The Safest Cookware Optionsby Amylee Amos PhD, RDN, IFMCPLifestyle
Our total toxic load is considered to be our complete intake of exogenous chemicals, heavy metals, and toxic compounds, minus our ability to excrete them. We are exposed to toxins by nearly everything we come into contact with. More and more research is pointing toward the fact that chronic illnesses are caused or exacerbated by a great total toxic load, providing strong reason to find ways of reducing our exposure to toxins in our everyday life. Choosing the safest and healthiest cookware is one of many ways that we can reduce our exposure to toxins.
Some may be surprised to learn that not all cookware is safe for use, despite the fact that it’s sold in stores. Certain types of cookware are made with toxic compounds that can leach into our food. Individuals working to prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease spend such time and effort ensuring that the food they eat is rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to support their cognitive health, while low in the harmful pesticides and herbicides that have been shown to damage brain and overall health. Using safe cookware is an additional step that you can take to ensure that you are doing all you can to support your brain health.
The Best Cookware Options:
- Stainless Steel
Beyond being non toxic, stainless steel cookware is durable, easy to care for, and highly versatile. Stainless steel pots and pans are easy to find and are available at a variety of price points. Stainless steel cookware is great for browning foods, but is not non-stick and requires oil (make sure to use safe oils when cooking on high heat) to avoid foods from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Cast Iron
Cast iron provides a tried and true cookware option that is non-toxic and highly durable. Cast iron skillets are normally affordable and come in a wide variety of sizes. It’s important to note that iron from cast iron cookware can leach into foods, however this can be a benefit for those with suboptimal iron levels or low iron intake from the diet. Only individuals with iron overload disorders (such as hemochromatosis) should avoid cast iron cookware. Cast iron cookware is naturally non-stick if you periodically season your pan with a thin coating of oil.
- Enamel Covered Cast Iron
Like cast iron, enamel covered cast iron is extremely durable. The enamel does not react with food and is thus non-toxic. Unlike regular cast iron, the enamel surface is not non-stick and requires oil or other fat to avoid foods sticking to the bottom of the pan. Colored enamel covered cast iron pots and pans are also aesthetically beautiful and brighten up any kitchen!
Glass cookware is traditionally used for baking, such as casserole and pie dishes, though glass saucepans and stewpots are also available. Glass cookware is completely non-toxic, but more prone to breaking than the previously mentioned non-toxic cookware options.
Ceramic cookware can be non-toxic under certain circumstances. Properly glazed ceramic cookware is safe to use and provides an affordable and versatile option. However, improperly glazed ceramic or ceramic cookware that has a scratched or chipped surface can result in lead leaching into foods. If you are unsure about the safety of your ceramic cookware, check with the manufacturer for safety precautions taken or choose one of the previously mentioned non-toxic cookware options.
The Most Harmful Cookware Options:
Aluminum is soft, so when used to cook with, it can leach into foods (1). This is exacerbated when cooking with acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes. High levels of aluminum have been found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's (2). Aluminum is toxic to the brain and may play a pathogenic role in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases (3). For this reason, aluminum cookware should be avoided.
Teflon cookware should be completely avoided. Teflon, or polyfluoro-tetraethylene, is an extremely popular type of cookware because its non-stick nature makes it exceptionally easy to clean. Unfortunately, teflon breaks apart under high heat. As a result, if you cook with teflon, you are eating teflon! Teflon can contribute to inflammation, cancer, elevated cholesterol, thyroid hormone abnormalities, and impaired immune function (4).
Although beautiful, copper cookware can contribute to your total toxic load. The copper from the cookware leaches into food during cooking and while trace amounts of copper are essential for the body, excess copper is exceptionally harmful. Many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have an elevated copper to zinc ratio, meaning that they have elevated copper in comparison to their zinc levels. This impaired ratio is often a target in our treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Using copper cookware can exacerbate this problem enhancing the cognitive dysfunction and require further treatment.
- Bassioni, G. et al., (2012). Risk Assessment of Using Aluminum Foil in Food Preparation.Int. J. Electrochem. Sci., 7: 4498 - 4509.
- Mold, Matthew et al. (2020) Aluminum and Amyloid-β in Familial Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 73(4):1627 – 1635.
- Krishnan, S.S. (1988). Aluminum toxicity to the brain. Science of the Total Environment, 71(1): 59-64.
- Pizzorno, J. (2017) The Toxin Solution. Harper One: New York, New York.