When trying to look for the healthiest cookware set, there is an overwhelming amount of choices and information that can set your head spinning. After looking at set after set of cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, non-stick cookware, ceramic cookware options, aluminum cookware, and more in this endless list, one can be lead to wonder:
"What is the healthiest cookware to use and what is the safest cookware material for your health?"
This guide aims to help clear up that confusion, narrow down that endless list, and inform you on what the truly healthiest cookware is.
In all of our research regarding the various options for pots and pans, we have narrowed down the list down to one type of cookware that stands above the rest as the most non-toxic cookware: pure, primary clay cookware, and this article explains why.
What is the Issue With Most Conventional Cookware?
When our society moved from cooking in clay to cooking in metals, we realized that food was turning out far less nutritious and less tasty. More recently, we have been slowly discovering all the metal and chemical contamination from unhealthy & toxic cookware and the damage it can cause to our health over time. Read on for more information.
By their innate nature, all metals are reactive: from the best stainless steel like surgical steel to aluminum to titanium. Metal and reactivity go hand-in-hand -- and food is the biochemical entity that receives those reactions. As a result, with high heat acting as a catalyst, metal ions, chemicals, and oxides from a pot or pan's ceramic coating, glazes, enamel, or even its standard cooking surface react with food and leach in.
What Do These Metals & Chemicals Do In The Body?
Over an extended period of time, metals and chemicals that are consumed in small amounts slowly accumulate in various parts of the body, eventually resulting in the functional disruption of vital organs and glands such as the heart, brain, kidneys, bones, and liver. As they accumulate, these chemicals and metals begin to replace vital nutritional minerals in the cells and tissues.
One example of a vital process in the body is enzymes acting as a catalyst for virtually every biochemical reaction. However, instead of, say, calcium being present for an enzyme reaction, nickel and chromium may take its place. Toxic metals cannot fulfill the same role as the nutritional minerals. As a result, their extended presence becomes critically disruptive to enzyme activity. An enzyme's action in the body is so fundamental that their loss or replacement causes and/or aids many diseases.
A Great Loss of Nutrients
Another notable issue is how heat is distributed through both metal and ceramic cookware. When cooking in a metal/ceramic pot (for example, a metal Dutch oven or a ceramic pan), the high heat from the walls of a metal/ceramic pot is harsh and destructive and cooks away your food's nutritive value.
After cooking a meal in conventional cookware, more than half of the vital nutrients are damaged by the end of the cooking process. This damaging heat is even further multiplied when food is heated too long during slow cooking! Afterwards, what usually remains is generally an excess of starch and carbohydrates.
In one experiment in New Delhi, India, yellow lentils cooked in a metal pot showed that it had only 42% of the protein content left after cooking and only 30% when cooked in a metal pressure cooker. Because our body no longer receives all the nutrients we need for daily functioning, many have to resort to heavy dependency on synthetic or modified supplements to fulfill our nutritional needs.
Lastly, important steam is lost! 9 out of the 13 essential nutrients and minerals are water-soluble. This means that when you cook your food, those nutrients become a part of the steam generated in a pot. They are inevitably lost with steam that’s constantly escaping the pot!
Commonly Used Cookware and Their Toxic Health Effects
Two chemical ingredients that have been the most common to non-stick pots and non-stick pans in the past are perfluorooctanoic acid and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PFOA and PTFE). PFOA is a synthetic chemical that creates a soap-like slipperiness and the nonstick coating finish for pots and pans. When pans with non-stick coatings are heated to high temperatures, the PFOA quickly reaches temperatures high enough to release toxic fumes into the air and food. It has been known to produce serious changes in organs like the brain, prostate, liver, thymus, and kidney - all showing toxicity. It is also seen to cause changes in the pituitary glands, which is the organ that controls growth, reproduction and many metabolic functions.
Recently, conventional cookware has begun to switch to using new nonstick coating chemicals like GenX and other PFAS after phasing out PFOA. However, these chemicals are just as toxic, meaning that even though a pot or pan may claim to to be PFOA free, it may have an alternative chemical that can be just as dangerous with prolonged exposure.
Aluminum is a reactive soft metal. Aluminum easily reacts with food when subjected to heat, and it releases its metal into the food. There are many studies that show a direct connection between aluminum intake and health issues in the body (like this one here). In fact, there is enough evidence today to prove that there is a strong connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic aluminum exposure has contributed directly to hepatic failure, renal failure, and dementia (Arieff et al., 1979).
Other symptoms that have been observed in individuals with high internal concentrations of aluminum include: colic, convulsions, esophagitis, gastroenteritis, kidney damage, liver dysfunction, loss of appetite, loss of balance, muscle pain, psychosis, shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue (ATSDR 1990).
Behavioral difficulties among school-children have also been correlated with elevated levels of aluminum and other neuro-toxic heavy metals (Goyer 1991). An even more alarming study result concluded that aluminum toxicity can even cause birth defects in newborns!
One common form of cookware with aluminum involved is aluminum clad cookware. Aluminum clad cookware has a thin sheet of aluminum film between two stainless steel surfaces to assist with heat distribution and to improve corrosion resistance. Generally speaking, it is not recommended to cook acidic foods in aluminum cookware. However, acidic foods can include staple ingredients for meals like tomatoes!
Stainless Steel Cookware:
Stainless steel is made up of a combination of various metals like iron, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, carbon etc. But it is no consolation that these metals are in smaller quantities. Even small amounts of these metals can prove extremely toxic. For instance, a very small amount of concentration of nickel can cause kidney dysfunction, low blood pressure, muscle tremors, oral cancer, skin problems etc. And this is just from one metal.
Cast Iron Cookware
Iron exists primarily in two forms: its ferric form and its ferrous form. Our bodies can naturally assimilate iron originating in food - this kind of iron comes from plants and meat in the ferrous form. The ferric form, or metal form, of iron from a cast iron pan or pot cannot be assimilated naturally, therefore this form is not useful in the body. Although when consumed, the ferric form iron may show an increase in the iron levels in the blood, it has no value at the cellular level. An accumulation of this iron over time can lead to health issues. In fact, ferric iron is very harmful to people who are allergic to heavy metals and can lead to autoimmune problems.
This ferric form of iron when combined with the oxygen in the body, can release oxygen free radicals, which are unstable molecules. Additionally, studies now indicate that the damage caused by these free radicals may be the cause for many forms of cancer (National Cancer Institute).
Titanium, like aluminum, is a soft metal and reactive to food while cooking. Nutrients in food are in the form of oxygen, hydrogen, halogens, acids, and bases. Here are some of the reactions that happen between the titanium metal and food when these nutrients are breaking down:
- Steam: Ti(s) [Titanium]+ 2H2O(g) [Water] → TiO2(s) [Titanium Oxide] + 2H2(g) [Hydrogen]
- Nitrogen: Nitrogen 2Ti(s) [Titanium] + N2(g) [Nitrogen] = TiN(s)), I
- Water: Ti(s) [Titanium Oxide]+ 2H2O(g) [Water] = TiO2(s) [Titanium Oxide] + 2H2(g) [Hydrogen]
- Halogens: Ti(s) + 2F2(g) → TiF4(s) [white] Ti(s) + 2Cl2(g) → TiCl4(l) [colourless]
- Acids & Bases: 2Ti(s) + 12HF(aq) → 2[TiF6]3-(aq) + 3H2(g) + 6H+(aq) Ti(s) + 2Br2(g) → TiBr4(s) [orange]
- Ti(s) + 2I2(g) → TiI4(s) [dark brown]
While looking at these reactions, it is important to note that that the titanium reacts with important nutrients like water, nitrogen, halogens, and acids, and bases; and the chemical reaction creates entirely new compounds that the body has to now try to filter through.
When the food's nutrients get contaminated with this metal, it becomes harder for the body to break them down, separate them, or properly utilize them. Without proper utilization, these pseudo-nutrients accumulate in the body in tissues, organs, and cells. And in time, they make these parts of our body dysfunctional. Some people assume titanium is safe because some have implants made from this metal. Having a titanium implant in the body is one thing; however, eating food contaminated with titanium ions is a whole different issue altogether. In the latter, the metal ions have modified the nutrients in food that support the entire system, and trying to digest these ions puts a massive strain on the body over time.
Find more information on metal and chemical reactivity of cookware here.
How about Glass and Ceramic Cookware Sets, Glazed or Enamelware?
Pure glass made from natural sand is 100% inert. This would be a great option for cooking; however, pure glass shatters when heated, so it is not an optimal cooking option. In order for glass to be used for cooking, it has to be shock resistant. Most glassware uses forms of lead or cadmium, as well as other chemicals like boron (borosilicate glass) and an ore of lithium (petalite) to give it shock resistance and uniformity in color. When cooking with these sets, these toxic chemicals, like the other types of cookware, build up in your system over time and eventually cause health problems. Additionally, borosilicate has a high melting point, because of which even heat distribution is compromised.
Ceramics are made up of many chemicals, metals, and minerals. They are usually obtained by fracking and other environmentally destructive means of mining. These chemicals include, but are not limited to: barium, cadmium, chrome, cobalt, lead, lithium, nickel, selenium and vanadium, silicon dioxide, feldspar, silicon carbide, magnesium oxide, and petalite (an ore of lithium).
All of these above-mentioned raw materials range in toxicity from mild to highly toxic. Ceramic cookware (as well as ceramic coated cookware) is a mixture of individually mined and extracted chemicals and oxides. Because of the high variability, ceramic-ware has to be fired to very high temperatures for the components to properly fuse. In order for food to not come in contact with these chemicals, so-called ‘food safe’ glazes and enamels are used. These glazes or enamels are a paint-like substance with their own set of chemicals/toxins, (read the story of a woman with multiple complications due to lead poisoning from glazed ware). They can include lead and cadmium as well, which can leach into food every time you make a meal.
The Baking Soda Test - A Simple & Reliable Method to Test Cookware’s Toxicity in your Kitchen
Here is an experiment that anyone can try in their kitchen. This experiment tests for metals and chemicals leaching into food from cookware:
Boil 2 glasses of water in any metal/ceramic pot or pan. Add 1/2 tsp. of baking soda to the boiling water. Baking soda is high on the pH scale (alkaline), with a pH value of 8. Most of the foods we eat are alkaline too! Turn stove off after 5-10 minutes of water coming to a boil and wait for pot or pan to cool down just a bit. Now, take a small sip and taste the water. If you are conducting the test from a metal pot, the water may have a foul metallic taste. If it's from a ceramic pot, glazed pot, or enameled pot, the water may have the taste of rubber or paint.
Do you see how much is leaching?
So What is the Healthiest, Most Non-Toxic Cookware, Then?
After seeing how using conventional cookware can destroy important nutrients and can invite harmful chemicals into your body, the search for the best non toxic cookware can seem almost hopeless. Thankfully, there is a cooking material that has been used for generations in the past and offers the healthiest cooking experience: all natural, pure, and primary clay. In particular, Miriam's Earthen Cookware, the first brand to coin the term "pure clay", sits at the top for providing all the means to healthily cook meals in a single pot.
What Makes Pure Primary Clay so Special?
All-natural pure clay innately has a composition of important nutrients for the body like calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. These elements are bound together in a unique bond that is only possible in nature, and they are the exact same nutrients the body needs for its regular functions. It cannot leach harmful chemicals if the cookware isn't made of them!
Try the baking soda test mentioned above in MEC pure clay pots. You can compare the taste against your control which would be a 1/2 tsp. baking soda mixed to one glass of water. The water in your MEC clay pots will taste the same as the water in the glass cup. This proves the inert, non-reactive nature of MEC’s pure clay cookware!
Only Pure Clay Makes Healthy & Non-Toxic Cookware. Here’s Why:
It is 100% Natural, Inert & Non-Toxic:
Pure clay is a naturally found ingredient in the surface of the earth. With MEC cookware in particular, it is used just the way it is in nature: nothing is added and nothing is subtracted. It is a superior form of soil, being nutritionally rich and having elasticity. Although we know pure-clay has no toxins, for the benefit of our customers we also test the complete composition of clay. This means that food cooked in MEC's pure-clay is 100% metal and toxin FREE. This improves the taste, too: you only the taste of the food's ingredients and not the material of the pot.
Its Unique, Food-Friendly Heat Cooks Food Without Damaging the Nutrients:
These pots made of pure earth emit a unique and more gentle heat called far-infrared heat that travels deeper and cooks food without damaging nutritional cells. In our research, we found that those who only cook in pure clay have no nutritional deficiencies. As a result, they did not need to depend on supplements, and they did not suffer from the many forms of chronic illnesses the rest of the world around them did.
It Locks Steam, Retaining All Water-Soluble Nutrients:
Once the lidded pot is closed, very little or no steam escapes. The unique double lock design is exclusive to MEC. The lid stays cooler than the pot and helps condense steam, sending it right back into the food. As a result, water-soluble nutrients are retained. It also reduces the need to add more water, fats/oils, or other liquids to a recipe.
It is a Great Retainer of Heat:
The heat retained in a pure-clay pot is significantly greater than in any other cookware. This allows the food to cook better while using less electricity or gas. This saves you energy! This unique heat retention also helps food stay hot longer. All the heat is contained inside the pot instead of outside, meaning no more burnt fingers!
Among the important factors that influence our health and well being, the food we eat has by far the most powerful impact. However, that food is only as good as the cookware that it is cooked in. Choosing the healthiest ingredients but cooking in toxic pots is useless. On the other hand, the pure & nutrient-rich earth that grows and nourishes our food can also make the perfect and healthiest pots and pans!