What's Cooking? Making The Switch To Nontoxic Cookware

My friend Molly from MaisonPur and I have been working on this post for over a year. In fact, many of you have been told this post was going to be published “soon” on a number of occasions. Molly and I have procrastinated to no end with this topic because there are so many avenues to explore of beware of. So, instead, we’re highlighting some of the cautions we take and why, along with what we’ve decided to use in our own home. So, without further delay, here is what has come to be known between us as our Infamous Pot Post.

Long before I had any inkling of the existence of toxic things in my home, I visited a friend and noticed her little birdie was gone. Sadly, my friend told me that one morning the bird dropped dead just one minute after they had heated up a nonstick pan.

I knew the pan had to be emitting toxic fumes, and if you’ve heard how they used canaries in coal mines, you understand why: Long before they had ventilation systems in mines, the canaries were used as an early detection of methane or carbon monoxide build up. For hundreds of years, birds’ sensitive systems have been used as a first warning to toxic substances in the air. 

If hearing about a bird dropping dead from just the fumes of a Teflon pan wasn't enough to scare me away from using them, a little research confirmed that use of Teflon and nonstick pans was linked to certain cancers and birth defects. I quickly ditched my nonstick cookware, but finding a safe replacement was quite a challenge!

BE CAUTIOUS OF THESE

Here are some reasons why you may want to double check what’s in your cookware arsenal:

  • Teflon cookware

    • The most toxic non-stick cookware around because the chemical PFOA has been linked to more than just bird-deaths, such as cancer, thyroid disruption and impaired fertility.

    • In fact, the CDC reports PFOA was present in 95–100% of samples of people’s blood in 1999–2000 and 2003–2004 (source) and scientists at John Hopkins found PFOA in 100% of the umbilical cords they tested (source) which means the substance definitely passes through the placenta.

    • Teflon manufacturer DuPont was fined over $10 million by the EPA for failures to report information to EPA about substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment (source) and settled a class action lawsuit in 2017 for $671 million for leaking PFOA from their plant in West Virginia (source).

    • Our advice is to ditch any and all Teflon/PFOA non stick pans ASAP!

  • Aluminum foil and cookware

    • Leaches the heavy metal into food. A 2012 study showed that the use of aluminum foil for cooking contributes significantly to the daily intake of aluminum through the cooked foods. The amount of leaching was found to be high in acidic solutions, and even higher with the addition of spices.

    • The report continues…According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the obtained values considered to be unacceptable. Finally, excessive consumption of aluminum from leaching aluminum foil has an extreme health risk effects. (source).

    • Elevated dietary aluminum content has been found in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease (source).

  • Stainless steel cookware

    • Made from a metal alloy consisting of mostly iron and chromium along with differing percentages of molybdenum, nickel, titanium, copper and vanadium, which can leach into food and have negative effects on our health. While there are some brands offering higher grade stainless steel with lower amounts of nickel (grades 400 & above), they often still contain several heavy metals and many have aluminum cores, making them susceptible to leaching aluminum if the pan is scratched or worn. Because of that, we don't feel comfortable recommending it.

    • Stainless steel leaches the highest amount of metals during the first 6-10 cooking cycles and while cooking acidic foods. If you currently use stainless steel pans, we're not advocating for you to toss them out. Just use caution with cooking acidic foods and discard them as soon as any signs of damage or wear occur.

  • Copper cookware

    • The FDA warns against use of copper with acidic foods because: High concentrations of copper are poisonous and have caused foodborne illness. When copper and copper alloy surfaces contact acidic foods, copper may be leached into the food (source).

    • Copper cookware may contain nickel to help with even distribution of heat. Many people are sensitive or allergic or nickel and it’s also known to be a pretty toxic heavy metal (source).

  • Ceramic coating, enamel, and glass cookware may be manufactured with lead. Lead gives these wares shock resistance and color uniformity. I use unbleached parchment paper as a barrier with my glass bread pans.

  • Titanium cookware While titanium seems to pose little risk, most titanium cookware uses an aluminum base and the titanium is just a coating. With any wear and tear, the pan could leach aluminum.

For more bad news, you might want to re-evaluate these household appliances:

  • Crockpots can contain lead in the enamel and teflon coating. Unfortunately, crockpots are "slow cookers" which is the most efficient way for toxins to leach into our food.

  • Insta-Pot does not contain lead or teflon, however, stainless steel has been shown to leach several other heavy metals, particularly when using acidic food, as noted above. Furthermore, some believe using a pressure cooker for things like bone broth, it dramatically increases the glutamine which becomes a problem when it metabolizes into glutamate once it gets past the blood brain barrier. Many people I know use instapots, and that’s totally fine, I’ve just never felt comfortable using one.

  • Induction Stoves emit high levels of EMF (Electromagnetic Frequencies)

For someone who spends a great deal of time in the kitchen trying to prepare healthy, whole foods for the family, this information does not make me happy! So, what’s really nontoxic?

WHAT I USE

What's Cooking? Making The Switch To Nontoxic Cookware | janny: organically.
What's Cooking? Making The Switch To Nontoxic Cookware

Cast Iron

Yup, just like Grandma. This is safe for most to use on rotation and has a lot of pros.

  • Cast iron can tolerate high heat

  • It's completely non-toxic to humans (and birds)

  • Over time, the pan will be become more and more nonstick with proper care (as in, cleaning with water and a pot scraper only).

  • Cooking with cast iron makes food more iron rich. (If you’re concerned about your iron levels being too high, consider having your doctor check them)

  • Be sure to avoid those with coating or nonstick film. Real cast iron is extremely heavy and feels dimpled and slightly rough across the surface.

When we first began to clean out our cookware, we invested in a Le Creuset skillet because it was known to be a reputable brand manufactured in France. After further review, we discovered the cast iron pans contained enamel on the interior and exterior. Since there is a concern with lead in enamel, I no longer recommend this brand.

Some opt to use the more budget-friendly Lodge cast iron pans instead, however, they season their pans with soybean oil, with no indication that it is non GMO or organic. I would categorize these pans as a “better choice” than enamel or non-stick, just know that your food will take on conventional soy until it is re-seasoned over time.

There are ways to strip and re-season immediately, using a self-clean oven. See the answer on this page for step by step instructions, though I would recommend using organic flaxseed oil as the best option of seasoning oil.

FINEX

I landed on Finex, thanks to Molly’s recommendation, which are raw metal cookware hand forged in Oregon and seasoned with organic flaxseed oil. They are impressive. You know you’re an adult when you drool over these types of items. Check them out here.

Ceramic

Nearly all ceramic pans on the market are not truly ceramic, but an aluminum or stainless steel pan base in a sol-gel coating, such as Thermalon and Greblon.

These coats are sprayed on the base and baked at 200-300F. The limited toxicity results of these coatings aren’t concerning, however, keep in mind, it’s just a thin layer which may chip away and expose food to the aluminum or stainless steel underneath.

XTREMA

Xtrema is a cookware line that is 100% pure ceramic inside and out with no metal base. The cookware is glazed, then fired at 2500F for 24 hours. Xtrema also seems to be the only cookware company that continuously publishes their Prop 65 test results for Lead and Cadmium.

We use these Xtrema pans on the regular:

XTREMA is also offering my readers 10% off their products with the code JANNY10 at checkout.

Clay pots

Why clay? Organic, unglazed clay is not only nontoxic, but known to activate enzymes and minerals in food which can enhance flavoring and help digestion. Much like other slow cookers, the clay pots cook food with an even consistency, but unlike other slow cookers, they naturally alkalize foods.

“Clay [pots are] alkaline in nature and when heated, it interacts with the acid present in the food, and neutralizes the pH levels and makes it easy to digest. It also keeps the nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, and sulphur intact.” (Source)

Unglazed clay pots are the way to go since the benefits of cooking with clay are cancelled out if there is a glaze finish sealing off the properties of the clay.

Vitaclay offers several types and sizes of unglazed clay pots in their lineup such as slow cookers, rice cookers, soup cookers and bone broth cookers. I’m not a big slow cooker, but I do use their 2-quart size which doubles as a great yogurt maker and dip warmer.

While some have voiced concern about lead contamination in clay, the reality is most lead contamination comes from the glaze. Since these are unglazed, you don’t have that issue. Furthermore, the pots are fired at 1300 degrees celsius, so even if there was lead, it would have melted away during production. All Vitaclay products are certified ‘‘Lead-free”, meet FDA, CA 65 and UL safety requirements.

You can shop all the clay pots on their site here or a few of them on Amazon.

Don’t forget

While you’re at it, you might want to extend your nontoxic cookware to include:

  • Utensils

    • Wood Option 1, Option 2

    • Silicone Option 1, Option 2, Option 3

      • A note about silicone: while it seems safe for food storage and for cooking utensils that have brief contact with heat, there's not adequate information to show it's safe at high temperatures or with prolonged heat exposure. For now, we opt against baking with it.

  • Baking Sheets

    • High quality stainless steel baking sheets lined with unbleached parchment paper as a barrier. Even the best stainless steel baking sheets we've found still contain some amounts of nickel, but this option is much safer than aluminum or nonstick.

  • Unbleached parchment paper like this or this

  • Cutting Board

  • Food Storage

  • Cast Iron Kettle

    • It took me months to settle on this. Obviously I wanted a non-toxic kettle, but there were stories of the glass ones shattering when being heated (not willing to risk this). We invested in this cast iron kettle, it’ll be an heirloom after all, and I loved that the entire top comes off and there is no hiding mold/mildew in the neck of the kettle. While this brand offers many cast iron products with enamel, including this kettle, this particular color/selection does not.

What's Cooking? Making The Switch To Nontoxic Cookware| janny: organically.

If you're going through the trouble of finding healthy, organic food to feed your family, why compromise the quality by preparing it with cookware that's adding toxic or unhealthy components to the food or air?

We know replacing your cookware is a HUGE expense, trust me, I still have some items I'm working on replacing. A good place to start is with your most used items and replace one or two at a time. There will likely be some killer deals coming up on cookware over the holidays and that may be a good time to stock up or even ask for them as gifts!

Have you found some great nontoxic cookware that you love? Let me know in the comments!