Around our house, we make an effort to eat healthy. Organic, clean ingredients, limited amounts of grass fed this & wild caught that are all part of the program. Just when we felt we had a handle on it… another wrinkle cropped up. Thanks to Mark Ruffalo & his recent movie “Dark Waters” we felt compelled to research what is the healthiest material for pots and pans.
Dark Waters & PFOA’s
In 2019, Mark Ruffalo starred in “Dark Waters.” It chronicles the true story of attorney Robert Bilott’s decades long legal action against Dupont, 3M and others.
In 2017, Bilott won a $617 million dollar settlement from Dupont on behalf of 3500 plaintiffs. Dupont was found guilty of operating a chemical plant that contaminated drinking water with PFOA. PFOA is a toxic chemical used in the production of Teflon.
While they were aware of the dangers of PFOA, Dupont chose to continue its use in manufacturing.
Long term studies concluded that PFOA is linked to a number of illnesses. These include immune system disruption & multiple forms of cancer.
To this day, Bilott litigates ongoing class action lawsuits with 3M and other corporations for their use of PFOA in products.
How common was PFOA in manufacturing?
According to Bilott’s complaint, studies currently suggest that PFOA is present in the blood stream of roughly 98% of Americans. That’s mind boggling!
The problem with Teflon & Non Stick Pots & Pans
Everyone loves the convenience of non-stick cookware. For years teflon was the standard. Minus the butter and oil, omelettes simply slid out of the skillet. To create this unique surface, Teflon was manufactured with PFOA’s.
Ultimately, Dupont was found liable. Years of contaminating the water near their plant in West Virginia resulted in thousands of long term illness & death. The EPA forced Dupont to phase out PFOA use for Teflon, in 2013.
New Versions of Non-stick pans
After 2013, a second generation of non-stick pans came to market. This time Dupont used “short chain” PFAS molecules; a derivative of PFOA’s.
Dr. Philippe Grandjean, a professor of environmental health at Harvard wasn’t buying it
”…there just isn’t enough information to know how short chain PFASs interact in the body, or if they’re safe. Do we really want to keep exposing the population to potentially toxic chemicals? [Do we] …simply wait for the scientists to find statistically convincing evidence that they are toxic?”
If you still have a teflon pan from 2013, get rid of it!
For years, the residents near the Dupont plant in West Virginia ingested large doses of PFOA in their drinking water.
Still, small amounts of PFOA & PFAS can leach from non-stick pans. This creates a health risk. Overheating the pan, scratches or age allow those chemicals to make their way into your food.
How much is too much? There’s no need to roll the dice…
What is the healthiest material for Pots & Pans?
Fortunately there are safe, reliable options to avoid PFOA’s or PFAS.
Each of the products below offer safe alternatives that should compliment your cooking needs & lifestyle.
A mix of cookware might be the best solution. Each brand handles the dishes you like to prepare differently.
Also, with proper care, expect a long life cycle from any of the brands we are highlighting.
- With copper or aluminum underneath, stainless steel distributes heat evenly.
- Great for griddle cooking and flat baking sheets.
- Soaking stainless steel after use & cooking with a lubricant makes it easy to clean.
- Inexpensive when compared to some other materials.
- Resistant to food reactivity and leaching. It won’t corrode or flake, which could find its way into your food
In small amounts, Nickel and chromium could leach into your food. If you have sensitivities, it’s something to consider
Enameled Cast Iron
Cast Iron cookware has been around for generations. Seasoned properly, cast Iron proved to be very durable. It also provides some non-stick quality & adds it’s own signature flavor to food.
On the downside –
- Cast iron introduces excess Iron into your diet… especially if your over age 45, creating health risks
- Having enough iron is good… too much is no bueno
- Acidic foods react with cast iron
- Gives off a metallic taste
- Adds more iron
- Frying foods (ok, not super healthy to begin with) in iron overheats the grease, turning it rancid.
Enameled Cast Iron fixes the problem
Fortunately, enameled cast iron revived the benefits of cast iron. Enameled cookware takes cast iron & coats it in a highly durable porcelain (fused powdered glass).
Consequently, Enameled Cast Iron
- Is safe to use.
- The porcelain seals the iron, so it doesn’t interact with your food, effecting taste or adding iron
- Provides a non-stick surface
- High quality enameled cast iron is extremely durable
- Will heat to much higher temperatures, for searing and braising foods
- The cast iron core holds heat well and cooks very evenly
- “Seasoning” isn’t required to maintain the cookware
- Lot’s of vivid, cool colors to choose from!
- Enameled cast iron can be heavy
- Takes a little longer to heat up, given it density
- You can chip or crack the enamel, if you’re rough with your cookware
- Can’t use abrasive utensils or cleaners
- It’s relatively pricey
Ceramic cookware is created by coating a metal core with an inorganic sand based solution. Ceramic seals the core completely with a non-stick surface.
The process is called Sol-Gel, which sprays or dips the pan into a gel like solution. The pan is then heat fired, which allows the coating to harden.
Benefits of Ceramic
- Non-stick coating is made from a sand derivative. This doesn’t involve toxic chemicals like PFOA or PFAS.
- Good for you & the environment.
- Non-stick also requires less oil and fat in your cooking.
- Ceramic is non-reactive & contains no chemical additives. There’s nothing to leach into your food, so your cookware is safe.
- Heat resistant up to high temperatures (as high as 450°C). It won’t blister or release toxic fumes.
- Ceramic with a metal core (usually aluminum) conducts heat evenly
- Ceramic is lightweight
- Relatively inexpensive
- A wide range of colors to choose from
On the downside –
- Ceramic tends to be fragile. You need to handle it with a little more care
- Hand washing is a good idea, even if it says dishwasher safe
- Metal utensils could scratch the surfaces
- Low and medium temperatures work best with ceramic. High temps could ultimately damage the surface
There are several great mediums to choose from. Deciding what is the healthiest material for pots & pans might come down to a mix of ceramics, stainless & enameled iron. The variety of aesthetics & function provides all the tools needed to match your culinary style.