It’s hard to know what is the best cookware for your health. When I was first married, cooking in aluminum pans was a hot topic. Aluminum use was linked to Alzheimer’s disease, they said. More recently, the topic of using Teflon coated skillets has been in the news. Teflon use is linked to cancer, they say. Earlier this year, my mother couldn’t wait to show me the newest thing out there, the GreenPan from Belgium. She was so excited to get one and was amazed that I hadn’t heard of them. This non-stick coated pan is PTFE free (the substance under question in Teflon). But since I’m skeptical of new products that haven’t stood the test of time, and choosing healthy cookware is an important decision to make for a family, I’ll stick with cast iron and stainless steel.
Cast Iron Cookware
Although used since the 4th century in China, Abraham Darby perfected the production of cast iron pots in England in the early 1700s. Since that time, no adverse health effects have been reported from their use. In fact, using cast iron can increase the iron in your food—especially if cooking high acid foods like tomato sauce. Iron is important in the diet because the red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body through the bloodstream. An estimated 3.5 million Americans suffer with anemia (iron-poor blood); the symptoms of which include fatigue, lack of energy, headaches, and dizziness. Although you can overdose on iron, it is rare. Women lose iron through blood loss at menstruation. Athletes lose iron through perspiration; and those that consume excessive amounts of coffee and tea block their body’s absorption of this important mineral.
Made of heavy iron, cast iron pots or skillets are virtually indestructible. And once you season your cast iron, they provide cooking as non-stick as non-stick can get. However, maintaining that finish is an important part of cast iron care.
Stainless Steel Cookware
The next healthiest choice of cookware is stainless steel. Actually, stainless steel is made of several different metals. According to a report on the safe use of cookware by Health Canada, the only metals in a high-quality, stainless steel pan that may affect health are iron, nickel, and chromium. Nickel may cause a reaction in those allergic to that metal, but the iron and chromium are necessary in the diet and cannot leach into your foods in any dangerous amounts. For added safety, never store high acid foods like tomato sauce or rhubarb in stainless steel pans and if the surface of the pan has been destroyed with pitting or deep scratches, discontinue use.
As with any cookware, proper care is essential. The great thing about stainless steel is that you can clean the pans in the dishwasher. However, if you have burned or stuck food on them, do not use steel wool or metal scouring pads as they can scratch the surface. First wash the pan with a soft cloth in hot soap and water. If a little extra is needed, use a nylon scrubby with a non-abrasive cleanser. When done, rinse in hot water and dry immediately to prevent water spots from forming.
If your cupboards are still filled with Teflon-coated or aluminum pans, do not despair; choosing healthy cookware is easier than you might think. Cast iron can be found in junk shops for a bargain and resurfaced; and the cost of quality stainless steel pans has come down in recent years. When we were starting out, I would replace one pan at a time as the budget would allow until I could afford to buy the best cookware for our health. In the meantime, refrain from using the coated or aluminum pans with high-acid foods or at high temperatures.