especially if you aren’t careful with them. They are cheaper and many new ‘eco brands’ advocate their use. However, from a long term perspective and total toxin-free confidence these may not be the best investment.
About 5,000 years ago we made a leap in cooking creativity from pottery to metal cauldrons. A single giant metal pot was used to cook an entire meal over and open fire, often with a hidden shelf inside for cooking in glass jars and linen bags of pulses dipping into the tasty liquids beneath.
Most of us have moved away from cooking over open fires, and the single cauldron has evolved into a wide range of pans and skillets with precise (often confusing!) functions. The metals we select for cooking need to be able to conduct heat and not taint our food (with flavors or toxins!).
These pots are very heavy (bicep workout in the kitchen maybe?) and you need to be careful when cleaning and avoid harsh soaps or brillo pads! They do leach iron into your food (which is a good thing unless you have elevated iron levels, which most of us don’t). They can be used on the stove or in the oven and are good for frying and deep-frying conducting the heat evenly and rapidly. Avoid acidic foods, like tomatoes, which can taste funny when cooked in cast iron.
They are typically slightly cheaper than pottery ($10 for a small skillet up to $50 for a larger pot), make excellent frying pans, look lovely on display and will top up your iron levels naturally. You need to season and wash them carefully (a process of heating with oil) or get a pre-seasoned one and they will last you a lifetime – they are pretty unbreakable! Serving roast vegetables still sizzling from the oven on a beautiful iron griddle will win you dinner party (dairy-free) brownie points for sure!
Enameled Cast Iron
Another option is enameled cast iron which has been traditionally popular, and expensive, with French cooks and gourmet housewives. It comes in a beautiful range of colors to suit every kitchen and has a super strong enamel coating which resists chipping and cracking – at over $300 per pot I want more than a pretty exterior! From a cooking perspective it doesn’t do anything over and above either the cast iron or pottery, but if you are keeping up with the Jones’ this is the decant choice!
Back to Earth
Healthy fresh ingredients and cookware made from the earth (pottery, glass or iron) are the most natural solutions. Using ingredients easily borrowed from nature that last a lifetime and need minimal processing is also environmentally much better for all of us. There is no need to give off toxic fumes, absorb dangerous metals or cost the earth!
Advertisers have spent billions trying to persuade us we need convenience and speed in the kitchen. In reality, a bit of calmness and clarity will boost your cooking creativity without endangering your health. Let’s return to the traditional and safe ways of conjuring up a delicious meal using the most healthy cookware available.
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