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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT COOKWARE FOR HEALTHY COOKING

Mya Care Blogger 25 Mar 2024
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT COOKWARE FOR HEALTHY COOKING

Food preparation plays a crucial role in healthy living. The cookware you use can profoundly influence the quality of your meals. From the material options to the maintenance and use, there are many factors to consider when choosing the right cookware for a healthy cooking experience.

This blog reviews common types of cookware, their pros and cons, and the health implications of each material. We will also provide tips for proper maintenance and use.

Non-Toxic Cookware Options

When looking at healthier cookware, there are many options to choose from. Some popular options include stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, and clay pots.

These materials are primarily non-toxic, highly resilient, and provide good heat distribution. One of the main advantages of this cookware is their non-reactive nature, meaning they do not interact with acidic or alkaline ingredients, ensuring that the food's taste, color, and nutritional value are minimally affected.

The below section outlines the pros, cons, and tips regarding each type.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy derived from steel (a combination of iron and carbon) that includes elements like chromium, accounting for at least 11% of its composition and contributing to its resistance to corrosion. Further inclusion of Nickel, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Carbon augments its strength and imparts other beneficial features.[1]

It is a popular choice for cookware for the following reasons:

  • Stainless steel is known for its durability, making it a reliable option for cookware
  • It is a versatile material that can cater to various cooking techniques and recipes
  • Often cost-effective
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to clean

Not all stainless steel is created equal. The safety of stainless steel cookware hinges on the grade quality used. The two best quality grades are 304 and 316, with 304 being the most commonly used in cookware.

High-quality grades, such as 304 (also called 18/8 or 18/10), are considered safe as they do not contain harmful elements like nickel, chromium, and molybdenum. Lower-quality grades may contain these elements, which can leach into food and have adverse health effects.

Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware has a lengthy household history spanning centuries[2]. The benefits include:

  • Excellent heat retention (does not cool down with added food)
  • It makes for "restaurant-grade" grilled food
  • Leaches small amounts of iron into food during cooking
  • Naturally non-stick when correctly seasoned
  • A healthier alternative to non-stick cookware

Cast iron requires proper maintenance and seasoning to prevent rusting and maintain its non-stick properties. You can season iron cookware through regular application of cooking oil. It is also heavy, takes longer to heat up, and can be challenging to clean, but it can last for decades with the right care.

Clay Pots

Clay pots have a long history of usage and are famous for:

  • Enhancing the taste of food
  • Retaining moisture, making them perfect for slow cooking and oven use

Drawbacks of clay include the leaching of toxins such as lead from the glazes used to coat them. Most natural clay cookware does not have a glossy or metallic coating. If coated in another material, it is the same as non-stick ceramic cookware (see below).[3]

Clay pots require careful handling to avoid any breakage, as they can be fragile.

When using clay pots, soak them in water for at least 15 minutes before use to prevent cracking. Additionally, avoid unpredictable temperature differences, such as running cold water over a hot clay pot, as this can cause it to crack.

Other Options

Enamelware, glass cookware, and high-quality stoneware are popular healthy cooking options.

  • Enamelware is non-toxic and non-reactive, making it a safe choice for cooking.
  • Glass cookware is also non-toxic and non-reactive, but it can be fragile and may not distribute heat evenly.
  • High-quality stoneware is a durable and non-toxic option, but as it may contain lead, it is helpful to choose lead-free options.

Other Options

The following cookware options are top-rated, yet there is a debate on whether it is a healthy option. Their pros and cons are reviewed below, alongside safety tips.

Ceramic Non-Stick

Despite the name, a ceramic pan is often a metal pan with a thin ceramic layer on top.[4]

The core can vary between anodized aluminum, cast iron, or stainless steel. Sometimes, these contain a clay core. However, these are not the same as pure clay cooking utensils. The ceramic coating, often called "Sol-gel," contains silica and other inorganic chemicals, making the cookware nonstick.

The advantages of ceramic pots and pans are as follows:

  • Non-toxic
  • Non-reactive
  • Ensures even heat distribution

Non-stick ceramic cookware is convenient but may not be the healthiest choice for the following reasons:

  • They may contain potentially harmful chemicals such as PTFE and fluoropolymers which might leach into food
  • Some ceramic cookware products may contain lead and titanium, which can leach into food and cause harm.
  • High temperatures can cause non-stick coatings to release fumes that are toxic to inhale.

It is recommended to opt for lead-free options with safer coatings to avoid these health concerns. Additionally, avoid using non-stick cookware at high temperatures and try to prevent scratching using metal utensils on ceramic cookware.

Aluminum

Aluminum cookware is almost weightless and conducts heat well, yet it might pose a few health risks.

When cooking with salty or acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes or lemon juice, aluminum can leach into food and have harmful health effects. However, some sources highlight that one might ingest up to 3.5mg of Aluminium from cookware per day, which is relatively small when considering average daily contributions from food (20mg), painkillers (10mg), and antacids (1000mg).[5]

While the amount of aluminum leached is small, it is still a health concern for some. To avoid these risks, one can opt for anodized aluminum, which has a protective layer that prevents leaching. Also, avoid using aluminum cookware while cooking foods with acidic ingredients.

Copper

Like Aluminium, copper cookware is known for its excellent heat conductivity and for leaching harmful byproducts into food when cooking with acidic ingredients. In high doses, copper can be toxic and is known to pose adverse health effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

To prevent these risks, opt for high-quality copper cookware with a protective layer to prevent leaching. Make sure to replace copper cookware as this layer wears away over time. Also, maintain copper cookware properly to avert any potential health risks.

Considerations for All Cookware

When choosing cookware, there are some general considerations to keep in mind:

  • Adequate care is crucial for the longevity and safety of your cookware.
  • Heed the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and storing your cookware.
  • Bypass harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning materials.
  • Proper use of cookware is essential for a healthy cooking experience.
  • Avoid overheating your cookware to prevent the release of harmful fumes or chemicals.
  • Choose appropriate oils for cooking, such as olive or coconut oil.
  • Avoid using unhealthy oils, such as vegetable oil
  • Steaming, grilling, and other similar cooking methods can improve your health and extend the lifespan of your pots.
  • These methods help retain nutrients and reduce the need for added oils.
  • Opt for raw or minimally processed foods whenever possible.

Conclusion

Choosing the right cookware for a healthy cooking experience is crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Consider the material options, maintenance and use, and healthy cooking methods when selecting cookware for your kitchen. By making informed choices, you can ensure that your cookware is safe and enhances the healthiness of your meals.

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Sources:

  • [1] https://www.craftnhome.com/stainlesssteelcookware.html
  • [2] https://www.robbishfood.com/science/2021/02/08/science-cast-iron/
  • [3] https://miriamsearthencookware.com/mec-blog/is-it-safe-to-cook-in-clay-pots/
  • [4] https://xtrema.com/blogs/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-ceramic-coated-cookware
  • [5] https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-and-nutrition/concerns-about-cookware-chemistry

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