Out of the Frying Pan: Part One
Out of the Frying Pan: Choosing Safe CookwareThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, our modern predators tend to be more invisible than visible. From contaminants in our air, food, and water, to the electromagnetic fields and microwave rays (cell phone towers) passing through our bodies, we are daily assaulted by the invisible. As I have addressed many of these issues elsewhere, today I will introduce a new foe.
We all are doing our best to eat well (at least the readers of such articles), but we may be sabotaging our own food with our choice of cookware. By now most of you have heard of the dangers of Teflon. I used to have a friend who fried everything in an old Teflon frying pan, and I kept trying to warn him that since the outside coating was failing, that the cheap grade of pot-metal underneath could contaminate his food.
That was the least of his worries. At first the EWG (Environmental Working Group; a non-profit consumer protection organization) reported that Teflon vapors, released by cooking on high heat, were killing pet birds. Then DuPont (the makers of Teflon) admitted that not only could it kill birds, but also their own workers would come down with “polymer fume fever” when exposed to the fumes, during manufacturing. Symptoms are flu-like and include aches, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
DuPont introduced nonstick cookware coated with Teflon in 1946. Today the family of fluorinated chemicals that resulted from Teflon includes countless nonstick, stain-repellent, and waterproof compounds, called “per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances” (PFAS).
Decades of heavy use of PFAS have resulted in contamination of soil and water, and these compounds have been found in the blood of people and animals all over the world. This widespread prevalence of PFAS is due to the fact that they do not decompose, remaining in the environment as long as plastics do, and remaining in mammalian bodies for years. (Source)
Just one of the PFAS, called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is linked to a variety of health problems, including organ toxicity, tumors, and increased levels of prostate cancer in plant workers exposed to the substance.
As far as cookware goes, in 3 to 5 minutes of high heat a Teflon pan releases about 6 toxic gases, two of which are considered carcinogenic, one of which is considered deadly (MFA), and two more which are considered toxic pollutants globally.
New Generation Non-Stick Cookware
So, around 2012, after DuPont was forced to phase out PFOA, and remove it from Teflon, they (along with other companies) came up with supposedly safer nonstick compounds. But, as EWG discovered, the new “perfluorinated” compounds (PFCs) being used may not be safer at all.
“PFCs are used too often and too widely in many consumer products. They have been associated with a host of health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol and obesity.” (Source)
PFCs, constitute a family of chemicals widely used to make water-repellent, grease-repellent, and stain-repellent coatings, and for other purposes in a wide range of consumer goods and industrial applications.
These chemicals are just as persistent in the body and environment, as the last generation, and have also been linked to detrimental health effects.
(For more information on this subject see: EWG’s Guide to Avoiding PFCS)
Other Dubious Cookware
Since it is pretty clear we want to avoid non-stick cookware, what are our options? First I will examine other commonly used forms of cookware that may not be ideal, and then look at our safest choices.
Most of us are also aware of the dangers of using aluminum cookware, due to it being a soft metal which easily leaches into foods cooked in it. In the field of nutrition, it has been believed for some time that aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and while you will find that idea debated (mostly by the aluminum industry), there is now considerable scientific evidence to support the theory. (Source) (Source)
As well, since I wrote the original version of this newsletter (2010), there is now also scientific evidence that aluminum can leach into foods cooked in such cookware. And this piece of scientific evidence also pointed out that: “The highest cytogenotoxicity was observed in the 6-year-old aluminum pot and the least in the new aluminum pot.”
(Source) So, at least, throw away those old aluminum pots, if you have not done so already.
The worst foods to cook in aluminum are the acidic one, such as applesauce, rhubarb, sauerkraut, and tomatoes, which will cause the most leaching. (Don’t worry about aluminum cans; they are all now coated with plastic inside, thus you don’t absorb aluminum, just xenoestrogens.)
One expert (Dr. A. McGuigan’s Report on Findings for the Federal Trade Commission) maintained that all vegetables cooked in aluminum produce hydroxide, which can neutralize digestive juices. This will inhibit digestive functions leading to the potential for ulcers and colitis, and other gastrointestinal problems. (Source)
Copper cookware, like aluminum, can leach the metal into foodstuffs. While, unlike aluminum, we do have a need for some copper, too much can be toxic and so such cookware is usually coated with a polymer film. Thus coated-copper cookware should also be avoided.
Anodized aluminum is an electro-chemical process that results in a hardened surface of the cookware, sealing it and preventing any leaching into food. It is easy to clean, non-stick and scratch resistant. Yet, the main producer of this cookware, Calphalon, now says that all their products are sealed with a synthetic resin (PTFE), though technically it is not “Teflon”.
Since synthetic resins are still a form of plastic we may run into the problem again with high temperature cooking, however, according to one source: “The PTFE that Calphalon uses today is completely PFOA-free. And, according to the American Cancer Society, there are no proven risks to humans from cooking with non-stick pans such as those made by Calphalon.” (Source)
I guess it comes down to how much you trust the American Cancer Society. I would use anodized aluminum if it were not sealed with PFTE, and my research indicates that it absolutely does not need to be coated to prevent aluminum leaching into the food: anodization is sufficient protection on its own.
One type of metal cookware is coated with a ceramic or enamel coating, both for the aesthetics of adding color, and to create resistance to stains and scratches.
When purchasing enameled cookware be sure that it has a white or cream-colored interior, since colored enamel may contain lead and cadmium. Technically, enameled coatings no longer contain lead, except in some slow-cookers and crock-pots, and cadmium is no longer used in pigments used for enameling. At least when made in countries with such restrictions, such as Europe and North America.
With regards to slow-cookers and crockpots: “The FDA has established maximum levels for leachable lead in ceramic and enamel coatings, and products that exceed these levels are subject to recall or agency enforcement action. In the 1970s excessive levels of potentially toxic cadmium were found in pigments used to color the interior of enamel cookware manufactured overseas. The FDA prohibited importing these products and continues to monitor imports.” (Source)
Personally, I have a problem with allowable levels of leachable lead in my cookware. I would just as soon avoid all potential metal contamination of my food.
Earthenware clay pots are generally safe, if they too are not glazed with color, but you also want to make sure that they are made from lead-free clay. Such products will state on their labels that they contain “no cadmium or lead.” Generally, avoid pottery made in Mexico, or third world countries. Pottery made in the U.S. or Canada must meet safety guidelines for lead, and will have labels stating that it is “safe for food use”.
We have covered the most commonly used cookware that is of dubious value to our health. In part two I will examine our best options for cookware.