When I think about reducing our toxic load, I like to think of it like grades in school, with the first grade being the simple swaps that you need to make daily of common products you use and as time goes on and you “clean up” your home/personal care/water/air, it is then time to move to the next “grade” and start thinking about bigger ticket items that you may not consider as much as things like laundry detergent, face wash, organic foods, etc.

In these next grades are usually items that the average person isn’t going to just jump on buying today– things like mattresses, furniture, whole-house water systems, and cookware aren’t usually a quick Amazon purchase, but they do contribute to the load our body’s have to deal with when it comes to toxicity, specifically based on how their made.

Don’t Fall for Marketing Claims

This month we’ll focus on Cookware, from worst to best and the pros and cons of each type based on your budget and health circumstances. Something that usually happens when most of us turn to cleaner living is we cook at home more, which can lead to a higher exposure of chemicals or heavy metals based on the type of cookware we use.

Here’s why cookware matters- there is currently no legal requirement for companies to disclose how they make their products. This is frustrating because the only thing we then have to rely upon is how they advertise the items to us…which usually is geared towards selling you on what’s NOT in them without telling you what IS in them.

The best way to think of this scenario is like an online dating profile– they may look great from the photos and list that they aren’t a smoker and are great with dogs, but conveniently forget to mention they have a raging temper, deep-seated relationship problems, etc. In similar ways, manufacturers shout from the rooftops that their products don’t contain a product like teflon, but casually “forget” to mention they use a very similar chemical in molecular structure to it. 

Cookware to Avoid

I first want to start with the products that you probably shouldn’t be using on a daily basis and the reasons why they may be impacting your health.

The Worst Choice: Non-Stick (aka “Teflon”)

Speaking of Teflon, something to know is that that specific name is just a brand and doesn’t cover all the other types of non-stick chemicals used on the market. This goes back to the dating profile example- companies have gotten smart knowing that we all want to avoid Teflon so they use a similar chemical of a different name to give us non-stick “without Teflon”….even though the health impacts are usually the same and these other chemicals don’t have the same regulations or requirements as Teflon to disclose the information.

These non-stick chemicals are classified as PFAS/PFOS and are basically indestructible as they are being found in the bodies of POLAR BEARS up in the ARCTIC! This is due to them getting into our air and water supply and because they take a long time to break down once they’re in the body (anywhere from 3.5 – 8.5 years).

Aside from polar bears, over 98% of the population has PFAS in their bodies even though these types of chemicals have been phased out from use. They are unfortunately recognized in the body as a bile acid, which the body keeps stored in the liver/gallbladder and recirculates…aka we don’t get rid of them. Some side effects of PFAS exposure include:

  • Hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD)
  • Asthma in kids
  • Infertility + reproductive issues
  • Hormone disruption- particularly the thyroid
  • Predispose people to gain weight in adulthood 

Another Not Great Choice- Aluminum

If you are thinking about pots/pans here, this category is more about your use of ALUMINUM FOIL. Many grill in aluminum foil or bake with it in the oven which has been found to increase the aluminum in foods like chicken + beef up to 300% when cooked in it. I would highly suggest getting away from this habit, as aluminum in the body has been linked with: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease + Dementia
  • Autism
  • Breast cancer
  • Colic in babies
  • Memory/brain issues
  • Parkinson’s
  • Slow growth in kids

Though many stainless steel pans use aluminum as their core, it hasn’t been found to leach into food in significant ways, so the takeaway here is to avoid cooking your food in direct contact with aluminum, especially those that are more acidic.

Watch out for Antique Clay + Ceramics

Many have gotten into making old things new, but older pieces of clay ceramic or platters may have a glaze that contains lead, a very disruptive heavy metal. This extends outside of cookware and into other older ceramics in your kitchen- especially those decorated in bright colors like orange/yellow/red which has increased lead amounts. Here is a list of common sources of these older pieces:

  • Antique clays
  • Purchased from antique stores or flea markets
  • Any type of ceramic that is damaged or worn

Cast Iron- Not My Favorite

I know many health experts shouting from the rooftops about cast iron and I personally have to disagree with them just based on the population that I work with. Yes, cast iron is the ancient “non-stick” cookware choice that can literally last a lifetime or two, but my concern is the leaching of iron into the foods when you cook leading to Iron Overload. This can especially true when cooking any acid-based foods like tomatoes as it can promote further leaching. 

Not a day goes by that I don’t see iron dysregulation and/or overt toxicity of iron in a client. We live in a world where a lot of our processed items contain fortified iron (breakfast cereals, breads, crackers, etc.), we’re told to supplement iron during pregnancy, and based on the other toxicities our liver has to handle, we can end up storing it in tissues. Iron is an incredibly inflammatory mineral in the body when not handled properly, so a daily exposure of cast iron may be doing more harm than good in those struggling with health/hormone/mood/fertility issues.

Instead, see the first option below for a safer option that uses cast iron as its core but doesn’t impose the same health concerns due to an enamel coating between your food and the iron.

Ceramic-COATED (Non-Stick)

In the “greenwashing” and social media culture, I have seen these types marketed like the plague despite it maybe NOT being the best choice. Here’s where wording gets tricky- these pans are COATED in a non-stick chemical and aren’t truly just ceramic like the options above. Instead of using PFAS, they use silicone-based coatings. They also have been reported to not last very long at all, meaning you will have to replace your cookware frequently (every 3-4 years, maybe even less depending on usage), which just isn’t cost-effective.

Brands that fall into this category include:

Better Options for Cookware

There isn’t a clear-cut “best” choice on the market today, which means you have to make the decision based on your budget, kitchen and health. Below are some better choices with the pros and cons of each for you to feel more educated when buying your next cookware set. 

Enameled Cookware

If you’ve ever done a wedding registry, you’ve probably come across pieces like this from companies like Le Creuset and been shocked at the price points for singular items. They are expensive for a reason as this is one of the best options (outside of price) when it comes to clean cookware choices and is what I’m in the process of turning over some of my current stainless steel cookware set to.

Brand Suggestions:

The best of both worlds when it comes to its base AND its coating.

The base is cast iron which can’t leach through the coating and the coating is enamel, aka glass- much safer than many other coatings on the market
It’s expensive and heavy.

Many not be the best choice for needing a whole set right now (rather I’m doing it piece by piece) and heavy, so if you aren’t someone that wants a workout when you cook, I’d check out other options below.

Pure Ceramic

This is a different category than the clay/antique ceramics discussed before and doesn’t have any metals at its core- it’s purely ceramic-based. Similar to cast iron, these can be heavy and do require care/seasoning to ensure it lasts a while.

Brand Suggestion:

No heavy metal baseRequires more care and can be heavy, can chip and/or break more easily than other options

Enameled or Carbon Steel

Similar to the above option, enameled steel is also a great option that includes a glass enamel coating to protect your food from any leaching of the products used to make the pan/pot. Carbon steel doesn’t have the coating and is the choice most chefs prefer.

Brand Suggestions:

A lot lighter than enameled cast ironEnamels can more easily chip on these and they may not work well on a glass countertop stove.

Carbon steel needs to be seasoned properly and is usually only available as pans.

Stainless Steel + Bakeware

Stainless is a more affordable choice, but quality is a major concern here as you should go for 18/0, 18/8 or 18/10 options to limit the amount of nickel that can leach. The downside to stainless is that if you have heavy metal issues you may still want to avoid it, however for the average person it can still be safe.

For things like cookie sheets and roasting pans, this is the best choice to make (over silicone, non-stick, etc.) Silicone has become a popular alternative for cookie sheets and other cooking utensils, but it should be avoided for use over 300 degrees- at this point it is show to leach siloxanes which have been linked to thyroid, liver, and uterus issues.

Brand Suggestions:

More affordable and lightweightLeach small amounts of chromium and nickel; not the best for those with heavy metal issues

360 Cookware does not contain those or aluminum; purely stainless!

Tempered Glass + Stoneware

Though it isn’t as convenient to use as those listed above, tempered glass is going to be the safest option as it is just pure glass. Similarly stoneware is a great option for certain pieces, but does require some care.

Brand Suggestions:

Doesn’t crack at high temps

Pretty inexpensive + lasts a long time
Usually only good for bakeware

Stoneware requires greater care/cleaning

Do What Works for Your Family, Health + Budget

I think we all look for the magic silver bullet when it comes to clean products, but as is demonstrated above, there are so many variables to consider when it comes to cookware. I suggest going with what works for you based on the pros/cons above and to slowly begin replacing your worst offenders (non-stick/teflon) up to your older items as time goes on. This will probably be an over-time thing as you slowly add to your collection or add it to your list for upcoming birthdays and/or holiday sales to keep your eyes on them.