breadcrumbs: a series of connected events

Part 1: Pots & Pans

Edited: Apparently it’s still not obvious to some folks why Teflon nonstick PTFE coating is bad for you, so here’s a good primer and also EPA’s explanation of these confusing terms like PFAS, PFOA etc. Read more on the bottom of this post.

Also, I highly recommend this recent (Nov 2019) legal thriller that stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins called Dark Waters (90% on RT) based on a true story on DuPont’s cover up. And even if not for the story, see it for Mark’s outstanding and Oscar-worthy performance!

Do you still use any form of non-stick cookware? I’m ashamed to say that we were until very recently! Took me having 2 kids to dig deeper into this and finally swap out all our cookware… some of them slightly scratched too. Oh dear, the amount of toxins that’s been leaching into our “organic food” and feeding them to our kids. 

I embarked on researching the best alternative cookware and uncovered more stuff (like how your greenpans are not that green and how Le Crueset leaches lead / cadmium… and to never cook anything in aluminum). I was sharing my findings on instastories but had a lot of DMs for more info, so I decided to compile my research and publish it here. 

Please let me know if you found it helpful! 

On June 12, I posted on Main Street Mama’s SF Facebook group a request for recommendations on healthy alternatives to teflon non stick cookware and got 136 comments! Here’s the link to the article I posted in that FB group, in case you were wondering. And if you’re part of that group, you can access the thread here.

MSM Post

I learned about a few popular alternatives, most notably of Greenpan, Scanpan, Hex Clad, Always Pan and Made In. That got me diving into researching each of these options and uncovering which of these are safe and not so safe. I posted my findings on instastories and found that many others were interested in my research, so I’m compiling a summary of them here.

Summary of Research

After a lot of research, I found the following about the alternative cookware of these specific brands:

  • Greenpan – These ceramic-coated pans, especially the Food52 collaboration ones look SO GORGEOUS that Jason and I fell in love with and almost bought the blue ones. But when I read the reviews on Food52 itself, it sounds like they stain on bottom and the non-stick coating comes off after a few months, which gave me pause for concern. After researching further, I found this blog that discovered how Greenpan has nanoparticles that may be damaging to our immune system 😩 . So yeah, I had to cross this one off our list.
  • Scanpan – There’s this new material that they use to make the pan, called “stratanium.” But nobody could answer me on what it was and whether they knew it was 100% safe, and google wasn’t much help either. Because of this, I decided to skip considering this pan. Later, a mom commented that “Scanpan still uses PFAS chemicals, basically like Teflon. So best to avoid!” This was never disclosed on their website (duh!) and she had to email them to ask. Edited: Note: Scanpan has a lifetime warranty and some moms mentioned that they’ve replaced their pan after a year. I’m assuming it’s because the whatever stratanium coating comes off after a year… having to replace your pans every year sounds pretty cumbersome, and I’d prefer to get stuff that’s longer lasting.

⇒ Through my journey, as tedious as it sounds, I’ve learned to email manufacturers to ask about questionable materials & chemicals before deciding on a big purchase, if I truly want to keep my family away from harmful chemicals or neurotoxins.

  • Hex Clad – Unfortunately, as convincing as they make their heavy duty product sound on their website (and video!), apparently it does have some PTFE. Because of that, I decided not to consider them, since I really don’t want any amount of PTFE exposure in my food.
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⇒ Someone in the group also shared this pretty interesting fact:
Non-stick is supposed to be a weight-loss solution. Regular metal (stainless steel) pans work totally fine and are not prone to food sticking, if you use some fat between the food and the pan. But then all these guidelines came out about reducing your fat intake, and it felt like slapping some butter into your pan before you sautéed things was inappropriate.
Years later, it seems like fat isn’t quite the boogeyman that we thought and sugar might actually be a bigger culprit.
In our household, we’ve gotten rid of the non-stick and just use regular pans. Benefits include being able to use regular spatulas and spoons instead of silicon-coated ones that are thicker and harder to work with. And, better Maillard reaction (the thing that makes things brown up).
So, if you find that you follow recipes that put a little fat in the pan, going regular pans might be the way to go. But if you’re super conservative about fat, then I’d totally recommend the non-stick Hex pans that everyone else does.

  • Our Place Always Pan – This pan is SO gorgeous (love the color, the steamer and the spoon) and the female founder story behind it rocks too. It almost got me clicking BUY! Unfortunately, they weren’t completely transparent about the material on their website and I had to email them to ask. Turns out they do use a ceramic coating just like greenpans. And from reading reviews, the non-stick coating does come off after some usage (and becomes toxic). So this was out for me too, sadly.
  • Cast Iron – Brands: Lodge, Finex, Le Crueset, etc. Most cast iron brands are probably pretty good and the safest in general but people seem to prefer Finex since they use organic flax oil to season them. Lodge, for example, use a soybean oil to season it which is apparently not non-GMO (would you cook your organic food in a GMO cast iron?). Also, they do tend to leach some iron, which is somewhat healthy for most people who are iron-deficient, but be aware of too much iron if you have relevant underlying conditions. Anyway, they also last forever and gets better over time, which is not true for most other types of cookware. The cons are that they’re very heavy and requires quite a bit of maintenance (to season, wash, dry etc). Note on Le Crueset leaching below.
  • Carbon Steel – Brands: de Buyer, Made In, Mauviel. I had to research this quite a bit since it’s another one of those “innovative materials” that I was a bit skeptical of. So far, my research tells me that it’s pretty safe since it’s a combination of 99% iron and 1% carbon that creates an extremely tough surface that heats quickly and evenly. Known as an ‘alloy,’ this mixture also allows chefs to achieve and maintain super high temperatures without worrying about damage to the pan. More importantly, it doesn’t leach anything but some iron. Turns out, it’s also popular in many professional kitchens across the globe. It’s much lighter than cast-iron and much more durable. Like cast iron, it still requires seasoning, or else it will easily rust. Most of the reputable & safe cookware seem to come from France, and so does most carbon steel cookware, so I would trust most brands that are made there (never buy any cookware from China because they have very lax standards on chemical testing etc).

⇒ You might want to use different cookware for more acidic dishes. Eg if you’re cooking tomato or pasta sauce, use a Stainless Steel pot instead of Cast Iron or Carbon Steel since they will leach more iron when acidic food is cooked.

  • Stainless Steel / SS – Brands: All Clad, Calphalon SS, etc. In general, any SS cookware is pretty safe (that isn’t made in China, because I’ve found that the recycled metal that’s turned into SS matters and they could be radioactive if it came from crappy sources, as most do if manufactured in China unfortunately). People seem to love All Clad. It’s a bit more expensive than other SS brands since they’re pretty established and made in the USA. In researching SS, I found that there are usually a few different grades depending on the chromium to nickle ratio: 18/10 (the best, most hardy SS), 18/8 (pretty standard and the min you should get, also coded as 304), 18/0 (is OK if you don’t use it over heat, but will tend to rust a bit quicker). Side note: When cooked over high heat or if scratched, some nickle and chromium does leach… so if you’re an instant pot lover, sorry to tell you that some nickle is definitely getting into your food over that high pressure! Here’s a study on the effects of SS leaching into food that causes dermatitis issues. Try to only use wooden utensils on any cookware I suppose and maybe don’t eat Instant Pot meals every day?
  • Copper – Some people think copper is a great choice because it conducts heat so well. However, copper cookware releases copper into the food and usually also has nickel in the coating, which is another toxic heavy metal and can be very allergenic. Don’t cook vegetables in copper or iron pots. Copper can kill vitamin C, vitamin E and folic acid.
  • Le Creuset Stoneware – LC makes 2 kinds of cookware – cast iron (made in France) and ceramic stoneware (made if China). This is a pretty darn expensive set of cookware that most people can only aspire to buy. If you own one, I’m sorry to say that certain colors leaches lead and cadmium (the toxic part of batteries) 😞 So be careful which color you buy! Check out leadsafemama who tested them as well. Lead can cause reproductive harm and learning disabilities. If we took the lead out of the paint on our walls, the pipes in house, and our gas is now unleaded, shouldn’t our cookware also be free of lead?

⇒ In general, try not to buy kitchen items that are red, orange or yellow as those colors tend to have lead or cadmium in their glaze or paint to enhance the color.

  • Xtrema (100% ceramic) – Seems like this is a pretty solid option for food safety. But this mom’s comment make sense and is one of the reasons why I didn’t go with it: “I spent a lot of money on a Xtrema set and honestly don’t love them with our electric range. Not to mention we’ve broken two lids 😣 They’re bulky, easily breakable, and you can’t heat them too quickly or you risk shattering them and they let off a weird smell on high heat. I may replace with Le Crueset. I love my cast iron though…”
  • Glass – Glass one of the most non-reactive material and therefore perfect to cook in. The downside is that it’s fragile and can easily shatter under high temperatures, so it’s not super practical to cook in. Glass cookware may also contain lead, so you need to look out for lead-free cookware.

⇒ Cadmium according to Wikipedia: Cadmium has no constructive purpose in the human body. Cadmium is extremely toxic even in low concentrations, and will bio-accumulate in organisms and ecosystems. May cause flu like symptoms including chills, fever, and muscle ache sometimes referred to as “the cadmium blues.” Other symptoms include cough, dryness and irritation of the nose and throat, headache, dizziness, weakness, fever, chills, and chest pain. The kidneys lose their function to remove acids from the blood in proximal renal tubular dysfunction. Another side effect is increased levels of chloride in the blood (hyperchloremia). Other patients lose their sense of smell (anosmia). Geez… sounds awfully like covid-19 symptoms, doesn’t it???

Healthiest / Safest Cookware Order

Here’s my interpretation of the order of what’s the healthiest/safest cookware (1 is safest)

  1. Glass (eg vision cookware) – The most non-reactive cookware, but easily breakable
  2. 100% Ceramic (eg xtrema) – Also a non-reactive cookware, but easily breakable
  3. Cast Iron (eg Lodge, Finex, etc) – Heavy and will leach some iron, if your body can handle / needs it
  4. Carbon Steel (eg Made In, etc) – Pretty close cousin to cast iron but more durable and easier to handle
  5. Stainless Steel (eg All Clad) – Might still leach if scratched or under high pressure

DO NOT EVER GET THESE

  1. Teflon or ANY non-stick PTFE cookware
  2. Aluminium cookware (a neurotoxin) may leach some Al into your food, and any tiny amount of Al crosses the blood-brain barrier. I’m now even worried about using aluminium foil for baking and stuff

NOT IDEAL BUT OK?

Any ceramic coated cookware (throw away and replace after about 1 year, when the non-stick coating starts to come off – isn’t that such a waste of money/time??). In general, I’m now very skeptical of any “innovative non-stick coating” such as scanpan and hex’s. Someone gave us a really nice “marble ceramic” frying pan from Malaysia called Chefology, which isn’t inexpensive, but the handle is made out of plastic (!!) and I’ve read reviews that they sometimes melt (uh, that means you’re eating some plastic shit in your meals). Sorry, I had to give that one away 😢

WHAT ABOUT SILICONE?

Silicone is this magical material that’s been touted as microwave / dishwasher / oven safe, and apparently doesn’t leach anything into food / drinks. HOWEVER, I always read caveats that not enough research has been done on silicone yet and that it’s only as safe as there isn’t enough data to prove that it isn’t. Uh, well that was probably said about Teflon and non-stick pans ages ago too right?

Therefore, although I think silicone is a great alternative to plastic and I’m comfortable using it, I personally wouldn’t want to expose it to too much heat… like I wouldn’t use silicone bakeware, or microwave it, or even put it in the dishwasher. I just don’t want to find out 10 years later that it leaches some weird toxins into my edibles.

What I Ended Up Getting

Made In Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel pots & pans (I have a $15 referral bonus here). Here are the specific pots and pans that we ended up getting:

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Click on this link to get a $15 towards your purchase of over $100.

I would still avoid their non-stick cookware (because they’re all bad!) and their aluminium sheet pan. I want to get their wooden spoon, roasting pan and try out their knifes, but I would also skip their butcher block because I don’t think they’re the healthiest/safest (I’ll follow up with another post on why and what’s the best cutting board to get).

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⇒ I think the key is to rotate the different kinds of cookware you use and on different foods (eg take acidity and temperature into consideration) since very few cookware are 100% safe.

Feel free to share my research if you’d like, with the caveat that it’s based a few hours of deep googling and asking for FB group recommendations, and I’m currently taking care of a newborn and toddler. If you find any new information or have any feedback for me, please send me a DM on my instagram or twitter. If you know my email or FB messenger, feel free to ping me there too.

My next post will be about “BPA-free” plastic stuff 🙂


cont. from the top on why any sort of “non-stick” cookware is bad. 

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