Why I Avoid Non-Stick Cookware and Pans
Widely used and popular, non-stick pans and appliances are a staple in any modern kitchen. A lot of families swear by their non-stick cookware. And let’s be real – what’s not to like? You don’t have to use special methods to avoid sticking, you can cook using less oil or fat, and the clean-up process is so much easier for it! So, if you don’t need to add processed fats or oils and they don’t require chemical-heavy cleaning afterwards, they must automatically be the healthy choice, right?
Actually, non-stick cookware is made using chemicals and substances that have been deemed detrimental to our health. If you’ve been following the health and wellness topic online, you must’ve heard of the somewhat recent Teflon debacle. Ever since researchers have linked the Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (which we’ll refer to as PFAS for short from now on) to health problems, Teflon has been using Generation X (or GenX for short) – a different non-stick chemical.
However, recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that GenX is not that much of an improvement! Further studies indicate that even though a lot of kitchen products marketed as nontoxic can actually lead to severe health and safety issues!
Why You Should Stay Away from Teflon
If you are somewhat new to the green lifestyle, you might’ve missed all the fuss around Teflon, and that’s understandable. Allow me to quickly summarise the situation.
Most of the conventional non-stick cookware on the market comes from the manufacturer brand Teflon. Initially, these products were made using the chemical known as surfactant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or “C8”). PFOA is an infamous member of the class of chemicals known as PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) or PFCs, which have been proven dangerous for human health by the scientific community. Linked to various problems like adverse effects on the immune system, thyroid hormone disruption and cancer, these chemicals came under attack from all sides.
As a result, the manufacturers of non-stick cookware scrambled in search of a replacement. And, since they didn’t want to give up on the non-stick and easy-to-clean properties of Teflon, GenX was eventually crowned as the (originally intended to be far safe) replacement for PFOA. So, consumers could enjoy all of the benefits of Teflon products, with none of the downsides!
If this sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it is!
While GenX isn’t exactly PFOA, its chemical structure is very similar to that of its incredibly dangerous predecessor. Furthermore, GenX is also classified as one of the PFAS (or PFC) chemicals, showing toxic effects similar to those demonstrated by PFOA. At the end of the day, we’re left with the same problems under a different name.
And so, what should we take away from all of this?
I’d advise against using any non-stick cookware, containing the following substances:
The Health Implications
“Okay, but what are the actual downsides of using products containing these chemicals? My meals barely spend any time in the pan after I’m done with cooking. It’s not like I’m chewing on the cookware itself now, am I?”.
Well, if I’ve got to be honest – you might as well be.
The environment and utilities that you use to prepare your food can have a considerable impact on its quality, taste and smell – all of which are a result of its chemical composition.
Ever wondered why your food smells not quite as you intended it to, especially if you skipped an oven cleaning session? That’s because burnt tiny bits of your previous dishes stuck around and ended up mixing with your current one. The same goes for your pans, pots and trays – they can all leave tiny, barely noticeable traces in your meals.
And before you rush to the kitchen and start throwing your cookware out the window – most of the widely used items have been proven safe for use. That’s done with the help of researches such as the one I previously mentioned. The scientific community is very careful when it comes to the approval of chemicals for everyday items!
PFAS cookware, however, can both leak toxins in your food and for release fumes in the air, polluting your kitchen with dangerous chemicals. Chemicals from the PFAS category are known for possible carcinogenic effects, endocrine and hormone disruptions as well as:
- Metabolic diseases
- Behavioural changes in infants and children
- Impacts on child growth and learning
- Pregnancy chance reduction
- Damage to the immune system
Once exposed to these chemicals, the effects linger and only continue adding up. Persistent and near impossible to get rid of, PFAS are one of the most difficult to purge toxins. Once again, I’d strongly advise you to stay as far away from them as possible!
What to Avoid
I’ve chosen to avoid any cookware, labelled as “non-stick”, even if it is marketed as PFOA-free. All of the currently used replacement chemicals on the non-stick market are dangerous, and until researchers say otherwise, I’m not willing to risk the health of my family. On top of that, if I were you, I’d think twice before going for:
- Ceramic-Coated items – even though far safer than PFAS, ceramics can still be exposed to heavy metal and titanium dioxide nanoparticles.
- Aluminum Cookware – aluminium pans and pots have been almost entirely phased out, and for a good reason – it can easily leak into your food. Not only that, but some researches have shown aluminium to possess suspected neurotoxic effects.
What to Buy
“Okay, so if most of the widespread cookware is dangerous, what should I go for?”
I prefer using cast iron, stainless steel and glass. Readily available, durable and much more affordable than the fancy “green cookware” alternatives, appliances made from these materials have proven their reliability time and again.
- Cast Iron – safe, durable and easy to clean. What’s not to like? Cast iron cookware brings you as close to non-stick as you can get without dangerous chemical admixtures.
- Stainless Steel – a tad more expensive than cast iron, stainless steel cookware is both safe and built to last.
- Glass – even though glass cooking sets tend to be less temperature resistant than their metal counterparts, they still come in handy and come in shapes and sizes for all types of cooking!
It’s not just about what cookware you use, it’s also about how you maintain it!
At the end of the article, I’d like to remind you that the health and wellbeing of your family are in your hands. Contamination can happen at any point throughout the cooking process. Even if you were to buy the safest and most innovative cookware, you’d still need to take good care of it, or risk exposure to dangerous elements. This includes things like:
- How well and often you clean your kitchen
- How well and often you wash your cookware, utensils and appliances
- What solutions you use in the clean-up process
So my advice to you is this – take your time, do your research and take everything with a grain of salt. Just because someone somewhere says that a particular item is “safe for use” doesn’t automatically make it a must-have!
Remember, living a green life is not a race – it’s a marathon!