Choosing the Right Cookware

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

Cookware

We hear a lot about the importance of eating food that’s organically grown and free of pesticides and other harmful toxins. That’s often where the conversation stops. However, should we also give consideration to the cookware we use to prepare the food we eat? Of course nobody wants to eat food with a high aluminum content, but what about preparing food in aluminum cookware? Does that present safety concerns? What about stainless steel cookware? Much research indicates that we need to be as deliberate in the cookware we use as we are in the foods we consume.

The Dangers of Aluminum Cookware

Exposure to, or ingestion of, aluminum can negatively affect the nervous and skeletal system; it’s even thought to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. [1] Despite this, foods are commonly stored or prepared in aluminum containers which present leaching dangers. This is especially true with acidic and salty foods; citric acid in particular is known to leach aluminum from cookware. [2]

Coffee is not generally known to contain aluminum naturally but when researchers at the Department of Agroenvironmental Chemistry and Plant Nutrition at Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague brewed coffee in aluminum containers, they discovered it to produce detectable levels of aluminum in the coffee. [3]

It’s also important to note that sometimes foods may be prepared in aluminum containers before it even reaches you. The Department of Food Hygiene and Control at Egypt’s Mansoura University found levels of aluminum in milk stored in aluminum containers (likely at the production level). [4]

Boiling water in aluminum cookware prior to use will greatly decrease the amount of aluminum leached, but the best choice is to simply avoid aluminum cookware altogether. [5]

The Dangers of Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is used in home and commercial cookware but, like aluminum, stainless is readily attacked by acids, particularly at cooking temperatures, and its components can be released into food. The Division of Science, Engineering and Technology at Pennsylvania State found that stainless utensils exposed to even mildly acidic conditions at boiling temperature caused nickel, chromium, and iron corrosion. [6] Research conducted at Texas Tech University College of Human Sciences concluded with similar determinations. [7]

Although it does not completely solve the problem, the Hôpital Edouard Herriot in France recommends that individuals with nickel sensitivity should use nickel-free stainless steel. [8]

The Dangers of Non Stick Cookware

Perhaps one of the most common types of cookware is that which is non-stick. If you’ve ever used sub-par cookware, you probably know how easy it is for some cooking surfaces to cause burnt food to lock on with cement-like attachment. This is a pain to clean up and it ruins the food. Non-stick cookware is designed to prevent this problem, but it also introduces new safety concerns.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFC’s) are synthetic compounds used to manufacture non-stick surfaces. However, both the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the New York State Department of Health have found that these compounds can remain on the surface of non-stick cookware and be released into food. [9] [10]

Why should you avoid PFC’s? Well, when they accumulate in the body, negative effects to the reproductive system, brain, and liver are all possibilities. Some PFCs are even considered to be human carcinogens. [11] In 2012, Greece’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Harokopio University found a correlation between the use of non-stick cookware and colorectal cancer. [12]

The Dangers of Ceramic Cookware

Ceramic cookware isn’t as inherently dangerous as the other previously mentioned cookware except for when it’s coated in glaze that contains lead. In some parts of South America it can be common to grind spices in cookware glazed with lead. The grinding action, or presence of acidic foods, can result in lead contamination. [13]

Are There Any Safe Alternatives?

A slightly outside-the-box option to consider would be to eat more raw foods. Raw foods contain more live enzymes and nutrients than their cooked counterparts. Depending on your dietary choices, however, raw is not always an option. Safe alternatives to questionable cookware do exist but it’s necessary to seek them out on purpose and be an educated consumer. A company that I am completely unaffiliated with, Ozeri, produces a quality line of ceramic non-stick pans that are free of PFC’s and will not release toxic metals. Have you found an alternative you prefer? Please leave a comment and share it with us!

References (13)
  1. Wang J. Current researches on biological effect of aluminum. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2002 Aug;31(4):320-2. Review. Chinese.
  2. Gramiccioni L, Ingrao G, Milana MR, Santaroni P, Tomassi G. Aluminium levels in Italian diets and in selected foods from aluminium utensils. Food Addit Contam. 1996 Oct;13(7):767-74.
  3. Franková A, Drábek O, Havlík J, Száková J, Vanek A. The effect of beverage preparation method on aluminium content in coffee infusions. J Inorg Biochem. 2009 Nov;103(11):1480-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2009.06.012. Epub 2009 Aug 20.
  4. Ai-Ashmawy MA. Prevalence and public health significance of aluminum residues in milk and some dairy products. J Food Sci. 2011 Apr;76(3):T73-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02064.x. Epub 2011 Mar 16.
  5. Karbouj R, Desloges I, Nortier P. A simple pre-treatment of aluminium cookware to minimize aluminium transfer to food. Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Mar;47(3):571-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2008.12.028. Epub 2008 Dec 27.
  6. Kuligowski J, Halperin KM. Stainless steel cookware as a significant source of nickel, chromium, and iron. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1992 Aug;23(2):211-5.
  7. Park J, Brittin HC. Increased iron content of food due to stainless steel cookware. J Am Diet Assoc. 1997 Jun;97(6):659-61.
  8. Accominotti M, Bost M, Haudrechy P, Mantout B, Cunat PJ, Comet F, Mouterde C, Plantard F, Chambon P, Vallon JJ. Contribution to chromium and nickel enrichment during cooking of foods in stainless steel utensils. Contact Dermatitis. 1998 Jun;38(6):305-10.
  9. Begley TH, White K, Honigfort P, Twaroski ML, Neches R, Walker RA. Perfluorochemicals: potential sources of and migration from food packaging. Food Addit Contam. 2005 Oct;22(10):1023-31.
  10. Sinclair E, Kim SK, Akinleye HB, Kannan K. Quantitation of gas-phase perfluoroalkyl surfactants and fluorotelomer alcohols released from nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags. Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Feb 15;41(4):1180-5.
  11. Genuis SJ, Birkholz D, Ralitsch M, Thibault N. Human detoxification of perfluorinated compounds. Public Health. 2010 Jul;124(7):367-75. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Jun 19.
  12. Kontou N, Psaltopoulou T, Soupos N, Polychronopoulos E, Linos A, Xinopoulos D, Panagiotakos DB. The role of number of meals, coffee intake, salt and type of cookware on colorectal cancer development in the context of the Mediterranean diet. Public Health Nutr. 2013 May;16(5):928-35. doi: 10.1017/S1368980012003369. Epub 2012 Aug 8.
  13. Villalobos M, Merino-Sánchez C, Hall C, Grieshop J, Gutiérrez-Ruiz ME, Handley MA. Lead (II) detection and contamination routes in environmental sources, cookware and home-prepared foods from Zimatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico. Sci Total Environ. 2009 Apr 1;407(8):2836-44. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.12.059. Epub 2009 Jan 29.

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