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When shopping for cookware, people often wonder if they should opt for nonstick cookware or regular uncoated stainless steel. There’s much to consider when selecting new pots and pans (even eco-friendly cookware is an option), so it’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons to both varieties. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference—keep the foods you frequently cook in mind so you can select the best pans for the job.
While you can purchase almost any type of cookware online, if you’re new to the process, it’s best to go to a store. You’ll want to feel, lift, and inspect the quality of many different pans. It’s also helpful to see the pans in person in order to gauge the circumference of the cookware—sometimes online product photos do not give you a size scale for reference.
Nonstick cookware is easy to use and clean, as the slick coating helps to keep food from sticking, and it’s easy to clean afterward. Health-conscious cooks like that they can use a lot less oil than they would with uncoated cookware.
That helpful cooking surface also carries some potential risks. Certain scientists, environmentalists, and consumer advocacy groups have concerns about the chemicals used to make many of the nonstick coatings on the market, such as PTFE (most commonly known as Teflon). The chemical of most concern is PFOA. Fortunately, The Environmental Protection Agency asked major chemical manufacturers to phase out the use of PFOA, and Teflon has been PFOA-free since 2013.
Using nonstick cookware will not expose you to PFOA, as the chemical is only in evidence in the manufacturing process and does not end up in the finished cookware. Exposing nonstick pans to very high temperatures will, however, release other potentially toxic chemicals into the air, so if you use nonstick pans, take precautions:
- Never heat a pan empty on a burner.
- Keep your burner on medium or low.
- Throw out a pan if its coating is starting to chip or flake.
Lastly, nonstick pans simply can’t achieve the searing and browning effect that an uncoated stainless steel pan does. Instead, food more or less steams in its own juices. You can also find more eco-friendly nonstick finishes on the market, such as the ceramic coating on Bialetti cookware.
Uncoated stainless pans do a great job at producing that beautiful and delicious browning (called the maillard reaction). They’re more durable since there’s not a coating to be concerned about protecting. As long as the handles are made of heatproof material, they’re usually oven-safe. The drawback is that burnt-on food can require some elbow grease to get off (try an abrasive cleanser like Bon Ami or Barkeeper’s Friend).
What Should I Get?
Buy one or two nonstick skillets for cooking eggs, pancakes, and other foods that are known to stick to a pan, but invest in high-quality uncoated stainless steel for the rest of your cookware, and look at eco-friendly cookware selections too. For instance, there’s no need for a nonstick coating in saucepans or pots, where the contents are mostly liquid.
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4 Types of Toxic Cookware to Avoid and 4 Safe Alternatives
We all know the importance of eating healthy, but not everyone knows that the cookware you use to prepare your dishes is just as important as the food itself. Even the healthiest diet can result in severe health problems if your pots and pans are toxic. Find out which cookware you should avoid by all means for the sake of your own health and the health of your family.
The non-stick properties of Teflon cookware are achieved with a coating of PTFE. This is a plastic polymer that, when heated above 572°F, starts to release toxins. These toxic fumes lead to flu-like symptoms called polymer fume fever, informally known as Teflon flu. Another chemical compound found in Teflon cookware is especially threatening since it tends to stay in the body (as well as in the environment) for long periods of time. Try cast-iron cookware instead. It even comes in non-stick varieties. It doesn’t leak anything toxic into your food and is actually a nice natural way to increase your body’s iron levels.
Though aluminum cookware is usually coated, the coating is prone to chipping, allowing the toxic metal to get right into your food. As for aluminum foil, using it while cooking is even more dangerous. In fact, there’s an established safe amount of aluminum the human body can manage daily, and that’s 20 mg per pound of body weight a day. When you wrap your food in aluminum foil and cook it this way, the amount of this substance that leaks into the food significantly exceeds the permissible level. Consider using glass cookware instead.
If you’ve just enjoyed some fish in lemon juice or stewed tomatoes cooked in an uncoated copper pot and you find yourself suffering from extremely unpleasant symptoms (such as vomiting blood, light-headedness, yellowy skin, or gastrointestinal distress, among others) call 911 immediately. Try this safe alternative instead: stainless steel. Just make sure you’re buying food-grade stainless steel since this is the only type that doesn’t contain any nickel or chromium.
Soft ceramic coating isn’t durable enough and starts chipping after a few months of daily use. When this happens, lead and cadmium sometimes found in the coating will end up in your food and, thus, in your body. Lead poisoning is one of the most dangerous types of metal poisoning and can result in abdominal pain, headaches, infertility, and other health complications. Try this safe alternative instead: 100% ceramic cookware.
Teflon cookware 0:38
Aluminum cookware and aluminum foil 3:31
Copper cookware 5:12
Ceramic-coated cookware 6:54
-Teflon contains plastic polymer that, when heated above 572°F, starts to release toxins. Try this safe alternative instead: real cast-iron. This is a nontoxic cooking option that truly withstands the test of time. It heats well and evenly throughout.
-Aluminum is a neurotoxic metal. Elevated levels of aluminum in the body have been linked to several central nervous system diseases, including Alzheimer’s and ALS. Try this safe alternative instead: glass cookware. It’ll never release anything toxic when heated, it doesn’t hold onto any old flavors or odors, and it’s not only durable but also eco-friendly.
-Copper cookware, especially when it isn’t coated, can easily send you to the ER with a bad case of metal poisoning. And that’s because it can release copper when you cook acidic foods. Stainless steel is a great cookware option: it’s relatively lightweight, scratch-resistant, and comes in non-stick varieties.
-Soft ceramic coating isn’t durable enough and starts chipping after a few months of daily use. When this happens, lead and cadmium sometimes found in the coating will end up in your food and, thus, in your body. Try this safe alternative instead: 100% ceramic cookware. This is one of the best and safest options out there since it’s made with completely natural materials, it isn’t toxic, and it won’t chip or peel off.
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