Eating healthy is one thing. Trying to find cookware to match is another. I’ve been on a relentless quest to make my kitchen more green. That includes finding the right cookware for healthy living.
These days, the market is overloaded with cookware that manufacturers claim as being healthy, both for you and the planet. But are they?
To help you on your journey, I’ve rounded up a list of the top factors you need to watch out for when searching for healthy cookware.
1. Choose Toxic-Free Materials
The biggest threat to healthy living is lurking in the type of cookware you’re using. You can cut the carbs, ditch the sweets, and reduce red meat all you want. But if your cookware is toxic, then you’ve got a much more pressing problem on your hands.
The main toxins you need to watch out for are PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), known collectively as PFAS, along with PTFE (polytetraﬂuoroethylene), BPA (bisphenol-A), polystyrene, cadmium, and lead.
Although the cookware material certainly influences cooking performance, when it comes to healthy, non-toxic cooking, the critical component is the cooking surface. Let’s take a look at the safest options.
Read our review to find the Best Non-Toxic Cookware.
Cast Iron (Enamel Coated)
Cast Iron is one of the original cookware materials, being durable, reliable, and having excellent heat retention. With proper care, it can last a lifetime. The downsides are, it’s heavy which can be hard on the wrists, and needs to be seasoned which is a pain.
Also, cast iron can introduce iron into the food which isn’t necessarily a major problem but may be problematic for some people. I recommend buying an enamel-coated version of the cookware. This will eliminate most of the downsides and make it a bit more livable day to day. Everyone should have a good cast iron skillet.
If I could only have one set of cookware, it would have to be a nice stainless steel collection. Stainless steel cookware is completely inert and won’t introduce any materials or flavors into your food. It also conducts heat very well, and it tends to distribute it more evenly than cast iron. Less experienced cooks find stainless steel more comfortable to work with since it heats more evenly and lessens the chance of accidentally burning your food.
Stainless steel is lower maintenance than cast iron and easier to maneuver as you cook because it weighs much less than cast iron.
Ceramic-coated, non-stick cookware is metal cookware with a ceramic non-stick cooking surface.
The earlier generation non-stick pots and pans such as Teflon (they now claim to be producing cookware that is free from these toxic chemicals), contained potentially dangerous chemicals such as PFOA and PTFE. These chemicals create an excellent slippery surface but according to the EPA can cause all sorts of health concerns from cancer to ulcerative colitis.
Ceramic cookware has eliminated most of the health concerns of earlier non-stick coatings. Where they fall short is on longevity (see below). Many manufacturers like to brag about how durable their nonstick coating is. Don’t you believe it. Cleaning them in the dishwasher or using metal utensils is a sure-fire way of ruining the surface. Even if you baby them they won’t last nearly as long as a good stainless steel set.
Glass cookware is another safe alternative. Glass is mostly used in bakeware, but some glass cookware is stovetop safe (check with the manufacturer). Glass isn’t the most efficient option for the stovetop because it doesn’t distribute heat as evenly as other options. Glass cookware is dishwasher safe, but it’s much more fragile than metal.
Silicone is a newcomer in bakeware, but it’s quickly gaining in popularity. Food grade silicone (which must meet FDA standards) will not leach into food and will not support microbiological growth. Many people value silicone for being nonstick (and non-toxic), easy to clean, and safely used in the oven (up to 500° F) or placed in the freezer. It should not be used on the stovetop or broiler.
Nonstick or not, always make sure you look at the manufacturer’s labels to ensure your set is free of toxins.
2. Opt for Longevity
Another factor to consider is the longevity of your cookware set. Are you using cheap pots and pans that won’t last with daily use? Or can your cookware handle some serious cooking abuse?
Cast iron is a great example of this. Treat cast iron right and it’s more than likely going to last for generations to come. Something like a nonstick pan, on the other hand, may not be so durable.
For instance, if you use metal utensils on a nonstick surface you’re likely to damage the cookware. This means you’ll need a replacement much sooner than anticipated.
There are a great number of resources that go into producing and shipping cookware. The more often you have to replace your pots and pans, the bigger your carbon footprint will be.
While it may mean more money upfront, cookware is an investment. An investment in longevity is an investment in healthy living.
3. Avoid Reactive Food
Depending on the material, food may react with your cookware. Cast iron and acidic foods are a prime example of this. Unlined copper is another one to watch out for.
When this occurs, it means your food is picking up chemicals from your cookware. This can lead to health concerns down the road. Highly consider what materials you’re cooking with and how you’re using them.
4. Ditch Your Scratched Nonstick
Remember those slick nonstick surfaces I mentioned? If they’re scratched, it’s time to toss them out. Scratched surfaces like these mean the cookware itself can flake off into your food. Sounds appetizing, right?
It’s not only concerning that you’re literally eating your cookware, but it also means you may be ingesting unwanted chemicals.
And remember what I said about reactive food? That’s another concern. Cookware like copper often comes with a coating to prevent food reactions. A scratched coating means your ingredients are now free to react with the material underneath.
5. Invest in Eco-Friendly Production Methods
Part of healthy living means supporting more sustainable business models. When deciding on cookware, look for companies that are implementing more eco-friendly production methods.
These aren’t the only ones. There are numerous organizations, nonprofits, and production methods cookware manufacturers are utilizing to be more green. This means not only healthier living for you, but steps towards a healthier environment too.
6. Be Cautious of Controversial Cookware
Technological advances in cookware don’t come without controversy. This tends to lead to a constant battle of the good for you, bad for you debate. So when in doubt, turn to science.
While certain options may seem great, get your facts straight to avoid unhealthy cookware.
7. Don’t Believe the Myths, Do Your Research
This brings me to my next point, do your research! There is a wealth of misinformation out there about cookware. The best way for you to educate yourself is to look at the science. This is the best way to bust those myths about what’s healthy cookware and what’s not.
Finding cookware for healthy living is no easy task. Luckily, you now know what to look out for. And remember, when in doubt, turn to science. If the data supports the claim, then you are one step closer to investing in healthy cookware.