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Healthy Cookware

You've heard the rumors. Cooking your morning eggs on an aluminum skillet may lead to Alzheimer's disease down the road. Those pretty copper pots leach poison into your food. And nonstick pans? Not worth the convenience. They may cause cancer.

The facts about pots and pans, however, tell a different story. Current studies have all but exonerated aluminum cookware from any connection to Alzheimer's. Most have an anodized surface that reduces the amount of metal seeping into food. You won't easily find a saucepan made of pure copper (which can leach into food and cause gastrointestinal problems) without a protective stainless steel finish -- unless you are rummaging in Grandma's attic. As for brands like Teflon, research indicates that most Americans have trace levels of perfluorooctanoic acid in them. This potentially carcinogenic chemical is used to make nonstick coating, but the jury's still out as to how it enters our bodies (environmental pollution, more than home cooking, may be to blame). To reduce risk, avoid damaging the nonstick surface and don't use the pan on high heat.

Cookware safety often relates to factors in your control: the quality of the pots you buy, their care, and choosing the right pan for the job. A cast iron skillet browns meat beautifully, for instance, but reacts with certain acidic foods, such as tomatoes, altering the taste of ingredients. Knowing your cookware is your best bet for cooking well -- and safely.

(From left to right)

Carbon Steel
Pros
Heats quickly and withstands high temperatures; good for high-heat searing, stir-frying, and low-fat cooking. Imparts iron, a necessary nutrient, to foods.
Cons
Reacts with acidic foods to alter taste.
Washing Up
Hand wash with hot water and sponge (no soap or scouring pads), dry thoroughly, and treat with cooking oil to maintain surface.
Extra Care
Season before first use to create a nonstick surface and prevent rust.

14-inch wok: $15 to $59

Copper
Pros
Precise control and fast, even heating helps with soups, stocks, and cream- or egg-based sauces. Stainless-steel lining provides durable, nonporous finish and keeps copper salts out of food.
Cons
Can be pricey. Long-simmering acidic foods may damage protective coating.
Washing Up
Hand wash with mild soap and water.
Extra Care
Polish with a salt-and-lemon-juice paste to maintain shine.

3-quart pot: $80 to $300

Anodized Aluminum
Pros
Anodizing creates a hard finish that resists scratching and sticking, reducing the leaching of metal into foods. It doesn't react with acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, lemon, and rhubarb.
Cons
Can't use with induction ranges, which require a magnetic-based material, such as steel or iron.
Washing Up
Hand wash with mild soap and water.

4-quart saute pan: $35 to $185

Enameled Cast Iron
Pros
Heats and cools slowly, distributing heat well for stewing and caramelizing. Nonreactive.
Cons
Heavy.
Washing Up
Dishwasher safe.
Extra Care
Avoid high heat and metal utensils -- they can damage enamel.

5.75- to 6.75-quart French ovens: $110 to $220

Cast Iron
Pros
Heats and cools slowly, distributing even heat; perfect for browning, frying, and baking. Provides a relatively nonstick surface, if well seasoned. Like carbon steel, it imparts iron to food.
Cons
Reactions with acidic foods can alter taste and discolor pan.
Washing Up
Hand wash with hot water and stiff brush (no soap). Dry thoroughly and treat with cooking oil to maintain surface.
Extra Care
Season before first use.

10.5-inch skillet: $12 to $22

Nonstick
Pros
Allows for low-fat cooking with less oil and butter. Easy to clean.
Cons
Doesn't brown food well.
Washing Up
Dishwasher safe.
Extra Care
To prevent coating from eroding or flaking into food, use low or medium heat only and avoid using abrasive cleaners, metal scourers, or metal utensils. Overheated pans can emit irritating or poisonous fumes, so never leave dry or empty nonstick cookware on hot burners.

8-inch stainless nonstick skillet: $15 to $100

Want more tips for a healthy kitchen?
Stock up with these healthy food staples.
Learn how to buy better groceries.
Get 10 steps to a healthy home.

Text by Jennifer Roberts; photograph by Kate Sears

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Comments

Comments (23)

  • Vinthad 27 Feb, 2014

    There is always a fear of metals and chemicals leaching into our food. After a ton of research I found the benefits of cooking with Pure clay cookware. All the nutrients are intact and the food is tender and juicy. I can use it for any dish except for deep fries. It can be used as slow cooker right on the stove top and also in the oven. I got mine from mecware.US (online)

  • TheMaidsPhoenix1 10 Sep, 2012

    I have to commend this article, not enough people know about this stuff. Not only is what kind of food that goes into your body important but everything the food touches! Going one step further it is important to use green environmentally safe products on your kitchen equipment and surfaces. When house cleaning in Phoenix we've known for a while the importance of this information. Great article.

  • populuxe 13 Feb, 2011

    Club Aluminum! I wish they still made this. It lasts several life times. My sets are hand-me-downs from mom and I picked up another set at a yard sale. It's amazing how the lids from 50 years ago fit the pots made 10 years ago. That is very convenient. They cook so even you just don't notice. I mean, you just put it over the burner and check it occasionally, never any hot spots to deal with.
    Anyone still concerned with aluminum should never eat from a restaurant--they use only aluminum.

  • sdodt 9 Feb, 2011

    All Clad all the way! It lasts the rest of your life, is dishwasher safe and you'll feel good everytime you use it. It is worth whatever it costs because once you have a set, you'll never have to worry about buying cookware again.

  • babsv 8 Dec, 2010

    Stainless steel is the way to go....for health and clean-up reasons. The studies are inconclusive on whether or not alumium impacts your health, so why take a chance? It's very easy to burn a non-stick pan which may cause the Teflon to leach, so why chance it? I use my All-Clad stainless steel pan almost everyday and I put it in the dishwasher without any worries. It looks brand new everytime I time I take it out of the dishwasher. Kudos to All-Clad for making a solid product.

  • sharmila44 21 Nov, 2010

    I only use stainless steel. That is what my grandmother cooked with in India when she grew up and was the only type found in stores. I thought that was what was healthiest and I dont use anything else for the fear of chemicals leeching.

  • sharmila44 21 Nov, 2010

    I only use stainless steel. That is what my grandmother cooked with in India when she grew up and was the only type found in stores. I thought that was what was healthiest and I dont use anything else for the fear of chemicals leeching.

  • kobico 9 Aug, 2010

    Argh! French

  • kobico 9 Aug, 2010

    Argh! French

  • kobico 9 Aug, 2010

    Sorry, my browser and/or connection is wonky and somehow my comment was submitted before I typed anything! @mntakizawasoper: in current parlance, French

  • kobico 9 Aug, 2010

    %40

  • Mike_Blonder 29 Jun, 2010

    Great kitchen tools. Complement them with a chopping block or a cutting board made from Bamboo Geranium -- <a href="http://www.greenproductsgallery.com">Green Products Gallery</a>

  • HEALTHFOODMAMA 1 Mar, 2010

    There are a few lines of green cookware out now. Target sells one and so does Winn Dixie. Also at Bed Bath

  • mntakizawasoper 24 Sep, 2009

    What is the difference between a FRENCH OVEN and a DUTCH OVEN?

  • farmercece 8 Aug, 2008

    Any recent research on our older aluminum pots from my Grandmother's generation? (At one time they were thought to contribute to Alzheimer disease).

  • ksurowiec 5 Aug, 2008

    to Certainly Susan-- the Circulon and Analon non-stick pans are indeed dishwasher safe. They are revolutionary.

  • famerebel 4 Aug, 2008

    What about Kitchen Craft stainless steel pans? I'm surprised those aren't mentioned

  • CertainlySusan 4 Aug, 2008

    continuing
    not good enough. I have seen too many handles snap off pans. Surround the heads of the rivets with a paste of baking soda or Barkeeper's Friend. However, good cookware like All-Clad does not require high heat. Cook on medium and there will be no problem with cleaning the rivets.

  • CertainlySusan 4 Aug, 2008

    A couple of things:

    1.) Since when is non-stick cookware dishwasher safe? I sold cookware for years and we were told by the manufacturers to never put non-stick cookware in the dishwasher, to hand wash. Ditto anodized aluminum until the most recent round of Calphalon and All-Clad.

    2.) I also have to disagree with poster baldocchi that "a proper job of welding" is

  • KimRene 4 Aug, 2008

    I use cast iron to cook tomato sauces - the extra iron is a nice nutrition bonus.

  • drkristen 4 Aug, 2008

    The Green Guide has another helpful breakdown at http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/117/cookware
    Also, Dr Mercola has a lot to say about it, along with references if you're wanting more research. Check it out at http://products.mercola.com/cast-iron-cookware/ I always recommend the enameled cast-iron. If you treat it well, it will stay "non-stick" and it's healthy. Careful here, because you want to get a quality enamel, not made in Mexico or China where they may not test for lead in the enamel.

  • nlbknitter 4 Aug, 2008

    My pet peeve is stainless steel cookware with bolts on the inside. It's virtually impossible to get all traces of food out from around those bolts. They are not necessary; a proper job of welding is plenty good enough. Most French restaurant cookware has no inside bolts. There's a reason for that.

  • bewitching 4 Aug, 2008

    No reference to Stainless Steel Pans. I was also expecting more health related information regarding the different types of metal and heavy metal toxicity.

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