Before starting my own personal journey to health and ideal weight (I lost over 30 lbs and have successfully kept it off for over 10 years now), I was a DISASTER in the kitchen. Actually, disaster is putting it nicely because even boiling water sounded like a complex task to me and I would have to ask for the "recipe" to do it.
Lucky enough for me (and my husband and sons), I have become quite the chef extraordinaire and now LOVE to cook. I get excited over new recipes and find that it's a great way to keep my healthy meal plans extremely interesting and delicious.
I do receive a lot of questions about cooking from readers all over the world, but one of the questions I get the most often is:
"Isabel, is non-stick cookware really that dangerous? I've tried cooking with other varieties that are not non-stick and end up burning everything! What should I do?"
Let's address first things first. Is there even a reason to ditch the non-stick cookware? The overwhelming consensus is YES.
According to the Environmental Working Group, nonstick coatings can "reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 3-5 minutes, releasing 15 toxic gases and chemicals, including two carcinogens." The company Dupont (creators of Teflon, the chemical used in non-stick cookware) claims that their pans should be used at temperatures below 446 degrees Fahrenheit (although some people have claimed that the temperature is closer to 500 and some have even said 600, but the inconsistency in the research is just as scary as this fact). Cooking at these temperatures is nearly impossible and anything that requires cooking at heats higher than "low" will quickly reach temperatures well beyond 446 degrees (even as high as 700 degrees), emitting these toxic fumes from the Teflon lining in pans.
One of the main chemicals used in the manufacturing process of Teflon and other nonstick pans is perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA)also known as C-8. This chemical has led to cancer and birth defects in lab animals, and may have led to birth defects in DuPont plant workers. In 2005, an independent panel reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared PFOA a likely human carcinogen. Yikes!
If these facts weren't scary enough, it is highly recommended that anyone with pet birds not use Teflon lined pans at all in their homes or their birds will most likely die because of the fumes that are emitted. Uhhhh...does that not raise a humongous red flag all around??? Gases that will kill your birds can NOT possibly be, in no way shape or form, good for you or your family. Wouldn't you agree?
The bottom line? Toss those non-stick pots and pans out and let's look into some safer possibilities.
But before we get to those, let's look at some newer types of cookware on the market today that may or may not be alternate choices.
With all the controversy surrounding the dangers of Teflon and non-stick pots and pans, many people have begun to turn to other options. Unfortunately some of them are not really the best choices.
Copper leaches into food when heated, prompting the FDA to caution against using unlined copper for general use. Accordingly, the cooking surfaces are usually lined with tin, nickel or stainless steel. Coated copper cookware can lose its protective layer if damaged or scoured. Keep in mind that the metals of the "protective" surface can also end up in your food.
Ok, a teeny, tiny bit better than Teflon, but still doesn't make me feel good about cooking my healthy food in it.
Aluminum is a soft and highly reactive metal that can leach into food, especially when you are cooking with acidic ingredients. The metal-food reaction can form aluminum salts that are associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer's disease.
Aluminum is one of the most abundant elements on the earth, so avoiding it is nearly impossible, but minimizing its presence in your food is a smart choice, especially since its consumption has been so closely linked to Alzheimer's. You may also want to minimize your use of aluminum foil and only use it in cooking when absolutely necessary. I, for example, no longer bake potatoes wrapped in foil. I bake them in the oven without the foil and they turn out just as delicious and soft.
So what choices are we left with?
Stainless steel cookware
Time and time again, stainless steel cookware comes out on top in food cooking safety research. I personally have been using only stainless steel pots and pans for 10 years now and have really mastered the art of NOT burning every bit of food that touches the pan.
What's the secret?
Yes, you read that correctly. When cooking with stainless steel pots and pans, you will need to use a good cooking oil (like coconut oil, butter, or ghee) and cook most foods at low temperatures. This does take a bit longer to create your food masterpieces, but you will not have food sticking to the pan and your food will be even more delicious than if cooked quickly.
Let's take eggs for example, I will melt the coconut oil or butter in a stainless steel pan heated on a very low setting. I will then add in the eggs...let's say scrambled...and slowly move the mixture around with my stainless steel spatula. Sometimes I will cover it for a few seconds at a time to speed up the cooking time, but I do not leave it unattended too long. People usually experience "sticking" problems when they abandon their food and leave it on the stovetop too long.
I highly recommend looking into the different varieties of stainless steel cookware on the market today. I know some varieties can be pricey, but I am always looking for sales and coupons on the internet and in the paper (yes, the old school newspaper) before I make any major purchase (I'm not just a healthy mom, I'm a very thrifty mom as well).