Doctor’s Tip: What is the safest cookware?
The current issue of the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter has a useful article about the pros and cons of various types of cookware. Here are some of the highlights:
• Teflon, which prevents sticking, was discovered by a DuPont chemist in 1938. It is a brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and other companies have developed other brands.
• Fumes from heating PTFE-coated pots and pans to temperatures over 660 degrees can cause symptoms in humans and death in pet birds.
• There is no evidence that ingesting PTFE flakes from old cookware causes cancer. However there are concerns about cancer and hormone disruption from another chemical, called PFOA, which until 2015 was used in the manufacturing of PTFE and which persists in our environment and our bodies.
• The replacements for PFOA may not be any safer (we don’t know yet). The nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Working Group advises consumers to avoid all nonstick cookware and kitchen utensils.
• At the very least, avoid high temperatures with stick-free cookware, and replace it when it starts to deteriorate.
• Aluminum cookware can scratch and stain easily and can give acidic food such as tomato sauce a bitter taste because aluminum leaches into the food.
• In his book “Power Foods For The Brain,” Dr. Neal Barnard points out that there is still concern that aluminum ingestion may be linked to Alzheimer’s.
• Ideally you should avoid aluminum cookware because you don’t want to risk brain health.
• If you do buy it, buy the anodized variety, which has a harder surface. However if labeled nonstick, it may contain PFTE-related compounds.
• At the very least, avoid acid foods with aluminum cookware.
• To maintain a cast-iron pan you have to rub oil on the surface, and a well-seasoned pan is fairly stick-free.
• Iron leaches into acidic food.
• Although we need some iron in our diet, we get plenty from what we eat (even if you are plant-based). Too much iron causes free radicals to form, which contribute to aging, cancer, heart disease and other health problems. According to Dr. Barnard, there is a link between high blood iron levels and Alzheimer’s.
• Cast-iron cookware should be dried as soon as it is washed and should not be put in the dishwasher to avoid rusting (i.e. oxidation).
• It is non-stick but contains no PTFE or PFOA, is heat-stable and flake-resistant.
• It is therefore thought to be free of health and environmental concerns.
• However, some products may use nanoparticle coatings, and the long-term health and environmental effects of nanoparticles are unknown.
• Copper can leach into food, especially acidic foods such as tomatoes, unless it’s lined with stainless steel.
• We need a small amount of copper in our diet, but too much causes health problems. Dr. Barnard talks in his book about evidence linking copper to Alzheimer’s, so it’s best to avoid copper cookware.
• Stainless steel cookware does not react with food and doesn’t rust.
• Some has an inner core of copper or aluminum that helps food cook more uniformly, but this should not be a problem as long as the surface is stainless steel.
• Pyrex is the best-known brand and was introduced over a century ago.
• Glass is inert, does not react with food, and poses no known health or environmental problems.
So the bottom line is this: Avoid copper, aluminum and iron cookware for optimal health. Ideally use glass and stainless steel for cooking. Ceramic cookware is safe if it is not coated with nanoparticles, which have not been proven yet to be safe for us and for the environment. If sticking is a problem with these safe options, a small amount of oil rubbed on the surface solves that, but as per a previous health tip column, added oils cause several health problems and carcinogens form when oils reach their smoke point. So it’s better to use vegetable broth, water, wine or soy sauce to prevent sticking.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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