Looking to detoxify your living environment? It’s always best to start with your kitchen and the things you put directly into your body and anything which may contaminate those things. In this post we are examining the various types of cookware which are hazardous to your health. Recent research has shown that metals and harmful substances can leech into your food from your cookware causing various effects – neurotoxicity, hormone disruption, and increasing your risk of developing cancer.
While we may not be able to avoid all toxic exposures in our lives, we can at least do our best to reduce them as much as possible. Cleansing your food supply (reducing processed foods and additives) and reducing sources of contamination is a great place to start with any detox regime. So here are the safest materials to use around food, as well as ones to avoid.
Stainless steel – For stovetop cooking and bakeware, utensils.
While there’s some evidence that stainless steel can leech (and may not be a good choice if you have a nickel allergy) it’s still better than alternatives like Teflon or aluminum and is less reactive. The usual grade used for cookware is 18/8 or 18/10. the first number represents chromium and the second is the amount of nickel (so 18/10 is 18% chromium, 10% nickel). Nickel makes stainless steel more durable and shinier, and enhances its corrosion resistance. However, for some it is also an allergen. Something to also be aware of with stainless steel is that they generally use an aluminum core between 2 layers of steel. While this is not usually a problem, after some years of use or abrasive scrubbing the steel can eventually wear away and expose this aluminum to your food. So, you should replace your steel cookware from time to time. I recommend these
Steel – Knives for food prep
Stainless steel isn’t good for a knife if you want it to keep a sharp edge (stainless steel is very hard and can’t be sharpened easily). So you can go for a softer steel like these (be warned – they are rust resistant not rust proof, don’t leave them in the sink) to get a sharper blade. These kind of knives also require special care (ie, keep them dry, clean and sharpen them) or they won’t last long. If you care for them however they can last almost forever.
Borsilicate Glass – For bakeware and microwave, storage, and bowls
Borsilicate glass has boron added to it to make it highly heat resistant. I’ve yet to hear any negative health effects about it. You can usually purchase borsilicate bakeware with plastic lids which is convenient for storage but the lids are not oven safe obviously and although the label will say they can be used in the microwave I don’t recommend it (I don’t recommend cooking with any kind of plastic). There’s also lidded baking pans with a glass lid.
You can also find borsilicate bowls mixing bowls or serving-sized bowls.
Tempered Glass – Only suitable for microwave or storage, plates and bowls
Much less heat resistant than Borsilicate so whatever you do DO NOT use this in the oven. Be aware that Pyrex (which is a brand famous for it’s borsilicate bakeware) also has tempered glass products (their ‘simply store’ range) so check the label carefully. If it says “microwave safe” and nothing else, then it’s tempered. If it’s glass and says oven safe, it’s borsilicate.
Glass – For storage, plates and bowls
Reuse those glass jars from any food purchases. I use them to store almost everything from salt and spices to chopped lettuce (in the fridge), sauces, etc. Storing food in glass canisters is more ideal than using plastic.
Cast Iron – Bakeware and stovetop cooking.
The downside to cast iron is that it needs special care to protect it from rust, it’s not for the lazy, forgetful or careless. However, if you give it the care it deserves, it’s great to have. The only possible leeching is from iron which is not harmful unlike other metal options.
Wood – For storage of bread, potatoes etc, utensils and cutting boards.
A wooden bread box will keep your bread fresh. You can also use wooden boxes for storage of potatoes and other veggies that should be kept out of the fridge. Wooden utensils are gentle on your pans, and wooden cutting boards are kind on good knives (not so hard that they will damage the blade)
Bamboo – For steaming, cutting boards, storage or utensils
I prefer bamboo utensils as they’re less abrasive than metal and the only other alternatives are silicon or plastic. bamboo steamers are also good. Be warned that bamboo can be prone to mold, so particularly if you live in a humid area they may not be ideal. I bought a bamboo steamer that became moldy in 2 days (thanks, tropical climate). But my utensils and cutting boards have held up well.
Unbleached cotton (calico or pudding cloth) – For storing bread, leafy veggies, hard cheese etc.
A bread bag is an alternative to a bread box. Many foods can be stored in cotton calico and it’s been used for a long time to extend shelf life of some items. The alternative name of pudding cloth comes from its use in making Christmas puddings. Calico can be found in craft stores like Lincraft or most stores selling fabrics.
You can also use beeswax coated fabrics for covering bowls, wrapping sandwiches and as a substitute for cling wrap.
Enamel and ceramic – stovetop cooking and bakeware
Look for lead and cadmium free glazes. Otherwise it is generally considered a safe option.
Things to Avoid
Plastic of any kind – not environmentally friendly, leeches toxic chemicals into food, contributes to micro plastics in the environment, not particularly durable. The list of reasons goes on and on. BPA is not the only concern here. There are many other harmful substances that leech into foods from plastic. If you must buy plastic anything for whatever reason, look for for the number 5 on the bottom of the container. It is ‘safer’ than the lower numbered plastics but still not completely safe. Avoid plastic wraps and bags entirely, especially for cooking. Who needs plastic oven bags? Use a crockpot or lidded baking pan.
Aluminum – is a neurotoxic metal and is highly reactive to acid and heat. Do not use for any kind of cooking. This includes aluminum foil, aluminum pots and pans, and drinks stored in aluminum cans. Anodized aluminum is still not safe as the layer of anodized metal will wear away with time.
Non stick coatings – Are usually teflon or similar products and not good for you.
Teflon – Plastic product. Easily scratched and damaged and you have the double trouble of plastic and aluminum in your food. If burned, the smoke and vapors are also toxic.
Enamel or Ceramic Cookware of Unknown Origin – Glazes can contain various undesirable substances including lead and cadmium which is a concern especially if you’re buying second-hand (as you have no idea how old it is, where its from and how well these toxic substances were regulated at that time or in that place). If you can’t be sure it’s lead and cadmium free, don’t use it.
Anything which is reluctant to state the materials used; for example a product may say ‘anodized saucepan with stainless steel handle’. You will later find the body of the pan touching your food is a treated aluminum, and the word aluminum omitted anywhere on the product packaging and only the handle is steel. If it is something good they will state it clearly on the box or item itself, if it’s not they’ll do everything to hide and distract you from it.
Did I miss anything? Share your thoughts in the comments!