Safe, effective cookware is essential in a non-toxic home. We should certainly avoid toxins in the things we breathe in or touch, but we should really avoid toxins in the food we eat!

The best rule of thumb when it comes to cookware may be this: look for materials that have been proven safe and effective over hundreds–if not thousands–of years. This means choosing pots and pans made of cast iron, stainless steel, glass, enamel, or ceramic.

Toxic Cookware to Toss

There are some materials that should always be avoided in pots and pans. If you have cookware made of the following materials, I’d recommend upgrading as your budget allows.

1) Plastic. Believe it or not, they actually sell plastic pots. And, you probably already know that a wide range of toxins, from BPA to phthalates, leaches out of most plastic when it’s heated. I

recommend that you avoid even storing your food in plastic, and there are an ever-increasing number of glass and stainless steel food-storage options available.

2) Aluminum. Studies have linked elevated aluminum levels to conditions ranging from anemia to Parkinson’s disease, so I recommend getting rid of any aluminum cookware you have,

including baking sheets. Pans with an aluminum core are fine (many stainless steel pans do contain internal aluminum)—what’s important is that no aluminum touches your food.

3) Unprotected copper. Like iron, copper is an essential mineral, but elevated levels of copper in your body can be toxic. Many foods can react with copper cookware and leach too much copper into your food. As with aluminum, copper-core cookware is fine, but again you’ll want to avoid any pan that allows your food to come into contact with copper.

4) Nonstick. Most pans advertised as nonstick contain polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE, AKA Teflon), and many studies suggest that Teflon is toxic. Newer “non-toxic” nonstick pans are increasingly available, but be wary of those that simply advertise themselves as “PFOA-Free.” PFOA is created during production but always burned off in the final product, so even a Teflon-coated pan won’t contain PFOA. Pans that specify that they are free of PFOA almost certainly contain PTFE. And even pans that are free of both often contain “proprietary” nonstick materials, which carry unknown risks.

The Safest Cookware

The healthiest way to cook is to use a range of cookware made from the following materials.

1) Cast iron. A wide variety of cookware is made from cast iron, from frying pans to dutch ovens. Cast iron cookware can impart a healthy amount of iron into your food, but if you’re worried about excessive iron levels, you can avoid cooking acidic foods (think, tomato sauce) in cast iron.

2) Enameled cast iron. Enameled cast iron offers a safe, effective, easy to clean, and stylish cookware option. I recommend using wooden utensils with enameled pots and pans to ensure you don’t scratch the finish.

3) Stainless steel. This is a top choice in cookware for many of the world’s best chefs. It comes in a variety of types, including steel-clad aluminum and copper-bottomed steel, both of which are safe. As I mentioned above, as long as the part of the cookware that touches your food is made entirely of untreated stainless steel, you don’t have to worry about the core containing copper or aluminum.

4) Glass. Glass may be the most time-tested material of all, but it’s not so great on the stovetop. Baking, on the other hand, can almost always be done in glass!

5) Ceramic. High-quality ceramic cookware can be a great non-toxic option, but it’s important to seek certification of purity from the manufacturer, since low-quality ceramic products sometimes contain heavy metals. I like Xtrema because they provide the results of robust third-party testing to prove the purity of their line of ceramic cookware.

Maia James is the founder of Gimme the Good Stuff – helping busy, conscientious parents easily avoid toxic products in their homes.

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