Looking for the healthiest cooking pans? Worried about safe cookware? Here are my tips on how to find the healthiest cooking pans for your kitchen and for your family.
I get tons of emails and comments about how to choose the safest cooking pans. It’s a confusing topic, and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
So if your head is buzzing like mine was when I started researching safe cookware, then read on.
I’m sharing the basics of safe cookware vs. toxic cookware, plus my personal favorites and what I’m comfortable using every day.
Why find the healthiest cooking pans and safe cookware?
Sure, we take time to choose organic and to avoid chemical food additives when we can, but these aren’t the only toxins that can be present in our food. Our cookware may also be contributing to our toxic state.
Think about it: you want to cook with your pots and pans, but you don’t want to eat them!
And unfortunately, most modern cookware leaches toxins right into the food we’re eating. So that’s not just an omelet you’re tasting–you could be munching on some not so nourishing aluminum (yuck, right?). The leaching issue is a big one, believe me.
The topic of safe cookware is somewhat controversial.
For instance, some say stainless steel is safe, while others warn that acidic foods may cause toxic nickel, cobalt and chromium to leach into your food (read more about that in this study).
Here’s how I look at it:
We may not have all the answers when it comes to cookware, but we can avoid the worst and start making healthier choices with the information we have now. And that’s definitely a step in a positive direction!
Here is some of the information I’ve gathered so far:
Not the Healthiest Cooking Pans: Toxic Cookware
This is a highly toxic metal, linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia among other conditions. (Read about the toxic effects of aluminum here.)
Aluminum conducts heat quickly, which is why it’s often used in cookware.
Aluminum also leaches very easily, especially when heated or exposed to acidic foods (tomato soup, anyone?). Read more about the dangers of aluminum here.
Avoid cheap cookware made of aluminum.
Now, some cookware has an aluminum core surrounded in a safer cooking material, and these may be an acceptable choice. But they carry a risk if the surface is damaged, so make sure the cooking surface is undamaged and none of the aluminum is in contact with your food.
This sums it up:
Basically, you don’t want your food touching aluminum, especially if it’s heated.
This is one of the most common types of cookware, but Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can release toxic fumes into the air when overheated (and how often have you accidentally left a pan too long on the stove?).
Or maybe you have a husband (like mine) who thinks medium-high is a permanent setting on the stove.
But there’s more:
Another trouble is this cookware scratches easily if you’re not careful, so flecks of non-stick material can mix in unnoticed with your food (um, ew?).
Plus your food is exposed to the metal underneath–most likely aluminum (yep, again).
So, non-stick cookware is a definite no-no. (There’s a great article about the problems with Teflon here.)
Safe Cookware (Mostly)
Even though there are small concerns with stainless steel cookware, it’s still a much better choice than aluminum or non-stick cookware.
It’s also in a somewhat affordable price range, so it’s easier to make the switch without going broke.
I would caution against using stainless steel for acidic dishes, especially those that need to be slow-cooked for longer periods of time.
Here’s one downside:
Stainless steel is definitely not non-stick, so keep that in mind when using it so your eggs don’t glue themselves to the pan (true story).
The other downside is that quality stainless steel is stabilized with both chromium and nickel. This keeps your stainless steel from rusting and makes it stronger. However, some research shows that if you cook acidic foods for long periods of time in your stainless steel cookware, it can potentially leach chromium and nickel into your food. That’s why it’s best to use with non-acidic dishes only.
I personally use several stainless steel pots and pans, mostly for boiling pasta, cooking rice, and simmering non-acidic soups and stews. I’ve only tried a few brands, but this is my favorite stainless steel cookware so far. It’s just the right weight (not too heavy, not too light), and very sturdy. It’s put up with a lot and in still going strong. Plus, the lids have little steam vents that prevent my rice from boiling over!
While it is made of aluminum, anodized aluminum cookware has been electro-chemically anodized to make a more stable cooking surface. As long as it’s in good shape, this may be a safe option.
I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse it as harmless, but it is kinda neat that it’s also non-stick and scratch-resistant. I personally haven’t tried anodized aluminum cookware yet, so I can’t speak from personal experience on this one.
Safe Cookware: The Best and Healthiest Cooking Pans
This old-fashioned ceramic cookware is one of the safer kinds.
There’s also some kind of nostalgic enjoyment in using ceramic cookware. Things just look nourishing when served up in ceramic.
One problem with ceramic:
The one potential problem with ceramic is that if it’s produced by individuals or made in a foreign country it could very well contain lead in the glaze. Larger, domestic producers would be the safer bet.
I’ve tried a few ceramic frying pans, but they aren’t very non-stick and didn’t last long.
My personal favorite cooking pan is my Lodge cast iron pan.
Another old-fashioned favorite, cast iron cookware is probably one of the healthiest cooking pans available. It can also be pretty non-stick if seasoned properly.
What is seasoning?
- Seasoning requires a little extra work (typically coating with oil and baking at high heat for about an hour; your cookware should come with detailed instructions).
- My secret to seasoning is to lightly coat my pan with coconut oil, then heat at 500 degrees F for one hour.
- The first time I get a pan, I repeat this process several times in a row.
- After using the pan, I scrub it out with hot water, then dry it off.
- Then I coat the inside with oil again and heat it on medium-high for a few minutes.
- My pan stays totally non-stick this way! (As long as I use a wee bit of oil or butter when I cook my eggs.)
Cast iron is also pretty heavy (maybe cooking with it could be considered a good workout?). But overall I say no kitchen is complete without at least one or two cast iron pieces. I know it’s my favorite and I wouldn’t do without it.
Another bonus to cast iron?
Enameled Cast Iron.
This is even a step up from regular cast iron, because the enamel surface is easy to cook with and clean (dishwasher-safe). You also don’t have to worry about seasoning enameled cast iron cookware.
I have the beautiful Le Creuset 6-qt pot in the lovely Caribbean Blue and I adore it. I use it to cook stock and more acidic dishes.
It generally comes with a hefty price tag, but if you have the cash to spend, it would probably make a worthy investment.
The pricey Le Creuset brand even offers an impressive 99 year warranty! So even though the cost is generous up front, you’ll get a lifetime use out of your cookware, and you’ll know it’s safe. And, I have to say, it’s downright gorgeous.
Healthiest Cooking Pans and Safe Cookware: The Bottom Line
Of course, it’s not easy to shell out the cash for the healthiest cooking pans, especially when you’re trying to afford better quality food.
But it’s definitely a good investment for your health.
Replace one piece at a time.
If your current cookware is in good shape, you can probably squeak by if you’re being careful with it and replacing a little at a time.
However, if you’ve got scratch-and-dent Teflon you might want to consider taking the plunge and replacing it with something safer.
What kind of cookware do you use? What do you think is safe cookware? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
More Healthy Living Posts from Elizabeth:
- Top 5 Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Dramatically Reduce Your Exposure)
- How to Clean an Oven with Natural Oven Cleaner
- 10 Ways You Can Use Lemon Juice Instead of Toxic Chemicals for Health, Cleaning and Beauty
- 35 Natural DIY Cleaning Recipes for a Naturally Clean Home