I've been asked before and quite recently as the holidays just passed and upgrades to kitchen necessities were up for grabs - 'What cookware do you recommend?' There isn't one answer, so let's discuss. If you are conscious about what food you put into your body, naturally you'll be conscious of the vessel for said food. This post will focus on stove-top pots and pans and some ovenware too.
By now (2019) you may have heard the bad news about traditional non-stick cookware (Teflon, a brand name), - coated pans which were all the rage for quite some time. Hey, it made food Not stick to the pan and also clean up was easy. Then some rumblings came out about what was in this magical non-stick coating (perfluorinated compounds, PFCs), specifically PFOA and PTFE, and did it/how much leached into food when heated? While research has been done on these chemicals and their effects on the body (PFOA can stay in the body for many years), most studies determined that it was GRAS - generally regarded as safe*. At low amounts. However, more recent research has found that PFOA is a possible human carcinogen (causes cancer) and animal studies led to the conclusion that this chemical is an endocrine disruptor, causing reproductive harm*. The age of your non-stick pan and the matter that if the coating is scratched or damaged (mine were!), play a part. My conclusion on this - throw your old, worn non-stick pans out.
Another concern with non-stick cookware is the fact that many pans had an aluminum base as well. Aluminum toxicity has been linked as a component in the development of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases*. While this scientific debate is ongoing, aluminum as a general neurotoxin is well-known in the plant, animal, and human world. A study in 2017 established particular concern for the transfer of aluminum through heating vessels that contained acidic foods (tomato sauce and citrus) - the acidity of these foods caused a greater measured transfer into the food than other foods*. Now, do you need to worry about an aluminum pan with an alternate coating (ceramic, chemical-free non-stick)? I would say it depends on the quality and the condition of the pan. Aluminum pans have been a choice option as they are inexpensive, versatile, lightweight, and good heat conductors. My takeaway: ditch the aluminum foil and make sure that you have a quality pan with a solid chemical-free coating. And, make sure you have other cookware options. Such as...
Cast iron cookware is at the top of the list for safety. However, I'll mention that it isn't entirely practical. Cast iron is heavy and you can't just 'give it a wash' and go. You should never wash with dishsoap and water - just rinse with hot water, after scraping the bits of food off with a hardened silicone scraper (everyone has one of these, right?) and 'season' the pan (put a light coating of high quality oil on it) and bake it at 350 for 30 minutes. That's the program with cast iron. You don't have to season and bake after each use; that's more in the beginning (after first 5 uses)*. Beyond that - season the pan when it begins looking dry. This is a good amount of upkeep that I don't always want to do. So I also use...
Stainless steel pots and pans - these make up the most of my kitchen at the moment. However, stainless they are not. Not always, anyway. Also, let's go back to the metal debate as I'd like to share that there are a couple of main types of stainless steel - magnetic and non-magnetic. Non-magnetic stainless steel typically contains other metals including nickel and cadmium. Nickel is a worry because in excessive amounts in the body, it can be allergenic and carcinogenic.* You'll want pans that are magnetic; these will contain more iron and you can test with a refrigerator magnet. Just place the magnet all over the pan; if it sticks firmly, you have a good pan. If not, you'll want to replace the pan with one of a better quality or type.
The next type of vessel that I use is ceramic (pictured above in my Le Creuset that was gifted at my wedding). I also very recently purchased some Bialetti pans that have an aluminum base, but with a titanium-ceramic coating. These pans are totally non-stick and I am happy with the quality. So even though they have the aluminim base, I'm okay with using them at times because of their chemical-free coating. The traditional ceramic options, like the Le Creuset, are great as well. The downside is the pricetag, and also the fact that food sometimes sticks. Cleaning isn't usually much of an issue, however, and there are ways around it. I also have some glass bakeware that I use, which is a solid, safe choice, but sometimes impractical (breakage).
So now let's go through what is left in the wide selection of cookware. Copper: No. Still touted as a chef's top choice, copper pans are expensive, high-maintenance, and lined with other metals that have to be kept up, or replaced after time. Why? Because copper will form toxic materials when it contacts acids (as in acidic-foods)* For me, this is not an efficient option. Some copper in the body is good; Too much is bad. Greenpan is a manufacturer that uses a ceramic non-stick coating called Thermolon, made from a sand-derivative not using chemicals such as PFOA. I have one of these pans (a grillpan that was gifted to me) and I use it on occasion on the stovetop. I'm pretty sure the base is aluminim as it's very lightweight. I wouldn't advocate buying an entire set of these but occasional use is probably okay. Solid Teknics is an Australian company that makes their AUS-ION line from wrought iron. It is supposed to be half the weight of cast iron, which is appealing. The pricetag is moderate to high, but I would be willing to try one of these guys. You can find them online here in the states; note that its cleaning and seasoning is the equivalent for cast iron. Stoneline is a maker of pans out of Germany that are comprised of an aluminium base with a ceramic coating. They also offer chemical-free non-stick products. At first glance, I thought these might be a good alternative, but for their expense, I have read too much about quality concerns to chance the investment.
So the final takeaway? Well, for starters and as with food, variety is key! My kitchen is currently comprised of stainless steel, ceramic, enameled and traditional cast iron, and the new titanium-ceramic coated aluminum non-stick pans that I mentioned above. I would ditch the older non-stick pans pronto; if you have stainless steel, do the magnet test; if you have a copper pot, is it in good shape and of good quality?; treat your cast iron-ware right; rotate your vessels so that you aren't always using the same piece over and over; replace aluminum foil with another option, and use non-abrasive cleaners and sponges on all of your pots and pans!
Begley, T.H., et al, "Perfluorochemicals: Potential Sources of and Migration from Food Packaging", Food Additives and Contaminants (February 2005): 1023-1031.
American Cancer Society, Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa.html (January 5 2016).
Sandrine Perez for Nourishing Ourselves, Cookware Recommendations, https://nourishingourselves.com/2013/02/21/cookware-recommendations/ (February 21 2013).
Dr. Deanna Minich, Toxins from Cookware: What is the Best Option to Avoid Adding to your Burden?", https://www.deannaminich.com/toxins-from-cookware-what-is-the-best-option-to-avoid-adding-to-your-burden/ (January 25 2019).
Stahl, Thorsten, et al, "Migration of Aluminum from Food Contact Materials to Food - A Health Risk for Consumers? Part III of III: Migration of Aluminum to Food from Camping Dishes and Utensils Made of Aluminum", Environmental Sciences Europe (April 2017): 17.
Insights and Inspirations on nutrition, food, wellness, recipes, and more! All posts by Jaime Frinak.