Looking to replace or purchase your first set of pots and pans? There are many choices when it comes to cookware. So what is the healthiest? It can be overwhelming and you’re wanting the best for you and your family’s health and budget, right? Let’s have a look…
Why is this important? My site is about healthy eating that starts with healthy cookware, so it makes sense to look at the different cookware materials on the market.
Here I look at Teflon, cast iron, aluminum, copper, stainless steel pans, ceramic coated, and pure ceramic cookware in the sense of ‘how healthy is the cookware material?’.
What is the healthiest cookware?
Food-grade stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, and pyrex, fit into the group of materials considered by many to be the healthy choices in cookware. There’s probably not one healthier than the other across all cooking styles. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.
Video: What is the Healthiest Cookware Material?
It seems Bright Side agrees with my mantra… eating healthy starts with using healthy cookware. We might all agree that it’s important to avoid toxic materials coming in contact with your food…for the sake of your health and that of your family’s.
Here’s Bright Side’s video of some toxic cookware materials.
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
Best non-toxic cookware materials
We think of cast iron skillets as healthy cooking pans. Especially when cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes), they add iron to the food. Most of us do well with extra iron in our diets. But some people have to avoid it, e.g. if they have hemochromatosis.
Enameled cast iron cookware for that matter stops iron leaching into the food. You might like to check out my article covering the different types of cast iron skillets.
Glass (or Pyrex) is a good option for cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes. Rather than stovetop use, glass ware is most used in oven cooking – check out my article on the best bakeware.
Tip: Avoid extreme changes in temperature with the cookware as it will likely crack.
100% ceramic non toxic cookware
Pure ceramic cookware safety comes down to non toxic clay materials that are eco-friendly and safe for your health.
9-Piece Traditions Cookware Set
from: Xtrema Cookware
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 looks specifically at this 100% ceramic cookware by Xtrema.
Tip: Like glass cookware, avoid extreme changes in temperature when using pure ceramic cookware.
Premium stainless steel
Nickel and chromium are components of stainless steel and hence can leach into food – particularly when cooking acidic foods 2.
The Starter Set
from: Made In 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.
Tip: Avoid storing acidic food in stainless steel.
The benefits of stainless steel is that it is durable and can be recycled.
Healthiest Non Stick Pans
What’s the safest non stick cookware? You can choose pans with a ceramic inner coating or with a PTFE cooking surface.
Ceramic non stick is considered a healthier option, as I explain in my guide to ceramic nonstick cookware.
In all cases of nonstick cookware where the coated cooking surface has deteriorated, the exposed metal has the potential to leach aluminum into your food. Aluminum is considered harmful when reaching above certain levels in the body.
The GreenLife ‘Free Your Healthy Chef’ Ceramic Cookware
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, as noted in the above video, is the polymer fume fever, which can occur hours after exposure.
I cover this more in comparing Teflon and ceramic nonstick cookware, but here’s a summation…
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.
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.
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.
Regulations for Safe Cookware
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.
What Is The Proposition 65?
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 is known as Proposition 65.
The official government site explains: “Proposition 65 requires businesses to provide warnings to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals can be in the products that Californians purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment.”
While not an officially adopted regulation, California’s Attorney General has used the following standard to enforce Proposition 65: California bans lead content greater than 0.1 parts per million in any foodware surface…From the Cookware Manufacturers Association Standards Manual, Pages 28-32
The state maintains a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.
- 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