Making wise food choices and preparing most of your meals at home is essential to creating sustainable wellness. The DIY approach keeps you in control of the quality, the ingredients, and how your meals are prepared, the goal being to feed your body well so it can thrive. But cook up all those high-quality ingredients in low-quality pots or banged up, old non-stick pans and you’ll likely undermine your efforts with extra exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals which, over time, can set the stage for a number of health-busters like cancer, heart disease and cognitive damage.
In other words, what you cook with matters, so choosing cookware consciously is an easy way to add one more healthy behavior to your repertoire. Which options make the most sense for health-conscious chefs? While there’s no perfect answer, I always default to the classics, as in safe cookware that’s made without a lot of extra chemical interference or coatings – and I encourage you to do the same to help reduce your toxic load. Here are a few thoughts on how to do it:
Ditch the Non-stick Pans
No matter how attached you are to your Teflon omelet pan and your non-stick skillet, here’s my simple recommendation: throw them out! Convenient as they are, non-stick (aka Teflon) coated pots and pans come at a cost, releasing toxic fumes when the heat gets too high, letting chemical particles fly through your kitchen and into anyone in the immediate vicinity. In humans, those fumes can trigger flu-like symptoms and can even be lethal to pet birds.
If that weren’t enough, the chemicals used to create those convenient non-stick-coatings have also been linked to cholesterol, fertility and thyroid problems – so err on the side of caution and kick them out of your kitchen.
Purge the Plastic
Cooking in plastic? In word: don’t. Yes, I know everyone loves the convenience of plastic food containers but seriously, stop. Stop using them for storage, and never use them when heating up food in the microwave. Plastic food containers are loaded with hormone-disrupting chemicals that leach into food, particularly when the plastic is heated in the microwave, in effect ‘seasoning’ your food with a host of unwanted toxins.
Plastic is also terrible for the earth, the ocean, sea creatures and our bodies, so the less we all use of it, the better.
Keep it Glassy
I love glass for baking as well as for storage – in the fridge or freezer, carrying food to the office, and heating soups in the microwave. Not only is glass versatile and convenient, but it’s also kind to your body because it doesn’t leach toxins into food.
I’m also a big fan of glass mixing bowls which stand up well to whisking, chopping and occasionally toppling onto the kitchen floor without chipping (well, most of the time). Glass is also relatively low-cost, easy to clean, environmentally friendly and best of all, recyclable, which puts it at the top of the class.
Consider Cast Iron
Cast iron cookware is a classic safe cookware option that’s been used for generations. Moderately priced and durable, a well-seasoned skillet or pan will behave similarly to non-stick and provide even heat to whatever you put in it.
Cast iron cookware can be used both on the stovetop as well as in the oven so it’s a great multi-tasker. And while cast iron can leach tiny amounts of iron into food, for most people, the extra iron is beneficial.
For those who are iron-sensitive, cook a lot of acidic dishes, or simply prefer their cookware in a variety of colors, then high-quality, porcelain-enameled cast iron cookware is an easier-care alternative to traditional cast iron which requires seasoning and a bit more TLC to prevent rust.
Perhaps a Soupcon of Stainless?
Stainless steel is a bit of a health mixed bag, but it’s popular because it resists corrosion and stains and is relatively easy to clean. If you’re in the market, look for stainless pieces marked 18/8; 18/10; ‘300 series’ or ‘304 grade’ – which indicate higher quality, and more corrosion resistance. Made from a mix of metals, higher quality stainless steel pieces will generally be more resistant to corrosion and leaching.
To minimize exposure to the metals in stainless steel or if you have chemical sensitivities, consider buying just one pot or pan (instead of an entire set) and use sparingly – or sidestep stainless altogether. You might also take a look at titanium cookware which, though pricey, is a good alternative to stainless.