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Do you think that shopping for cookware is overwhelming? There are so many options to choose from, and they all claim to deliver a perfect sear or a rich simmer. We’ll make your cookware-buying decision a little easier with this possibly surprising fact:
Many types of conventional cookware are bad for you.
Don’t worry about whether what you’re cooking in your pots and pans is healthy. Some materials and chemicals that the cookware is made from are even worse for your health than fried Twinkies.
In this guide, you will find out more about the materials to avoid and why they are bad for your health. We’ll also explain which materials are the best and how they are best suited for the type of cooking that you do.
As if that isn't enough, we will review the top 4 best cookware sets that are safe for you so that you can choose the one that best fits your needs.
Top 4 Nontoxic Cookware Sets
I have only put 4 sets into this review because I love all 4 and really don't want to recommend any others! I actually have and use pieces from all 4 of these brands and I simply think they are the best.
Enameled Cast Iron
Most of the affordable cookware that lines store shelves contains toxic chemicals. The Kitchn reports that aluminum, regular steel, iron and copper are reactive. When acidic or alkaline foods are cooked in these materials, some metal leaches out into the food.
These aren’t the only toxic chemicals that are found in cookware. We’ve broken down some of the other hazardous cookware materials below.
What Chemicals And Materials Are Found In Most Cookware?
Chemical or Material
Safe to Use?
Teflon, PTFEs, and PTFOAs
More research needed - We lean towards NO
Enamel ok but if it chips off the aluminum underneath is not
Aluminum is found in many products that you use every day. You can find it in aluminum foil and soda cans. It is also found in medications and some brands of flour.
Some cookware is made from aluminum.
What is the problem with aluminum? It is not a mineral that your body needs.
In fact, it can build up in many organs in your body, messing with your health. Aluminum gets stored in the brain, lungs, kidneys, liver and thyroid.
Researchers have found that it attacks the central nervous system. Many studies have been conducted to look into the link between aluminum and degenerative cognitive diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Scientists are beginning to think that there is a very real link. Evidence shows that elderly people have elevated aluminum levels in the brain. Individuals with Alzheimer ’s disease may also absorb aluminum more easily.
Some researchers have looked at what happens when individuals with Alzheimer’s disease undergo chelation therapy. This type of treatment helps to eliminate aluminum from the body. Evidence shows that these individuals have experienced a slowing in the development of the disease.
According to a 2012 study, aluminum creates oxidative stress in four areas of the brain. Brain cells are especially vulnerable to oxidative damage.
Oxidative stress is the main cause of four types of nerve disease.
That study was conducted to look into high levels of aluminum in baby formulas. What about the aluminum that’s found in the cookware you use every day?
What is the problem with aluminum? It is not a mineral your body needs.
According to a 2009 scientific review, aluminum is considered a neurotoxin. Overexposure to the metal can cause learning and behavioral problems as well as other neurological symptoms.
Aluminum has also been linked with an increased risk of osteoporosis. It can interfere with the absorption of certain minerals in the intestines that help maintain bone mass. Therefore, excess aluminum in the body can lead to bone loss.
It’s not just individual researchers who have found negative health effects related to aluminum toxicity. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry classifies aluminum as a toxic substance. The agency claims that the metal can affect the musculoskeletal, neurological and respiratory systems.
According to Mount Sinai Hospital, some symptoms of aluminum toxicity are confusion, weakness, problems with the bones, seizures and sleep problems. Aluminum can also interfere with the way that your body absorbs iron. This can lead to problems with anemia.
Anodized aluminum cookware is manufactured using a process that makes the metal non-reactive. The aluminum is treated with electrical charges while it sits in a sulfuric acid solution. This makes the outer layer of the aluminum more durable and inert.
This process also creates a nonstick layer that won’t scratch easily if you use metal tools.
However, there is concern that aluminum can still be absorbed into your food when you use anodized aluminum cookware. It’s hard to know how thick the hard-anodized layer is. Over time, it could wear away, revealing the reactive aluminum underneath.
Unfortunately, there have not been many long-term studies on the safety of hard-anodized aluminum.
It’s hard to avoid aluminum exposure these days. Beauty products like deodorant contain aluminum hydroxide. Some food cans and packaging contain aluminum. You can switch to natural products to avoid adding more of the metal to your body.
You can also be more vigilant about the materials that you use for cookware, and we are here to help you with that!
Copper is an extremely reactive metal. Copper cookware has traditionally been lined with tin to avoid reaction, but tin has its own problems, as you’ll read about below.
The beauty of copper is that it conducts heat evenly and efficiently. However, if you use vintage copper pots and pans, you might be cooking with an unsafe material.
Although copper is a necessary element for the human body, too much copper buildup can result in copper toxicity. Some symptoms of copper toxicity are anorexia, mental illness, insomnia, infection and painful headaches according to What My Home Wants.
Beware copper cookware! Symptoms of copper toxicity includes mental illness, headaches, and insomnia.
If you cook with unlined copper, acidic food can leach copper into the food. For example, you should NEVER cook tomatoes in an unlined copper pot.
But really, you just shouldn't use copper period.
Mother Nature News says that the FDA warns against using unlined copper cookware. Even if the copper is lined, scouring or damaging the lining can lead to copper absorption by your food.
Although many resources state that it’s safe to use lined copper cookware, you can read about the dangers of some of the lining materials in this article.
Teflon may be one of the most well-known toxins in cookware. The non-stick material is convenient. However, it is made of polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE).
Teflon is simply the brand name. One of the main concerns with Teflon is that it requires the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to bond the PTFE to the base material. That base material is usually some type of metal, such as aluminum.
PTFE and PTFOA are perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Almost every individual that has been tested has had some level of this chemical in his or her system.
Peteducation.com says that PTFE releases a dangerous gas when it’s heated at high temperatures. The gas can be hazardous to the respiratory system.
The Environmental Working Group explains that the gas can cause flu-like symptoms in humans. The condition is referred to as “Teflon Flu.” Some experts call it “polymer fume fever.” It has also been found to cause illness or death in birds.
What are the long-term effects of inhaling this gas? Nobody really knows. Scientists have not adequately studied the effects of breathing in the toxic particles and fumes from heated Teflon over the long term.
Love nonstick pans. Hate the toxins that come with them. #nontoxiclife
PFCs can also leach into the food that you cook in Teflon-coated pots and pans. While some say that not enough enters your system to produce hazardous effects, nobody really knows. Plus, many people don’t use products according to manufacturer instructions, potentially setting themselves up for a hazardous situation.
PFCs have been linked to smaller newborn birth weight, increased cholesterol levels, thyroid dysfunction, inflammation of the liver and lowered immunity. According to the Global Healing Center, researchers have found connections between ADHD and PFOA.
Manufacturers warn consumers to avoid heating Teflon to high temperatures. However, it only takes about two to five minutes for a Teflon pan to begin emitting dangerous gas.
The manufacture of the material is also dangerous to people and the environment. According to Cancer.org, studies of people who were exposed to PFOA from working in or living near chemical plants had an increased risk of some types of cancer. Animal studies have found an increase in tumors of the pancreas, mammary glands, testicles and liver.
The Environmental Protection Agency has not officially labeled PFOA as carcinogenic. However, the agency is aware that there might be a risk, and they continue to study the chemical. Enough concern has been raised that many companies are limiting emissions of the chemical from their plants.
If you have Teflon cookware, the danger could be enhanced if the surface is scratched. Don’t heat the pots and pans in the oven.
Don’t heat an empty pan. It could reach high temperatures more quickly that way.
The best solution for your nonstick cookware is to replace it with something nontoxic.
You can watch Dr. Axe talk about the reasons why Teflon cookware is unsafe to use in this video.
Tin isn’t often used in modern cookware, but it may be found in old pots and pans. While tin can leach into foods, there is less concern when the foods are only exposed for a short period of time.
However, according to The Global Healing Center, tin has not been classified as a carcinogen. Therefore, some believe that regulations regarding tin and food safety are not as stringent as they should be.
Enameled aluminum cookware is made with a base of aluminum or hard-anodized aluminum. That metal is coated with enamel. We discuss enamel in more detail below in the section on enameled cast iron, but we believe enamel is nontoxic.
Even if the enamel coating is free of toxins, it can chip off of the aluminum layer underneath. This would allow the aluminum to leach into your food. Therefore, we recommend staying away from enameled aluminum.
Don’t worry if you feel like you need to toss half of the cookware in your kitchen. You can replace it with safer alternatives!
Replacing your cookware doesn’t have to be expensive, either.
I would rather breathe in yummy food smells than toxic chemicals from my cookware. #nontoxicreboot
What Materials Usually Make Up Nontoxic Cookware?
I have listed all of the best materials to cook with below in order of my favorites.
Happy safe cooking!
Ceramic cookware looks a little like enameled aluminum or enameled cast iron. However, 100% ceramic cookware contains no metal.
Features of Ceramic:
- Contains no metals, cadmium, or lead to leach into your food
- Easy to clean - can use anything to scrub these, including steel wool
- Scratch resistant - can use any utensil while cooking
- Very versatile - can be used with many different temperatures and cooking methods, including the stovetop, oven, microwave, grill, or freezer
- Natural heat distributor - surface will heat evenly
- Does NOT need to be "seasoned" like other nontoxic options
Many companies offer ceramic that is actually coated in a toxic nonstick material, so you CANNOT just go out and buy any ceramic cookware out there without some research.
Cast iron is a great choice for your cookware. It can even make your food taste better and be used at a campfire! The best way to use it is to cook meats and fry foods.
Features of Cast Iron:
- May help maintain balanced iron levels if iron deficient
- Very durable and they even get better with time
- Conducts heat evenly, and holds onto heat for longer than other metals - can easily cook a steak on a searing hot cast iron pan without worrying about burning the meat or the cookware
- Very versatile, can be used on a stovetop, oven, or grill
- Cleaning is easy once you learn how to do it and have done your initial seasoning
Some people wonder if cast iron cookware contains lead. According to Dr. Chemical, it’s impossible for this type of cookware to contain lead. During the process of melting down the iron to cast it in a mold, any lead would be boiled out of the material.
Cleaning and Seasoning Cast Iron:
The initial seasoning process:
Want to skip this step? This awesome cast iron cookware comes preseasoned, so all you have to do is maintain.
If you have a new cast iron product, the first thing you will want to do is season it. Seasoning is the process of using oil or fat to put a coating on the surface of the cast iron to make it more nonstick, make cooking easier, and help protect the cast iron itself.
Start by giving the pan a thorough wash with soap and water to strip it. Note: After the seasoning process don't use soap unless you plan to start the initial stripping and seasoning process over again. All you will need to do is maintain after cooking (see below).
Put the pan in an oven that has been heated to 325 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes to get warm. Then rub your oil/fat of choice all over the pan - both inside and out until you have a thin sheen and it is entirely coated.
Put the pan back in the heated oven, upside down, for 1-2 hours. Then, turn off the oven and let it cool in the oven.
You may need to do the oil/heating part a few times for it to get really seasoned well.
What oil or fat should you use to season cast iron?
- Fats: lard or tallow
- Oils: refined coconut oil or ghee
Maintaining and cleaning cast iron:
Cleaning cast iron is easy. One of the easiest ways to clean a cast iron pot or pan is to leave it on the hot stove after spooning out your food and pouring a little water into it. As the water bubbles up, scrape off the food residue.
Dump the dirty water into the sink, and wipe out the cookware with a wet cloth, then with a dry cloth. It is very important to make sure it is dry so that it won't rust. There’s no need to use any soap (in fact, you shouldn't use soap). Place it back on the stove and wipe the inside with oil to keep it seasoned.
Iron in Cast Iron
Cast iron is a material that is reactive when used to cook acidic food. The iron can become absorbed into foods and therefore into the body.
What’s Cooking America describes a study that looked into the iron content of foods cooked in cast iron. Foods that were acidic or were cooked for long periods of time absorbed significant amounts of iron.
This could be good or bad, depending on if you are iron deficient.
American Family Physician reports that 2% of adult men, up to 12% of non-Hispanic Caucasian women and 20% of black and Mexican-American females have iron deficiency. In addition, breastfed infants may have low iron levels between the ages of six to 18 months.
Iron is essential for transferring oxygen from the blood to all of the tissues and organs in the body. Pregnant women, women who have not gone through menopause, infants and young children and people who frequently give blood may have low iron levels.
However, too much iron can be dangerous. Most documented cases of iron toxicity involve overloading on supplements. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, most healthy adults with normal gut function are not at risk of developing iron toxicity from dietary sources.
Cast iron is a great product to cook with for frying foods and cooking meats.
However, we don't recommend using cast iron as your only cookware product. Using it for some meals only a couple of times per week will help you get some supplemental iron, but will reduce your exposure to overloading and developing iron toxicity.
We also recommend you DO NOT use cast iron for acidic foods or for really long cooking times.
Enameled Cast Iron
If you’re concerned about the iron content in cast iron cookware but love the way it evenly retains heat, you can use enameled cast iron. Enameled cast iron has been popular since the 1800s. It involves coating regular cast iron with a glaze made of vitreous enamel.
When Teflon was developed and became popular, enameled cast iron fell out of favor somewhat. However, it was still the traditional material for Dutch ovens.
Nowadays, enameled cast iron is making a comeback. It acts like cast iron in regards to heat transfer. However, it doesn’t have to be seasoned the way cast iron does.
Don’t get enameled cast iron confused with enameled aluminum. The cast iron version is much heavier and retains heat much better than its aluminum counterpart.
Features of Enameled Cast Iron:
- Very durable
- The enamel surface is smooth. It isn’t exactly as nonstick as Teflon, though. However, if you prepare foods at the right temperature with adequate cooking oil, it shouldn’t stick excessively
- Conducts heat evenly, and conducts heat really well - you can cook items on a lower heat setting, making it very energy efficient. Dutch ovens are often used for slow cooking on the stove or in the oven
- Very versatile, can be used on a stovetop, oven, or grill
- Cleaning is easy
- Does not have to be seasoned
- Many people choose enamel cookware for its attractive style. The enamel is usually available in bright colors that look appealing in the kitchen
One of the downfalls of enamel is that it must be treated with care. The enamel could chip, revealing the cast iron beneath. Most companies that sell enameled cookware say that it is unsafe to use if the cooking surface is chipped.
According to The Kitchn, there is not a lot of conclusive evidence that the cookware would be dangerous to use if it were chipped. The cast iron below it is certainly not toxic. However, the chip could enlarge, leaving tiny bits of enamel in your food.
If you’re worried about the life span of your enamel cookware, you can purchase items that have longer warranties. Some manufacturers offer limited lifetime warranties on their cookware.
There are some resources that claim that enamel cookware contains lead. It seems that every other website pertaining to the topic contains conflicting information about the lead content in enamel.
Some say that modern enameled cookware is lead free. Others say that it depends on the brand.
Lead and cadmium are pigments that may be used to color the enamel coating on the cookware. Both are extremely toxic metals that can build up in the body.
Lead can lead to cognitive and nervous system problems. Cadmium toxicity primarily affects the bones and the kidneys.
Different companies claim to have different amounts of these metals in their cookware. Le Creuset, for example, complies with California Proposal 65. This is the strictest standard for acceptable limits of these metals.
Le Creuset says that lead is not used to manufacture its cookware. Its enameled cookware with bright red exteriors does contain trace amounts of cadmium. It is treated with an agent that prevents the cadmium from being released while cooking, however.
Lodge is another brand of enameled cookware. According to the Lodge website, this company uses third-party testing and a procedure set forth by the FDA to make sure that it complies with California Proposal 65.
Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for cookware, mainly because with the proper core, it heats evenly and gives an awesome cook to your food. Once you learn the tricks and knacks to cooking with stainless, the food just plain tastes better.
Features of Stainless Steel:
- Very durable
- Scratch resistant - can use many different types of utensils
- Does not have to be seasoned
- Attractive in the kitchen for its shine
- Gives one of the most optimal cooks out of all materials - usually the choice of pro chefs
- Versatile - can be used on the stove top or the oven
- Very even heating and can be heated at very low temperatures for great efficiency if an aluminum or copper core is used
We have included stainless steel in the nontoxic section of our review. It can leach some metals into your foods, especially if it’s not cared for properly. However, high-quality stainless steel is unlikely to do so.
If you’re buying stainless steel cookware, don’t hunt in the bargain bin.
There is some concern that stainless steel can leach nickel and chromium into your foods. If you use harsh abrasives to clean your pots and pans, this effect could be compounded.
Researchers at Penn State have found that stainless steel utensils can leach these metals when they’re exposed to acidic materials and high heat.
Chromium is a mineral that your body needs in trace amounts, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Supplementing with chromium can help people with certain medical conditions. However, chromium supplements are made with biologically active trivalent chromium.
Hexavalent chromium is the type that can be leached from stainless steel. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, this type of chromium is a known carcinogen. It can affect the skin, eyes, liver and kidneys.
However, OSHA’s concern with hexavalent chromium focuses on people who work with the material in the manufacturing industry. It is less likely that toxic levels can be leached into food from stainless steel.
Chromium and nickel are also necessary parts of stainless steel cookware in order to prevent rust and make it more durable. Although they can be reactive with food, there are ways you can keep this reactivity to a minimum and still enjoy your stainless steel cookware.
We love stainless steel for many reasons - mostly because it tends to give you the best 'cook' for your food out of any other material.
However, we don't recommend using stainless steel as your only cookware product as it can leach some nickel and chromium into your food.
Ways to Minimize Nickel and Chromium Leaching Into Food with Stainless Steel:
- The optimal ratio for stainless steel cookware is 18/10, or 304. This means there is 18% chromium and 10% nickel. This gives the correct balance of the metals to give you the benefits while minimizing the risk and the price.
- Do not use for really long cooking times - use ceramic or enameled cast iron instead.
- Avoid with acidic foods, as they are more reactive.
- DO NOT use harsh abrasives to clean.
Stainless steel tends to be a poor conductor of heat. For that reason, most stainless steel is made with an aluminum or copper core. Those types of metals conduct heat more evenly and efficiently.
You don’t have to worry about the core material leaching into your food, however. It will never see the light of day.
While stainless provides an amazing cook for your food, it also requires that you cook a little differently than you may have done with other types of pots and pans.
How to cook with stainless steel to prevent sticking and make cleaning easier:
- Use lower temperatures than you usually would. Low to medium is usually sufficient.
- If frying, preheat on low to medium for 1-2 minutes. Then put in cold oil and add your food before the oil heats up. Don't try to push the food around for at least 1 minute, you want to let it get a sear first. This will prevent sticking. Medium to low heat is all you will need.
- Salt can damage stainless steel. Bring water to a full boil and then stir in salt if you wish. Do not add salt before the water is boiling.
- Soap and water is sufficient for daily cleaning if used properly when cooking.
- If you do end up getting food stuck to your pan, then you may need to use a scouring agent. In my opinion, this is the best one to use that is nontoxic. Use a soft cloth or sponge with water to make a paste with the powder to remove the stuck on food or discoloration.
- To avoid water spotting, be sure to dry after washing.
Titanium is one of the least toxic materials used for cookware. While the price of titanium cookware may be hefty, it has a long lifespan.
Titanium is extremely durable and may be used by catering companies who must tote their cookware everywhere, according to The Soft Landing. It is also used for camping sets. However, options for 100% pure titanium are limited.
Many types of titanium cookware are made with a titanium-composite or titanium-ceramic layer. The base material may be made of aluminum. These options cannot be confirmed to be nontoxic.
FDA Regulations For Health And Safety In Cookware
One thing to note when shopping for nontoxic cookware is that many products that claim to be "lead free" may still contain lead. However, they must adhere to the acceptable limit designated by California Proposition 65 or the FDA.
The FDA has set forth several health and safety guidelines for metal cookware. Cookware.org explains many of the rules in more detail.
For example, one FDA rule regarding leachability of lead and cadmium from glazed ceramic surfaces reads “Limits of lead range from 0.5 ppm for mugs to 3 ppm for plates and flatware.”
The best way to know that your food contains no lead or other toxins is to view the results of the tests that are conducted by the manufacturer or a third party. Saying that a product is “lead free” simply means that the lead levels fall below the maximum designated by a particular agency or organization, BUT it still may contain lead!
Top 4 Nontoxic Cookware Sets…Reviewed
We have reviewed and rated our favorite nontoxic and healthy cookware as sets below. However, you can just as easily pick different individual pieces from these brands to mix and match a set all your own.
Want to have a mixture of safe cookware materials to make up your kitchen set? It is super easy, and in fact, I recommend it! I love having some stainless steel and ceramic for the bulk of my cookware pieces, my cast iron skillet for frying foods and cooking meats, and my enameled cast iron dutch oven for slow cooking and making soups.
Enameled Cast Iron
Written by Ashley
Chief editor here at Nontoxic Reboot. I'm passionate about providing you with the best and easiest ways to make your world healthier and a little less toxic.
Do you think that shopping for cookware is overwhelming? There are so many options to choose from, and they all claim to deliver a perfect sear or a rich simmer. We’ll make your cookware-buying decision a little easier with this possibly surprising fact: Many types of conventional cookware are bad for you.