There are many choices in cookware when it comes to getting a new replacement. It can be overwhelming when wanting to choose the best for you and your family. Let’s have a look at toxin-free options…
For a good choice in cookware, free of potential toxins, consider nickel-free stainless steel, 100% ceramic, seasoned cast iron, or pyrex.
The following covers why I’ve mentioned these. It’s what I’ve discovered concerning the different types of cookware materials in use.
The raw material, iron, is a natural element. In cookware, iron has been used since the ‘iron age” — 2500 years ago. It’s a tried and tested cookware material. The use of cast iron for cookware has been around since at least 1707 — it’s safe to say it’s reliable and time-tested.
Click here to check out a great selection of cast iron skillets.
When cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes), cast iron pots and pans add iron to the food. Most of us do well with extra iron in our diets (but not all, e.g. if they have hemochromatosis).
Tip: Keep your cast iron cookware ‘seasoned‘ to reduce leaching of iron. It’ll also helps in preventing black residue forming and your cast iron ware turning into a rusty pot. Using enameled cast iron cookware is an another option.
Tempered glass (or Pyrex) is a good option for cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes. Rather than stovetop use, glass cookware is most used in oven cooking – check out my article on the best bakeware.
Tip: Avoid extreme temperature change with the cookware as it can crack. I write about this in my article on putting glass in the oven, which also covers the two different types of Pyrex available. One more heat resilient than the other — which is interesting!
100% ceramic cookware
Pure ceramic cookware safety comes down to non toxic clay materials that are eco-friendly and are one of the healthiest pans to cook with.
The makers of Xtrema 100% ceramic cookware claim:
From the ceramic glaze to the core, it contains no metal, cadmium, lead, PFOA, PTFE, glues, polymers, coatings or dyes.
…every shipment is inspected and tested for the presence of heavy metals. Xtrema® cookware is also FDA-approved and meets California Prop 65 standards, certifying that it is free of more than 800 compounds that may cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm.
You can learn more in my article that reviews this 100% ceramic cookware by Xtrema.
Tip: Like glass cookware, avoid extreme changes in temperature when using pure ceramic cookware.
If looking to buy stainless steel, check out the grade – indicated by the fraction stamped on the bottom. For stainless steel cookware, 18/8 and 18/10 are the least likely grades to leach into food. The first number (18) indicates the chromium amount and the other the nickel portion.
Nickel and to a less extent chromium are considered a frequent cause of allergic contact dermatitis.J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Oct 2; 61(39): 9495–9501.
Because of allergy concerns, some people seek to buy nickel-free stainless steel cookware. I include nickel-free options in my buyers guide for stainless steel cookware.
Nickel and chromium are components of stainless steel and hence can leach into food – particularly when cooking acidic foods 2.
Tip: Avoid storing acidic food in stainless steel.
The benefits of stainless steel is that it is durable and can be recycled.
Non Stick Pans
You can choose pans with a ceramic inner coating or with a PTFE cooking surface (and there’s now a plant based nonstick).
In all cases of nonstick cookware where the coated cooking surface has deteriorated you have a metal base of usually aluminum.
You can extend the life of your non stick pan by making sure to avoid metal utensils and taking other care tips, which I write about in my article on how to use, care, and store nonstick cookware.
The concern about Teflon is the polymer fumes. Birds are particularly sensitive to these fumes. So watch this if you have pet birds at home.
Also, the PFOA (that’s been used in early Teflon pans) has been associated with several types of cancer, including breast cancer. Certainly something to think twice about.
A metal pan or pot that is aluminum is lightweight and cheap — the good points! The downside is exposure to aluminum. This type of cookware has the potential to leach aluminum into your food. Aluminum is considered harmful as it accumulates and reaches above certain levels in the body. (see the video for more on aluminum cookware — at timestamp 3:31).
Copper too, while a small amount is essential for our wellbeing, can be toxic at high levels. This is especially something to watch when using lemon or tomato based ingredients since the acid in these foods reacts with and releases more of the metals.
Different cookware materials and their issues
It seems Bright Side agrees with my mantra… good eating starts with using non-toxic cookware.
Here’s Bright Side’s video on various cookware materials.
Video: Cookware material and toxins
Short on time?
The timestamps for each cookware:
- Teflon at 0:38 min
- Cast iron at 2:58
- Aluminum cookware at 3:31
- Copper cookware at 5:12
- Stainless steel cookware at 6:29
- Ceramic coated at 6:54
- Pure ceramic cookware at 8:18
Avoiding Toxic Cookware
Proposition 65 sets limits for heavy metals, lead and cadmium. Our bodies do not require these elements. In fact, the accumulation of these in our bodies can cause an assortment of health problems.
The US federal regulations on food contact surfaces ensure the safety of cookware. This means there are health and safety standards for engineering cookware surfaces of products sold in the US.
There are also state regulations, e.g., California’s Proposition 65, restricting or ensuring safe levels of a multitude of known substances.
Bottom line on the best cookware material
There are cookware materials to consider if seeking toxin-free options in your kitchen. Here is a summary:
- Cast iron: Iron has been used for centuries in cookware. It is tried and tested. Seasoned cast iron has a sealed surfaced and reduces the leaching of iron into foods if that is a concern.
- Pure ceramic cookware sold in the US is a considered a toxin free option.
- Nickel-free stainless steel lowers the likelihood of Ni leaching into food where this is a sensitivity-issue.
- Pyrex is a type of glass that tolerates cooking temperatures and is rather inert.
- Cookware Manufacturers Association, FDA Coating Compliance Information, CMA Standards Manual, Pages 28-32. Access date June 30, 2019.
- Kamerud KL, Hobbie KA, Anderson KA. Stainless steel leaches nickel and chromium into foods during cooking. J Agric Food Chem. 2013;61(39):9495–9501. doi:10.1021/jf402400v