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Healthy Cookware 101: Is Non-Stick Cookware Safe?

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The first non-stick pans coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known as Teflon, were introduced in the 1960s by DuPont, who marketed this convenient, easy-to-clean cookware as a revolution for the American kitchen. But now, 50 years later, experts are sounding major alarms about the potential dangers of cooking food in non-stick cookware.

It’s no secret that studies have linked perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in non-stick PTFE coatings, to countless health problems including cancer, infertility, thyroid problems and ADHD in children.

The news of these findings came as a shock to health-minded cooks, many of whom had opted for non-stick cookware for health reasons in the first place — it allowed them to prepare meals with less oil. They had no idea that they were infusing their meals with toxins at the same time.

PFOA has become so incredibly prevalent in our environment that an estimated 98% of the U.S. population is thought to have detectable levels of the chemical in their bodies.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DuPont has been aware of the hazards associated with Teflon since the 1980s, yet intentionally withheld this knowledge from the public. The EPA has called for a manufacturing ban on PFOA and has forced DuPont to pay millions of dollars in fines for hiding evidence about its dangers. Yet for reasons untold, the chemical remains unregulated.

The EPA is sending mixed messages to consumers. Per the EPA website: “Given the scientific uncertainties, EPA has not yet made a determination as to whether PFOA poses an unreasonable risk to the public, and there are no steps that EPA recommends that consumers take to reduce exposures to PFOA.” Huh? Is this the same agency that is calling for a ban on what it has called a “likely carcinogen?”

Rather than wait on the EPA to make an official recommendation, many people have trashed their non-stick cookware and have gone back to using stainless steel, aluminum, copper or cast iron in the meantime. However, research has shown that many of these types of cookware may pose a threat as well. For example, abrasive cleaning can cause stainless steel to release small amounts of nickel and chromium, which are considered toxic heavy metals.

Confused yet? What kind of cookware is truly safe?

I know how frustrating it can be trying to sort through the various warnings and marketing hype, which is why I thought this quick guide to choosing healthy cookware might come in handy.

SAFEST OPTIONS: Inert, non-reactive materials like ceramic, enamel-coated cast iron, glass or silicone

Ceramic: The healthiest ceramic cookware I’ve come across is the Xtrema brand, which is made by Ceramcor. They offer a full line of moderately priced cookware and bakeware made out of a unique ceramic material that is all natural, 100% non-toxic and completely non-leaching.

Ceramic is breakable, so you do need to exercise care when using it. The Xtrema products, however, are extremely durable — the cooking surface cannot be scratched, even by metal utensils and steel wool, and they can endure temperatures of up to 2,700 degrees F! Additionally, they come with a 50 year warranty that covers all thermal shock breakage.

Enamel-coated cast iron: Le Creuset makes high quality enamel coated cast iron. With proper care, good ceramic or enamel-coated cookware will last a lifetime. It is entirely non-leaching. The main drawbacks with this type of cookware are that it is expensive, requires thorough hand washing and is breakable.

Glass: Glass is inert and affordable, but highly breakable and does not conduct heat evenly. Glass containers are great for storing food, however.

Silicone: Silicone is a synthetic rubber that is now being made into bakeware, spatulas, molds and more. It is the only non-reactive, synthetic non-stick material. It is considered safe up to 428 degrees F. When heated above its safe range, silicone melts, but doesn’t outgas toxic vapors. It also conducts heat less efficiently, therefore, using silicone may require you to increase cooking time.

GOOD OPTIONS: Moderately reactive materials such as stainless steel and cast iron

Stainless steel: Stainless steel is the least reactive metal, and many people consider it the most versatile and affordable healthy cookware option. However, research has shown that once stainless steel has been scratched, as a result of normal scrubbing, small amounts of nickel and chromium may begin to leach.

Cast iron: Cast iron is extremely durable and great to use for sautés, pancakes and quick breads. However, cooking liquids or acidic foods in cast iron can leach iron from the pot, which is undesirable in most cases. The other drawback of cast iron is that it requires special care.

WORST OPTIONS: Highly reactive materials like synthetic non-stick, aluminum and copper

Non-stick cookware The coating used on synthetic non-stick cookware (even the newer types marketed as “greener” or “healthier”) contains plastic polymers, which when heated, emit noxious fumes that contain chemicals that have been proven to be carcinogenic in humans. I urge you to avoid non-stick pans and utensils at all costs.

Aluminum: Studies have linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems. Most experts advise avoiding aluminum cookware, including the newer anondized aluminum cookware, as well as aluminum foil completely.

Copper: Copper cookware has a coating that is supposed to prevent copper from coming into contact with food. However, this coating can wear away over time, allowing the copper itself to come into direct contact with food, which can lead to copper toxicity.

If you still have non-stick cookware in your home, I think it’s a good idea to think about investing in healthier alternatives. There are affordable healthy cookware options out there, and considering that it’s something you probably use almost daily, and that it lasts for years, you can’t really go wrong.

What are your thoughts on non-stick cookware? What kind of cookware do you use in your home? Please leave a comment below.

Sources:

http://www.ewg.org/chemindex/chemicals/Teflon-PFOA

http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/pubs/pfoainfo.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/the-chemical-marketplace_b_612895.html

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Josh Corn Joshua Corn - Editor-in-Chief
Josh is a health freedom advocate and veteran of the natural health industry. He has been actively involved in the natural health movement for over 15 years, and has been dedicated to the promotion of health, vitality, longevity and natural living throughout his career. Josh has successfully overcome several personal health challenges through natural means, and believes that sharing information can empower people to take control of their health so they can solve their own problems and live life to its fullest potential. Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Live in the Now. Additionally he serves as CEO of Stop Aging Now, a company that has been formulating premium dietary supplements since 1995. Josh is currently working on his first book about natural health, and is gearing up to launch the Live in the Now radio show. In addition to his work in the natural health field, Josh is an avid outdoorsman, animal lover and enjoys “living in the now” with his wife and two sons.



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Article updated on: January 28th, 2013

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43 Responses to “ Healthy Cookware 101: Is Non-Stick Cookware Safe? ”

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  5. crystalwind on March 13, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    Does anyone have information about T-fal? I’m told it is not teflon but I can’t find anything about it.

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  11. Marilyn Stoffel on March 13, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Wow! The black coating in pans was something my family ‘ate’ back in the early 60′s. Great for easy cleaning but the coating started leaving the pan and got into the food. I knew that but didn’t have money then, with a number of children, to buy different pans. Later I got rid of that set and got the aluminum kind. Liked those and felt ‘safer’ when cooking for the gang.

    But, now, years later my children are all so forgetful and blame me since I am just like them. Of course, it is good natured kidding but we all have a problem and it is not funny. I wish I had known all of this when I started housekeeping! Now I am warning my grandchildren as they get married, to be very choosy about their cookware and forget the ‘easy’ care, coated stuff that looks so pretty.

    MLS-IN

    • Casie on March 14, 2011 at 8:31 PM

      It’s great you’re warning them now, though! So many innovations back then seemed like such great ideas and we simply didn’t have the science (or the insight, really) to test for possible effects on the population years down the road. The good thing is, I think we as a society of consumers have learned our lesson. Many recent innovations make strides to test long term effects to the best of their abilities and choose both health conscious and environmentally friendly options. Even when companies don’t taken these measures, there is usually a healthy alternative or two from a company that has. Glad you’re urging your grandchildren to consider those healthier options!

  12. Toxpath on March 13, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    As a toxicologic pathologist, I get tired of the BS about how “natural” is so much better than “man made”. There are many “natural” chemical and compound that will just “naturally” kill you or cause cancer!

    • Bill Bishop on March 14, 2011 at 1:54 PM

      That’s a good point…examples are radon and lead. However I don’t think any scientist worth his or her salt would make a blanket statement and call “natural” being better than “man made” a bunch of BS. I think most scientists, even those with a rudimentary understanding of human biology, with all else being equal, would prefer a human to ingest a natural substance vs. a synthetic substance any day.

    • Casie on March 14, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      For most people these “umbrella” descriptions simply help create a divide and a definition to describe ingredients, or manufacturers, rather, that generally produce items with dangerous chemicals versus those that use materials that pose little-no health risks. But when one has a wealth of knowledge in the field toxicology, as you do, those terms may seem too general.
      Given your profession, are you alarmed by the long-term effects of the materials used to make the coating in the cookware we use? There is certainly enough concrete evidence so I’d love to get your take on the matter.

  13. Thehendls on March 13, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    Thank you. This is the most thorough article I have seen concerning the dangers of cookware. I have newer nonstick T-fal stainless steel and old Copper bottom Revere Wear. I got rid of my old heavy cast alumunim a long time ago because of the proclaimed danger. When I last shopped for cookware, I found little made in the USA.

  14. Natalia on March 13, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    I am so grateful the author of this article. My glass sauce pot just cracked and I was looking for cookware. I don’t like cast iron because it’s so heavy. But cast iron and glass cookware are %100 non-toxic. Now I am going to buy ceramic Xtrema cookware only. Thank you for this information again.

  15. Bill Bishop on March 13, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    I am sure if the EPA was untethered from politics, that it would ban PTFE chemicals. However the powers that be would never allow this, since it would open up such a huge liability for the big business that supports them. I wonder…when will the government once again be “for the people”????

  16. Frederica on March 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I remember being told years ago that if you keep birds in the house, you have to chuck out all teflon and non-stick pans, because the birds are highly sensitive to the escaping fumes!

    • Casie on March 23, 2011 at 3:23 PM

      Oh my goodness! I have never heard that before. Thats scary.

  17. Hrushing on March 14, 2011 at 9:29 PM

    This article contains erroneous information on nonstick cookware and PFOA, the processing aide used in the manufacture of some nonstick coatings. First, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not classified PFOA as a “likely carcinogen.” As EPA states on its PFOA website, “EPA has not made any definitive conclusions regarding potential risks, including cancer, at this time.”

    Regarding PFOA exposure, authoritative bodies have indicated that fluoropolymer-based nonstick cookware is safe for its intended use. For instance, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) has stated that “the consumer health risk related to residues of PFOA in non-stick coating for cookware is considered to be negligible.” Nonstick coatings have been, and continue to be, approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, and other public health agencies worldwide.

    Nevertheless, the major manufacturers of PFOA in the USA banded together under the guidance of the EPA to reduce dramatically global facility emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals by 95% as of 2010 compared to 2000, and to work toward eliminating all emissions and product content of PFOA by 2015. Industry participants have made considerable progress against these goals, and their annual reports to EPA are posted on the Agency’s website at: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/pubs/stewardship/index.html.

    There is no credible evidence either that cooking in aluminum pans is a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s association says this is a myth.

    Hugh Rushing
    Executive Vice President
    Cookware Manufacturers Association

    • dave h on January 29, 2013 at 8:45 PM

      mr rushing what credible evidence do you have execpt being evp of cook manufacturing association just follow the money trail

  18. Iskra on March 15, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    Titanium cookware is also non-stick cookware, and is a better choice over Teflon coated cookware. It is healthy and safe because it is non-porous and therefore food does not stick to it or react with it. You can therefore cook with less or no oil for a healthier waistline.

    Here is a link that might be useful:
    http://www.helpful-kitchen-tips.com/kitchen-blog/2008/11/28/titanium-cookware-review/

  19. Mfree78895 on March 15, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    The enamel option is said to be breakable, and the glass option highly breakable, but the ceramic option was not characterized or compared with respect to the breakability issue. How does ceramic compare with the other options? For example, is it about the same as glass, or is there some real difference on this issue between these two materials. Left perplexed on this issue, I thank you for whatever light you could shed on how ceramic compares with the other options. [I do not wish to have my email address or identity divulged outside your organization, and answering your question as to who I am does not change this position about the privacy of such information.]

    • Mina (Live in the Now) on March 16, 2011 at 1:46 PM

      Thank you so much for your question. I imagine other readers may have been wondering the same thing.

      Ceramic cookware is in fact breakable, so you do need to exercise care when using it. The Xtrema ceramic products, however, are extremely durable. According to Ceramcor, the cooking surface cannot be scratched, even by metal utensils and steel wool, and they can endure temperatures of up to 2,700 degrees F. Additionally, all Xtrema products come with a 50 year warranty that covers all thermal shock breakage. (It doesn’t cover accidental breakage by impact, however – i.e. if you drop it.)

      In terms of overall durability, I would place high quality ceramic cookware above enamel-coated cast iron and glass. The enamel on Le Creuset and similar products can chip (I know from experience), and glass is extremely prone to thermal shock breakage. (This I also know from experience…)

      We have updated the article to reflect this information.

      Thanks again for catching that omission!

  20. Hard on March 22, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    I have a set of “hard anodized” cookware that is also non-stick. Is this any different because of the hardness or is it still dangerous?

    • Mina (Live in the Now) on March 24, 2011 at 7:59 PM

      From what I understand, hard anodized aluminum cookware is relatively durable and non-reactive, however, once the surface is scratched or otherwise damaged, it becomes reactive, meaning it could leech aluminum into your food. Though the manufacturers of such cookware claim that the aluminum is sealed in as part of the anodization process, I would probably try to steer clear of it in the future, and start phasing it out of your kitchen as it becomes worn or damaged.

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  22. Sonia Frampton on October 21, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    have you ever heard of Orgreenic?

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  26. Using and seasoning a cast Iron SKillet on June 2, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    [...] outdoors, over a camp fire or covered in coals. One set and you have it all! Also because of the unsafe health risks that come from Teflon and other non-stick surfaces from un-natural sourses such as cancers, thyroid [...]

  27. Buffy on December 5, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Hi-
    can you tell me if you feel that the scanpan is a safer option? they say the Scanpan non-stick cookware are 100% free from PFOA and PFOS, from production to final products, and they are made from a ceramic titanium with non-stick. what does that mean exactly? thanks, B.

    • Casie Terry on December 6, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      Hi!

      I dont know too much about that brand but from what mention in their product descriptions they seem great!

  28. jason g on January 23, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    What about diamond coated non-stick pans?

    (And, as a suggestion- you should also address the non-stick properties of each option…….

  29. Tia on February 27, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    CHANTAL cookware – their former line of enamel on steel and their current one of Copper Fusion with enamel cooking surface – is the best, folks, for quicker everyday cooking.

    Along with Le Creuset enamel coated cast iron. Some dishes work better with a Chantal while others do best with the Le Creuset. Hands down, and I’ve tried them all, these two companies are the tops for PORCELAIN enamel (that is made from glass, not petroleum).

    Avoid the few non-stick items that both companies have made, though. PORCELAIN ENAMEL for the cooking surface.

    Mercola’s website also has some cookware options.

    Beyond that, there is a place for stainless steel. But, did you know that some stainless on the market is actually made with radioactive metals that were not properly discarded?

    Researching the company, knowing where they get their raw product is just as important as how we research where our food comes from and how animals – even eggs – come about regarding their “happy” and healthy lives.

    STAINLESS MIRROR interior is best. Or one that has been very highly buffed. This will mean less of the metal gets into your food.

    Cookware should be seen as a life-time investment. Buy just one pot or pan if that’s all you can and then work up. DO NOT BUY THROW AWAY COOKWARE. It’s not good for us or the planet.

    Cookware should last your lifetime and beyond. We need to start thinking about that with every purchase.

    Those with a nickel sensitivy should avoid stainless, though.

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