Usually, when we shop for pots and pans, we tend to look at two/three major factors.
But these are not the only variables that should concern us. For a few people, the material that the pots and pans are made from also play a role. This is really important. If you have ever shopped for pots and pans, perhaps one of the most confusing things is the sheer varieties of materials available.
- Aluminum pots and pans
- Non-Stick pots and pans
- Cast-Iron pots and pans
- Stainless steel pots and pans
- Ceramic pots and pans
- Stoneware pots and pans
- Copper pots and pans
- Glass pots and pans (yes, glass)
and so much more….
The materials that these pots and pans can be categorized on a scale from safe to unsafe.
Yep! The pots and pans you cook with have an impact on how ultimately healthy the meals you cook in them are. Some of the materials used in making cookware (pots and pans) are actually quite toxic. Others are moderately so and yet others can be considered to be safe. This is really important information to note as the cookware we use comes in direct contact with our food, hence harmful metals and chemicals on unsafe cookware can pass harmful contaminants in our food and into our bodies. Imagine buying organic food and cooking them in a pot made with toxic materials that leech these materials into your meals! Talk about negating the benefits of your healthy meal.
So how does one weed through it all and wind up with the pots and pans made from the safest, yet best priced (for them) cookware? We thought we might help steer you in the right direction. We’ve categorized the materials into safe (no particular order) and unsafe (no particular order) so that it can help you make up your mind.
Cast iron cookware
These are the oldest and most reliable type of cookware. According to an American Dietetic Association study, cast iron cookware can actually leach significant amounts of inorganic iron into food. The amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, its water content, how long it was cooked, and how old the cookware is.
- People who suffer from anemia or iron deficiencies may benefit from the increased iron leached into food.
- Cast iron cookware offer superior heat distribution and retention when used in cooking
- A well-seasoned cast iron pan will last forever! You can literally pass it on for generations.
- Food won’t stick to it. That is natural non-stick for you!
Their use dates back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks and Chinese. Although the ceramic pots used then were far more basic and simple compared to the type of ceramic cookware being used today, even those living in America as far back as the 1600s used ceramic pots and pans, until the Industrial age brought in another alternative, aluminium pots and pans. They have become popular again since their health benefits were lauded by environmentally conscious consumers.
- It is important to note that authentic ceramic cookware is not made using PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid ) and does not contain any metals like lead, cadmium, aluminium, copper, nickel, iron or any other heavy metals that could be harmful to the human body.
- Instead, it is mostly made from water, inorganic materials and minerals from the earth crust and no harmful gases are released in the air when it is heated to very high temperatures.
Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless Steel is easily the most durable, easiest to maintain and least expensive than any other cookware. It should have a minimum of 10.5% chromium content. However there are a lot of fake “stainless steel” cookware in our market. Best course of action is to purchase from a reputable source.
- Does not corrode
- Does not seep harmful materials into food.
Stoneware is similar to ceramics, as it is basically clay fired at a relatively high temperature and has been used for thousands of years. Its chemical stability makes stoneware vessels safe for cooking food. However, while stoneware is made from natural clay, it is best to choose stoneware cookware of the highest quality brand- as this type is lead free. Some inferior brands may contain trace amounts of lead, cadmium and other harmful materials that can release toxins into food.
- The durability and usability of stoneware make it perfect for baking, slow cooking and serving food. Unglazed stoneware in particular is popular for baking foods that is required to be light and crispy. Bread baked in a stoneware loaf pan will be crustier than one that is baked on a metal tray.
Glass is safe healthwise but because of the delicacy of the material, may not be suitable for everyone. The technology has come so far that it be used for pretty much anything standard cookware can be used for. The only caveat is that one should not out cool/cold water/liquid in a hot glass pot. It doesn’t like a sudden change in temperature.
- Won’t absorb food odors or flavors.
- Doesn’t react with the acids in food.
- You can view food as it cooks!
- Easy to clean
This pretty looking cookware is somewhat in between safe and unsafe. With unlined copper pots and pans, the copper actually seeps into food when heated. Especially when acidic food is cooked in it. However, if the surface is lined with stainless steel, the danger may be averted. It should be noted that copper cookware eventually loses its protective layer if damaged or scoured with abrasive sponges. The metals of the “protective” surface can also end up in our food. We would advise that you just give copper cookware a pass.
Without a doubt, this is the most common type of cookware in Nigeria. The biggest pot making company even incorporated the word Aluminium in its name! While some argue that aluminium cookware is safe to prepare, store and serve food; others don’t agree. Aluminium exposure is reported to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
It also seeps into food and may cause serious brain damage over time! The amount of this metal that seeps into food from aluminium cookware depends on certain factors. Acidic foods, like tomato sauce, causes more aluminium to leak compared to the effects of lower-acid foods, like chicken or meat. Prolonged food that come in contact with this metal via longer cooking or storage times results in large amounts of aluminium that seeps into the food.
Most people opt for this type in particular but unfortunately, it too constitutes a health hazard. The coating of these pans are made of a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene, (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, which gives it its “non stick feature”.
According to a test conducted in 2003 by the Environmental Working Group in America, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases in just two to five minutes. That is a dangerously quick time to go from safe to unsafe. Especially as we can cook for hours!
In the long run, it is not enough to be conscious of what we eat and constantly eat healthy, but what we use to prepare what we eat. Most people tend to take such an issue for granted, which is a wrong move to make. Not all cookware is toxic of course, but this post serves to educate us on which is toxic and which is the safest cookware to use in the home.