While focussing on eating good quality fruit and vegetables is important, we must also focus on how the food is prepared. In this 2 part series, I want to focus on the importance of using the right cookware. Most of us don’t realise that the pots and pans that we cook our food in, is as important as the food that goes in it.
After all, you don’t want to lose the benefits of healthy eating simply because you are using the wrong kind of cookware! Instead you want to opt for cookware options that enhance these health benefits.
When looking for cookware options convenience seems to top the list for most, but it’s time to change this mindset and consider the following:
Heavy metal toxicity and possibility of material leaching into food
Durability and sustainability
-Convenience of use and cleaning
Non-stick cookware is one of the most popular choices in many households primarily because it is a convenient option that is easy to use and clean. It is traditionally coated with a plastic polymer PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) & hardeners and is commonly referred to as teflon.
Non-stick pans have a base material that is coated with fluropolymers like PTFE and PFAs (polyfluoroalkyl compounds) that are extremely resistant to heat and are toxic. These fluorinated chemicals are responsible for the shiny and non-stick properties of pans. However, when exposed to heat, most non-stick becomes a source of PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid) which is a toxin that has been linked to a wide range of health problems.
Research has found that this polymer begins to leach into the food when heated above 300 °C and after repetitive use that causes the coating to erode. Exposure to both PTFE and PFOA has been linked to a number of chronic diseases such as hormonal imbalance, infertility, liver & kidney disease and certain types of cancer.
Most non-stick cookware will need to be replaced within 3-5 years (or sooner) as the coating begins to chip off with use. Frequency of usage and the type of cooking done has a significant impact of the lifespan of the cookware.
🔸 While some may argue that the flakes that chip off or chemicals that leach into the food is minimal, daily use of non-stick pans can lead to accumulated exposure over time. Another factor to consider is the fumes that develop when the coating is exposed to high temperatures.
🔸 As the non-stick erodes easily, your plan need to be replaced frequently, making them an unsustainable option that is neither good for you or the environment.
🔸 Switching to inert and non-reactive cookware is definitely recommended as you begin your journey to healthy eating and living.
Aluminium is a popular material that is used because it's light-weight and conducts heat quickly, but it is also a highly reactive material. A number of studies have shown that lead, aluminium, cadmium and a number of other heavy metals can leach from aluminium cookware into the food. The reason is because aluminium has been found to react with acidic and salty foods. To combat this a number of brands have come up with 'anodized aluminium' or aluminium that is coated with a non-stick layer. In the former, the aluminium pan has a layer of aluminium oxide that is fused with it (ie it doesn't chip away) and in the later there is a non-stick layer coated. In both cases the amount of aluminium that leaches into the food is reduced but not entirely absent.
Most of us are exposed to aluminium on a regular basis as it is found in food, utensils, storage containers etc. However, our bodies can excrete only a certain amount and hence limiting exposure is definitely recommended. Research has shown that the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of aluminium as compared to healthy individuals. High aluminium exposure has also been linked to renal impairment, bone disease and a number of other risks.
🔸Aluminium utensils tend to be versatile and affordable, however leaching of the material even in trace amounts makes it a health risk.
🔸 While the anodized aluminium and non-stick aluminium is marginally better- it is still not recommended as the coating can erode and metals can still leach into the food. 🔸 Since we are on the topic of aluminium usage, one must also consider the usage of aluminium foil to cook and store foods- particularly those that are rich in spices and acidic in nature. The aluminium from foil can very easily dissolve into the food and hence should be avoided. Switching to parchment paper or silicone (for cooking) and bees wax paper (for storage) is both good for you and the environment.
CAST IRON COOKWARE: Cast iron cookware is a great non-toxic option that can withstand high heat and evenly distributes the heat through the food. Cast iron is an alloy made by melting and combining iron (90%) and steel together.
A great plus side of using cast iron is that it can serve as a non-stick option if seasoned well. Unlike other non-stick options, cast iron utensils don't leach any harmful chemicals into the food, instead they have been found to transfer small amounts of iron into the food. This is a great way of getting natural, organic iron into your food. Older, well-seasoned cookware tends to leach less iron into the food. 🔸However it is important to mention that cast iron needs to be seasoned repeatedly especially as the iron can react with acidic materials and soap. The term 'seasoning' refers to treating the cookware with oil to fill in the porous surface on the cookware. The aim is to maintain a thin oil film on the surface. In fact they recommend using very mild diluted soap (or none at all) and you have to dry it completely after washing to prevent rust formation. 🔸Enamelled cast iron is another great option for those that find seasoning tedious. The enamel coating creates a non-porous surface on the cookware that protects the iron from rusting, and also makes it easier to clean. However, like all coatings the enamel can chip off hence not making it as durable as regular cast iron. BOTTOM LINE: while cast iron might seem like an expensive and impractical option, with the right care (seasoning & washing) it is an extremely durable option that is non-toxic and sustainable.
Maintaining cast iron:
Dry after washing
Wash with mild detergents and hand wash only
Brands we recommend: