You probably spend a lot of time preparing healthy foods for your family. From planning, to shopping, to actually cooking the meal, you put a lot of effort into making sure your family gets only the best. But after all the time and effort, do you know whether you’re using the best cookware?
In this post, we’ll uncover which types of cookware you want to steer clear of and why, as well as unpack the pros and cons of the best cookware options out there.
Why is some cookware dangerous?
The best cookware set is the one that’s safe, right? But some contain chemicals or elemental metals that can contaminate food and cause health problems. Choosing non-toxic cookware can reduce or eliminate these health concerns, so it’s worth the time (and money) to choose the right ones.
The problem with non stick pans
What’s better than cooking the perfect over easy egg that just slides off the pan? Or making pancakes fast and easy? (And what’s more frustrating when your beautiful culinary creation is ruined due to sticking!?) In enters the non stick pans. The human’s desire for a non-stick pan appears to be nothing new. Some say that the Mycenaean Greeks might have been the first to use non-stick pans to make bread more than 3,000 years ago.
“Mycenaean ceramic griddles had one smooth side and one side covered with tiny holes. The bread was probably placed on the side with the holes, since the dough tended to stick when cooked on the smooth side of the pan. The holes seemed to be an ancient non-sticking technology, ensuring that oil spread evenly over the griddle.”
The modern day non-stick pans were discovered accidentally by Roy Plunkett while working with the DuPont company. Later coined as “Teflon”, this polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE material, was first used in World War II to make seals “resistant to the uranium hexafluoride gas used in development of the atomic bomb”. Eww! During this time, they also discovered its powerful, non-stick properties and started using commercially in cookware in the mid-1940’s.
The problem with non-stick cookware is that it’s made with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
PFOAs have been shown in numerous studies to potentially cause heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, testicular cancer, pancreatic cancer, immune system damage, and pituitary gland damage.
This is so toxic that the FDA is pressuring manufacturers to phase this chemical out due its health and environmental concerns.
So what’s a natural mama to do if she wants a non stick cooking experience? Stay tuned as we’ll discuss this later in post!
Is aluminum cookware safe?
You’ll also want to phase out any aluminum cookware in your kitchen. It’s been classified as a health-jeopardizing toxin by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. There has also been some evidence connecting high levels of aluminum in the brain to Alzheimer’s disease—though there’s no conclusive evidence to support a direct cause and effect.
While exposure to small amounts of aluminum is unavoidable and probably not harmful, we’re exposed to much more of this element than our grandparents ever were (from vaccines, to cookware, contaminated water, and more), so to play it safe, it’s best to avoid any additional exposure.
Is copper cookware safe?
I love the look of copper pans but you do want to be careful with this cookware too because it can leach into your food. Unlike aluminum, copper is a necessary mineral for good health—but it can become toxic in the body very easily. That’s because many of us have copper pipes in our homes or have been on birth control pills or use a copper IUD. Copper toxicity, or deregulation, is much more common than copper deficiency today and can cause many issues, like Tourette’s, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and Asperger’s. So it’s better to stay away from copper cookware, especially if you have adrenal fatigue, excess stress in your life, or other mineral deficiencies (like zinc, which opposes copper and keeps it in check).
OK, so what is the best cookware?
Now that we got the bad news out of the way and we know which cookware to avoid, here are some safe, non-toxic alternatives.
Pros: Old-school cast iron is still a great choice for non-toxic cookware. It’s time tested, heats up quickly, and can be used on the stovetop or the oven (or both!). Bonus: If a cast iron pan is seasoned properly, and then it’s virtually non-stick. YAY! Cast iron pans are also super easy to clean as you don’t want to use soap because it can breakdown your seasoning. Just use hot water. These pans are also relatively inexpensive because they last a lifetime. In fact, I know a few friends who have their grandmother’s cast iron pans so they can even be passed down from generation to generation!
Cons: Contrary to popular belief, iron can leach from the pan into your food, which is fine if you need more iron or are a healthy individual, but not so fine if you’re bordering on high iron levels.
“A study published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that cooking in cast iron skillets added significant amounts of iron to 20 foods tested. For example, the researchers reported that the iron content of three ounces of applesauce increased from 0.35 mg to 7.3 mg and scrambled eggs increased from 1.49 mg to 4.76 mg of iron.“
Here is a fuller chart from the study…
|Foods tested (3 oz.)||Raw iron content||Iron after cooking in cast iron|
|Applesauce||0.35 mg.||7.38 mg.|
|Medium white sauce||0.22||3.30|
|Meat spaghetti sauce||0.71||3.58|
|Beef vegetable stew||0.66||3.4|
|Pan broiled bacon||0.77||1.92|
|Pan fried green beans||0.64||1.18|
|Pan broiled hamburger||1.49||2.29|
|Fried corn tortillas||0.86||1.23|
|Beef liver with onions||3.1||3.87|
Iron is a pro-oxidant (the opposite of an antioxidant), meaning it promotes oxidative stress, and isn’t eliminated easily from the body. We don’t want that, even if cast iron is in the form of inorganic iron, it can still affect the body! This means that menopausal and post-menopausal women, as well as men, should probably stay away from cast iron to avoid high iron. Also, if you have hemochromatosis, an iron overload disease, you most certainly want to avoid cast iron. Or, you can simply avoid excess moisture and acidity in your cast iron pans to reduce iron leaching into your food. (Again, if you are healthy or low iron, you are fine using cast iron.) Avoid cooking wet sauces, especially tomato, citrus or acid-based ones. Stick to drier, less-acidic foods, like pancakes, hash browns, chicken, and burgers.
Enameled cast iron or steel
Pros: Enameled cast iron is another option if you’re worried about iron leaching. The enamel coating is non-stick and non-reactive, so you can cook anything without problems (hello tomato sauce!). This is one of my personal favorites because it’s so versatile. Be sure to choose a brand made in Europe or the U.S.—not China—to avoid the chances of lead being in the coating.
Cons: This type of cookware can be more expensive. Additionally, the enamel coating may start to chip after a lot of wear and tear.
Pros: Ceramic cookware is another good choice. It’s safe, heats evenly, and lasts a long time. It can also be put into the dishwasher when needed. Ceramic cookware is also ideal for going from stovetop to dinner table (it retains heat well) to refrigerator.
Cons: There is a small possibility that ceramic cookware can contain lead or cadmium so be sure you’re purchasing this cookware from a reputable manufacturer. It is also more fragile and can break when compared with cast iron or stainless steel.
Pros: Stoneware is a great choice for anyone worried about chemicals leaching into food. Stoneware made in the U.S. or Canada is lead-free and safe to use. It’s the best non-stick cookware, because after seasoning, you never have to add oil again (YAY!).
Cons: It can be heavy and may chip, but when cared for, stoneware can really be your best cookware and it last a long time.
Pros: Glass is a great choice for anything that goes in the oven, since it’s completely non-toxic. In fact, glass is the most inert material on the planet if you get from a good source (and therefore the best cookware!). You can also find glass skillets and sauce pans that can be used on the stovetop.
Cons: Again, be careful of foreign products that may be manufactured with heavy metals. Products made in the U.S., Canada and the European Union are usually safe. Also, glass is more fragile than other metals.
Pros: The metals, which usually includes aluminum, used in stainless steel are particularly stable, so leaching is a low concern. Here’s a pro tip for stainless shoppers: take a magnet and put it up to the stainless steel pan. If it sticks, you are good to go as this means the aluminum levels are very low. If the magnet doesn’t stick, don’t buy! Stainless steel tends to be inexpensive, and retains heat, which is great for evenly cooked food. They can be easily cleaned with mild soap and light scrubbing.
Cons: Don’t use stainless steel for things like broth, which is cooked over many days and could cause leaching of metals. Foods cooked in stainless steel pans are also more prone to sticking 🙁 However, reader Emily suggested heating the stainless steel pan first, then adding your oil of choice. (Doing it in this order should reduce or eliminate the sticking of food!)
Your best cookware: Non-toxic kitchen must have’s
When it comes to replacing your cookware, most of us can’t do it all at once due to cost. So start here, with the basic necessities for your safest, and best cookware.
1. Large skillet
What? A large skillet in the size of 10-12 inches for a family of 4+ or 8 inches if you are a family of two.
Why? Skillets are perfect for everyday meals like frying bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, chicken and veggie stir fries, and reheating leftovers.
Where to buy? You can find cast-iron skillets here. If you’d rather avoid iron or tend to cook a lot of acidic or moisture-rich foods, pick an enameled cast-iron option here.
Pick an enameled cast-iron option here.
You can also go with these stainless steel options, which are excellent for shorter cook times.
What? A 10 quart stockpot is perfect for a family of 4+. If you love making large vats of bone broth, I like the 16 quart size. For smaller families, a 6 or 8 quart size works well.
Why? This is the best cookware to make your own bone broth or meat stock, which are excellent ways to cook meat (for meat stock) or use chicken carcasses or beef/lamb bones (for bone both). For most people, these are great ways to support your gut health, as well as make use of the whole animal. Stockpots are also wonderful for vegetable soups, steaming veggies like broccoli, and cooking pasta.
Where to buy? I always recommend enameled steel or iron that won’t leach while cooking for long periods. This is my favorite stockpot of all time and makes a great wedding present! Every home should have this pot (and who doesn’t love the bright colors!)
3. Sauce pan
What? I like the the 3 quart size for bigger families and 2 quart size for smaller appetites.
Why? This is the best cookware to make all your sauces from fondue to chocolate and tomato sauces. It’s also great for reheating foods quickly or for cooking grains and beans.
Where to buy? Enamel-coated pans like these are great so you can cook all sauces, including tomato. If you’re looking for a less expensive, stainless steel option, try this one.
4. Baking pan
What? Look for a rectangle pan in the dimensions of at least 8X13, larger for bigger families.
Why? This is the best cookware for things like lasagna, casseroles, cooking chicken breast or even roasting vegetables.
Where to buy? Glass is perfect for the oven. Whether you’re baking chicken breasts or making a healthy dessert, a large baking dish is a must. Here’s one I love at a great price! If you prefer stoneware or ceramic, here are some good choices.
5. Baking sheet
What? A 10X15 flat pan for the oven is a must have in kitchens. You can go larger if you have a big family.
Why? A baking sheet is a necessity for baking cookies, crackers, sausage patties, meatballs, and the like.
Where to buy? I tend to go with stoneware like this for baking sheets because they stand up to long cooking times and high heat. You can also try this sheet, which is inexpensive and made from 100% stainless steel.
Bonus best cookware options
Now that you have the basics, you can slowly add in these other non-essential (but totally useful) cookware pieces.
6. Small skillet
A small skillet is a must if you like to make omelets or frittatas, and it’s really helpful for sautéing garlic or other small jobs like a meal for one. Cast iron is a good choice or an enamel-coated pan.
7. Another pan for baking
When you want to bake cakes or cornbread but don’t need a large dish, an 8-inch baking pan is perfect. You may want one square one for tarts, lemons bars, and the like, and one round one for cakes.
8. Bread (loaf) pan
If you bake your own bread, or make sweet breads like pumpkin, banana, or zucchini bread, you’ll need a loaf pan. They’re great for meatloaf too!
If you’re into stir-fry, you may appreciate a quality wok. Even if you aren’t a big stir-fry fiend, woks are excellent for deep-frying and steaming too. Stainless steel or carbon steel are your best choices, thoughcast iron woks work too.
10. Dutch oven
A Dutch oven is one of the most versatile pieces of cookware you can own. It goes from the stovetop to the oven to the table, all while looking great. When it comes to one-pot meals, a Dutch oven is a lifesaver. You can cook risotto, meat dishes, apple butter, bread, or a whole chicken. I told you it was versatile! For Dutch ovens, I prefer enameled cast iron, since they are heated for long periods of time, and food sits in them for even longer. Here’s a 5.5-quart option and a 7.5-quart.
Closing: The Safest, Non-toxic Cookware
By following this best cookware guide, you can feel great about the food your preparing for your family. Don’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged if you need to buy lots of new pieces. Just start little by little and go slow. I always think the saute pan is best to start with and work from there. Pots and pans make great Christmas and birthday gifts (or maybe it’s just me!) Remember, good is pretty darn good when perfect isn’t an option 🙂
How about you?
What is your go-to non-toxic, best cookware piece? Share with us in the comment section below!
P.S. Put your new cookware to good use with a meal-kit delivery service. Each week you’ll get a box with great recipes and pre-measured ingredient packs that will save you time. Some services even offer organic meal delivery, bringing non-GMO produce, sustainably-sourced seafood, and hormone-free meats to your door for about $10 a serving.