Concerns with Teflon/Nonstick Cookware

A few years ago, some experts were suggesting we should toss Teflon pans with coatings that were peeling or chipped, because they leech unhealthy chemicals into our food. Now experts say that even new pans can potentially put our health at risk if we overheat them. Nonstick pans contain perfluorinated chemicals that are released into the air at a certain temperature. These chemicals could potentially block the action of estrogen in our bodies (possibly damaging fertility), harm our lungs and have even been known to kill pet birds whose cages were kept in kitchens.

According to tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in the two to five minutes that cookware coated with Teflon is heating on a conventional stovetop, temperatures can exceed to the point that the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases. At various temperatures these coatings can release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens.

Toxic chemicals are also prevalent in the environment because of the use of these pans. A study done in 2005 by the EWG in collaboration with Commonweal found perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical found in pans and a known carcinogen, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. John Hopkins Medical Center did a similar test in 2006 where PFOA was present in the umbilical cord blood of 99% of the 300 infants tested.

Some suggested tips:

  • Don’t preheat nonstick pans, and, if you can, switch to anodized aluminum pans, which will not release toxins (until more, future studies prove contrary). For now, anodized aluminum is generally considered safe because final stage in the anodization process seals the aluminum, preventing any leaching into food.
  • Cast iron is said to be a great option as it conducts heat evenly and has been known to be safe to use. Cast iron also adds beneficial iron to the diet.
  • Pottery can contain lead that can enter food contained in it. Pottery made in the U.S. must meet safety guidelines, but you should not prepare food in pottery made from Mexico or Latin America because of possible lead levels. Don’t ignore labels; if it says “Not for Food Use,” don’t use the item for food.
  • Copper is usually lined with tin or stainless steel. The Food and Drug Administration cautions against using unlined copper for general cooking because the metal is relatively easily dissolved by some foods with which it comes in contact.
  • It seems today that everyone is trying to market their product as “green.” Consumers need to be aware, though, that just because their merchandise is labeled as “green” or “good for the environment,” does not mean that it actually is. A perfect example of this can be found in the cookware aisle. A pan that has a bamboo handle is made from some recycled materials and can be recycled after use, but that pan is still coated with potentially toxic materials like Teflon.

Cast iron might be a great option, but remember that it is a bit high maintenance and will take some rolling up the sleeves to care for it properly. There’s many how-tos online on how to clean cast iron, here’s one method and another article here.

Also, please continue to do your own research. Sometimes my head spins around with something being safe one day, then being a concern the next. There’s so many contradicting studies out there that it’s hard to make sense of it all. And new studies are always coming out with updated information, so just keep up to date with the latest developments and continue to do what you feel most comfortable for yourself and your family.

Sources: Dr. Oz, Environmental Working Group, Natural News & The Daily Green.

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