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What are the Safest Pots and Pans to Cook with in 2021?

diet kitchen Jan 24, 2021

Updated by Sophia Ruan Gushée on January 8, 2021

Whenever I dive deep into the safest pots and pans, I am surprised at how complicated it is for me to choose pots and pans that feel safe for my family. My conclusion: There is no such thing as nontoxic. Every option has a different set of benefits and risks. However, what feels most comfortable for me is cookware made from materials that are better understood after a long history of use: cast iron (without enamel or ceramic coatings) and stainless steel. 

Please read on for more details.

 

Cooking your favorite foods can be a fun activity when using recommended non toxic non stick pans whether you are by yourself or with loved ones. Having safe pots and pans in the kitchen benefits your entire family. 

When cooking, have you wondered what the safest cooking pans and pots are? Few people have. But I do! It is important to use top rated non toxic pans in order to keep your family safe.

And parents can teach children an important life skill and habit: how to cook. Cooking with children (or others) also offers a unique opportunity to nurture curiosity and wonder about the ingredients we use, how different cooking approaches affect the science of cooking, and which materials we cook with, and how they may contaminate our diet. Children and adults should be educated on the safest pans for cooking healthy meals. We know...a bummer topic, but non toxic pots and pans are definitely something worth knowing about.

 

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Concerns with different types of cookware

What is the safest cookware to use in your home? Some cookware may leach heavy metals and chemicals into food cooked in them. These exposures may contribute to health issues. Another reason why using quality non toxic saucepans, pots, and pans is an intelligent and conscious decision that we should all consider.

  1. Non-stick cookware is often made of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) or other chemicals that have not been tested for their impact on health. PFCs describe a family of chemicals, some of which have been “linked with lower birth weight and smaller size in infants, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, and a weakened immune system (EWG 2015g).” The C8 Science Panel—three epidemiologists who were chosen jointly by the parties involved in a legal settlement between plaintiffs claiming adverse health effects from C8 (a type of PFC) contamination from a DuPont (defendant) plant—found the following to have "Probable Link to C8 exposure: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension."
  2. Aluminum cookware can react to certain foods—particularly acidic foods (like tomatoes or citruses)—and give a metallic taste. Small amounts of aluminum through oral ingestion is considered fine. However, higher levels may increase the health risks, such as Alzheimer's Disease (but studies are conflicting) (ATSDR 2008).
  3. Cast iron cookware can leach iron into the food. While we need iron in our diets, too much iron can be a health concern.
  4. Copper cookware can leach copper into exposed food. Similar to iron, too much copper in our diets is unhealthy. Higher doses of copper can lead to nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or diarrhea, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR 2004).
  5. Stainless steel cookware can leach nickel and chromium into food—particularly when cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes).

 

Best and Safest Cookware

The safest pots and pans to cook with are those that leach the least amount of chemicals and heavy metals. Since every material offers benefits and risks, I diversify my cooking with the cookware materials below. 

  1. Cast iron. While iron can leach into food, it’s generally accepted as being safe. It’s certainly one of the most durable types of cookware. Be sure to season the cast iron pan according to manufacturer instructions to avoid a metallic taste. Consider using ceramic or glass cookware for acidic foods, such as spaghetti sauce. Updated January 8, 2021: This remains a staple in my kitchen.
  2. Enamel-coated cast iron. Made of cast iron with a glass coating, the cookware heats like iron cookware but doesn’t leach iron into food. Glass is one of the materials widely accepted as being healthy. This is what I use when I'm cooking with acidic foods, like tomato sauce. Updated January 8, 2021: After feeling more uncertain about the two enamel-coated cast iron pots and pans that I have, I will not buy more of them but I will also not discard the relatively new ones that I have. I just try to beware of scratching the inner surface.
  3. Stainless steel. Stainless steel is made with varying amounts of nickel and chromium. Cookware with 18/8 or 18/10 stamped on the bottom are the least likely to leach into food. If cooking acidic food in stainless steel, remove the food after cooking and store it in a non-metal storage container. Stainless steel is a durable material and can be recycled. Updated January 8, 2021: This remains a staple in my kitchen because it's relatively light, durable, and convenient.
  4. Glass. Historically considered one of the most nontoxic safe materials for food contact, glass bakeware is widely available and inexpensive. As for cookware, I have not been comfortable with the glass pots that I have researched. Glass is unable to handle extreme changes in temperature and will break. Most glassware cannot be used on stovetops; however, some are made for stove, oven, and freezer use. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out if their particular cookware can be used on the stove. Furthermore, formulas/recipes for glass varies so it's hard to know which are safe. There are reports of some glass pots now containing toxic chemicals. 
  5. Lead-Free Ceramic. Are ceramic pans safe? As long as the paint or cookware coating is free of toxic exposures (like lead, cadmium, etc) ceramic can be another healthy option for cookware. Similar to glass, ceramic will break if exposed to extreme temperature changes so be sure to bring it to room temperature before cooking in ceramic. Be sure to read manufacturer guidelines to know if their cookware is for stovetop or oven cooking methods. Updated January 8, 2021: After realizing how complicated it is to ensure that ceramic and glazes are safe, I avoid these.
  6. Copper. Copper pans lined with stainless steel offer several benefits: copper’s quick-heating properties, and stainless steel's lesser likelihood of leaching chemicals (if you choose 18-8 or 18-10 grade stainless steel). The lighter weight of copper can be easier for some people to handle. According to ATSDR (2004), "Copper is essential for good health. However, exposure to higher doses can be harmful."

When choosing the safest pots and pans to cook with, it's worth wondering about some of the cookware details, like if there are nonstick coatings. Or, if under certain circumstances, materials react differently.

For example, some cookware surfaces (including those that are nonstick, stainless steel, and cast iron) are easily scratched by metal cooking utensils, which may facilitate the leaching of heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Instead, use wood cooking tools to minimize scratching stainless steel, ceramic and other types of cookware surfaces. 

 

What does Sophia cook with?

As of 2021 January 8, my preferences include just stainless steel and cast iron—two of the safest materials currently available. Over the years, I have experimented with glass, enamel-coated cookware, and looked into other options. Ultimately, I have simplified my preferences further to just cast iron and stainless steel.

However, I'm not going to discard the glass and enamel-covered cast iron pots and pans that I have. But I use them sparingly, thoughtfully, and won't replace them when they are finally discarded.

Below is a newly purchased Breville stainless steel pot to boil water and make things that are acidic (like anything with tomatoes or vinegar). I like that the stainless steel is 439 and 304 (each are lower in nickel than the popular 18/10 or 340 stainless steel).

(Amazon paid link)

Cast iron requires a different care and maintenance, but I find it worthwhile given my practical nontoxic values. It is heavy so please consider that. 

For over a decade, I have been using the combo set below by Lodge. I love the flexible use of the "lid that doubles as a shallow skillet or griddle." I also love that I can sear chicken on the stovetop, then put it in the oven, then serve everything in the cast iron.

 

(Amazon paid link)

Access Sophia's shopping list of household staples 

I have curated my household staples that are available on Amazon, including my pots and pans, food containers, cleaning supplies, and my. most cherished kitchen appliances. Click here to browse: Nontoxic Living on Amazon.

 
 
 
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Additional Resources

  1. What is the safest stainless steel for cookware, food containers, and flatware?
  2. Is Copper Cookware Safe?
  3. Why Choose Glass Over Plastic?
  4. Best nontoxic glass food and beverage containers
  5. Non-Stick Pans: Why You Should Stop Using Them!
  6. The Pros and Cons of Ceramic
  7. Get the Lead Out (because we should be mindful of the possible presence of lead in some ceramic paints and/or glazes)
  8. ATSDR 2004. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (2004)
  9. ATSDR 2008. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (2008)

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