A roundup of the best non-toxic cookware styles and brands to keep toxic chemicals out of your food so you can confidently cook healthy food for your family.
From our mom’s advice to the doctor’s office, we’ve always been told that healthy eating is the backbone of a healthy lifestyle. And cooking healthy food at home is pretty much the backbone of healthy eating, right?
But cue the record scratch when I say that some of the cookware you are using in your kitchen is not helping your healthy eating efforts at all – in fact, it might be hurting it.
Health Concerns with Cookware
How could something as healthy as cooking be harming our health? Sadly, it’s because cooking pans (and most products available on the market today) are not well regulated for safety. Because of this, companies are able to use chemicals and manufacturing processes that either have not been tested for safety or in some cases, have been shown to be harmful but have not been outright banned.
Let’s take a look at the biggest health concerns with cookware:
- Non-stick coatings – The coatings used to create traditional Teflon-style non-stick cookware contain perfluorinated compounds, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which have been linked to cancer, elevated cholesterol, hormone disruption and other health issues. Heat causes the chemicals to break down and release toxic fumes into the air. Over time the non-stick coating can get scratched and start to peel, so that you may be ingesting some of the stuff. On top of that, PFOAs don’t biodegrade, meaning they will always be in the environment and have been shown to accumulate in our bodies. Traditional non-stick pans are the #1 type of cookware you should swap out right away.*
- Aluminum – Aluminum is a fantastic heat conductor but there are concerns that exposure could cause neurological issues in some people. This argument is hotly debated but to be safe, keep cooking in exposed aluminum to a minimum, especially when cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus.
- Heavy metals: Heavy metals like lead & cadmium are sometimes detected in colored enamel pans – especially the reds and oranges. A brand new pan is probably not a problem, but once the surface has been scratched or chipped, heavy metal leaching may occur.
- Nanoparticles – Ceramic cookware is increasingly popular but some studies have shown that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide used in cheap ceramic coatings may be released due to scratches and wear and tear of the coating over time. Little is known about the effect of nanoparticles on humans, but using the precautionary principle and limiting exposure is a smart idea.
*Note: Beware non-stick cookware that claims to be PFOA-free. It probably contains PTFE, which is likely just as bad!
Non-Toxic Cookware – Safest Options
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To say we love to cook at our house is an understatement. For my husband and myself and even for our two boys, cooking is not only nourishment, it is entertainment, a fun hobby, an obsession, a great way to procrastinate….and most importantly, cooking is LOVE!!
We own MANY cooking pots and pans. Too many probably, but we have a hard time being minimalist in the kitchen! Anyway, be assured that the favorite brands I mention below are those that I have used and highly recommend!
Cast iron cookware is like your reliable friend – always there for you when you need it. Cast iron is known for great heat retention – just be sure to heat it up slowly to avoid burning. The best cast iron cookware in my opinion, is just plain cast iron, without any enamel or other coatings. Avoid thin or cheap cast iron as it might not live up to your expectations. Many cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, making it easy to get started without a hassle. I’ve busted some common myths about cast iron here.
Favorite Cast Iron Brand: Lodge
Why I love it: High quality, pre-seasoned cast iron without any coatings that is made to last forever. All of their seasoned cast iron is made in the USA.
Stainless steel is the darling of the cooking world. It’s super durable, safe to use and beautiful to look at! The best stainless steel cookware is made from high quality 18/10 stainless and has an aluminum core (for great heat conduction), but is completely encased in stainless steel. Avoid cheap stainless steel cookware that might not hold up over time. There is some concern about the nickel and chromium in stainless steel as a very small number of people are sensitive to it – but most of us can use stainless cookware without concern.
Favorite Stainless Steel Brand: All Clad Stainless Steel (aluminum core surrounded by stainless steel)
Why I love it: My All Clad pans heat quickly and evenly and I love how easy they are to clean. I bought some when I worked for a cooking store and we got more for our wedding!
Take a trip to any store that sells cookware and you’ll probably see the term ceramic on some of the pots and pans. Stop right there, because most of that cookware is not 100% ceramic but rather has a ceramic coating applied to the cooking surface of the pan – whether the pan is aluminum, cast iron or stainless steel (see below for more info on ceramic coated pans). But what I’m talking about here is 100% ceramic cookware. This type of ceramic is not a coating like some cookware, it is ceramic through and through.
Favorite 100% Ceramic Brand: Xtrema
Why I love it: Xtrema by Ceramcor is a 100% ceramic line of cookware. There is no coating or glaze so nothing will ever flake, peel or scratch off this cookware. In addition, there are no bonding materials, glues, polymers, or dyes used in Xtrema. Each batch of Xtrema is third-party tested for heavy metals like lead and cadmium, making it a truly safe and healthy choice. Xtrema is extremely durable and is scratch-proof and chip resistant. The only downside is that if you drop it on the floor, it could break.
The company sent me a sample of the Xtrema 10″ Versa Skillet and after giving it a test drive, I highly recommend it. I’ve cooked eggs – both fried and scrambled with great success, and even if something sticks it is super easy to clean off with a handy plastic pan scraper. The Versa skillet can transfer easily between the stovetop and the oven and comes with handy silicone handle protectors so you won’t get burned.
Ceramic Coated Cookware
Ceramic coated cookware has emerged as a popular replacement to traditional non-stick pans. Ceramic coatings are made from silicon (not to be confused with silicone), which is basically sand, and do not use the Teflon coatings – PFOA and PTFE. Ceramic coated pans are considered to be safer than old school non-stick pans and use 60% less CO2 in manufacturing.
However, from what I’ve read and learned through experience, it is important to choose high quality ceramic coated cookware over cheaper versions. Not all ceramic coatings are equal. In fact, there is some concern about nanoparticles used in cheap ceramic coatings, as I mentioned earlier in this post. In addition, some brands of ceramic coated cookware do not hold up well over time.
Because of these concerns, I recommend sticking with brands that have good reviews and have been certified by third party testing to meet food contact standards set by the U.S. and Europe. One popular brand that is readily available is Greenpan.
Favorite Ceramic Coated Brand: Always Pan by Our Place
Why I love it: The Always Pan is a multi-use pan that is designed to replace a 16-piece cookware set. The pan has a safe ceramic coating that turns out a mean fried egg without sticking. It comes with a very useful steamer basket and a cute bamboo spatula that fits onto the skillet’s handle – I just love design details like that! The Always Pan would be a perfect gift for a young adult with a new apartment, or someone with very little storage space.
- The ceramic coating is third party tested to ensure compliance with FDA and EU food contact regulations and is free from PTFE, PFOA, PFOS, lead, cadmium, or other harmful chemicals
- Made in China in hand-picked, ethical factories
- Always Pan comes in your choice of three colors
Porcelain Enamel Cast Iron
These pans marry the heat retention and durability of cast iron with a hard porcelain enamel glaze that is baked onto the surface (both interior and exterior) of the pan. Because of some concern that heavy metals like lead and cadmium could leach from enamel coated pans (especially from brightly colored pans), you should be careful to purchase only from reputable sources and discontinue use if the interior surface gets chipped.
Favorite brand: Le Creuset
Why I love it: I inherited two Le Creuset pans from my mother – a large skillet and an oval baking dish. Both are amazing for cooking and the baking dish is lovely for serving as well. LeCreuset cast iron is still made in France. It’s not cheap, but well worth the investment in my opinion!
Do you have a favorite non-toxic cookware brand? I’d love to hear what it is!