Thursday, August 29, 2013


As you may remember, I gave away my microwave oven a couple of months ago. Some time before that, I had already recycled (in favor of Pyrex) all those plastic pans that were supposedly micro-safe, but aren't at all. So, those were my first steps in having less toxic meal preparation. And just this past month, I decided to throw out the last Teflon skillet that I had continued to use long after I swore to myself that it had to go. All my other pots are now stainless steel and an enamel stockpot. And I have one large iron skillet.

To make life even more confusing, recently, I heard that all my aluminum baking sheets and tins aren't trustworthy either. So there’s another step that I’ll have to consider, very soon.

Even though, I can’t spend a lot of cash - at any one time - for expensive cookware, I've decided to completely revamp my kitchen with healthier cookware. You’ll want to, too, after you hear how dangerous those late 20th century pots and pans are for you.

Just how bad is it?
Non-stick cookware
Nonstick/Teflon cookware is the most popular cookware in the US. These kinds of pots and pans pose health risks. Names for this cookware include: Teflon (round since 1946), Silverstone, Tefal, Anolon, Circulon, Caphalon and others. The Environmental Working Group, reports that nonstick coatings can “reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 3-5 minutes, releasing 15 toxic gases and chemicals, including two carcinogens (fluoropolymers).”

Want more health-related statistics? Over 90% of US people tested have been shown to have significant levels of toxic chemicals in their blood directly related to the nonstick coating used in cheap cookware. And newborns at birth already have measurable levels, too. At high heat the nonstick finishes release various toxic fumes, including cancer causing ones that are also associated with increase cholesterol and birth defects. When overheated, the nonstick finishes release fumes that cause illness in humans and are known to kill birds. Manufacturers have been forced to warn against use of these pans in homes with pet birds. It is also known that these substances cause tumors in rats and increased cancer rates in exposed workers.

Aluminum cookware
All those aluminum pans -some may be in your kitchen - are made from toxic heavy metals. Aluminum is a highly reactive metal that can leach into food, especially when you are cooking acidic foods. The metal-food reaction can form aluminum salts that are associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer’s disease.

While improvements have been made in aluminum cookware with the advent of anodized aluminum (a process that covers the aluminum with less toxic substances on the surface of the pan). On the other hand, there are still environmental and worker health problems related to the mining and processing of aluminum.
Wood utensils help protect cookware surfaces.

Copper cookware
While not as interactive as aluminum, copper cookware may also cause metal migration into your food (especially with highly acidic foods). Beyond that, there are sometimes other metals fused with the copper. So, all in all, it's best to avoid possible risk in copper pots and pans.

Thank Heaven, there is some safe cookware. 

Yes, there is safe cookware and you'd do yourself a favor in using it. Here is an overview of the basic materials that make for kitchenware safe.

Stainless steel

With stainless steel, the cooking surface includes less risky materials (iron, chromium, and manganese). It is also less prone to leaching. The exception would be stainless steel pots and pans that have been damaged by harsh scouring with an abrasive material like steel wool. If you keep the cooking surfaces intact, stainless steel is an excellent choice.

Cast iron
Cast iron is versatile and easy care. It works on the stove top or in the oven and requires no detergent for cleaning. It can be used – literally - for centuries. Well-seasoned cast iron cookware has a coating of polymerized fat that creates a non-stick surface and serves as a barrier between the iron and your food. That means little or no leaching under normal use. But to be safer, avoid the cooking and storage of acidic foods in cast iron. Enamel coated cast iron has the added advantage of both naturally non-stick and non-porous surfaces that allow for the preparation and storing of acid foods.

Glass, ceramic and enameled cookware 
All of these allow for safe, non-toxic use. And depending on the quality and size, they can serve multiple functions. Breakage and cracking are the main problems. Cracking will often lead to metal leaching in ceramic and enameled pots.

Take the leap.
Now, that you've likely as not, decided to toss out all that old, toxic cookware, it’s best to choose wisely what pieces are going to replace it. Sets are expensive and for the most of us that’s an obstacle. Picking and choosing well thought-out individual pots and pans over time helps avoid unnecessary costs. Just get what you really need.

A few saucepans or pots with lids

Quality stainless steel is non-reactive with most everything except the highly acidic things cooked at high temperatures. So, for those things, you might like at least one that's ceramic, enameled or glass. With an enamel-coated Dutch oven, you can make do with just a couple of stainless pans.

A big stockpot
Every working kitchen needs a big stockpot. It’s a necessity for making stews and broth, and you’ll also use it for spaghetti and for all kinds of other home-cooked foods.

A couple of skillets 
For most of my skillet usage, a cast iron pan fits the bill. An 8” or 10-incher will do nicely for most everything. A 14" ceramic-covered, stainless skillet gets a big workout for most everyday stove top casseroles and serves as a fry pan. Skillet lids are essential.

Bake ware
You want to avoid bake ware with non-stick coating. Regular aluminum isn't good, either. So, keep that in mind and make plans to purchase stainless steel or ceramic baking pans. In the meantime, you don’t have to toss your aluminum. Parchment paper and paper baking cups (unbleached paper, please) can keep your bake goods away from the metals. Pyrex glass dishes are great bake ware. Some even come with lids. Those with lids do double duty as storage containers - a real plus in small kitchens..

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