Egg in pan

Why you should ditch the nonstick

Nonstick pans make cooking delicate foods like fish and eggs an easy task and cleaning them is a breeze. But many of these pans may pose serious health risks that may make you rethink how you cook tonight's dinner.

In today's world of vast consumerism, it's no wonder that almost every product on the market, including cookware, is getting improved, reconstructed or remarketed. There are so many options out there — copper, stainless steel, cast iron, nonstick — and it's certainly not easy to decide which are the best choices for you and your cooking needs. Out of all of the options, nonstick cookware certainly has an appeal. It's extremely easy to clean and food doesn't stick to it. But is it worth it if it is hazardous to our health?

chemicalsLet's not sugarcoat it

The short of it is that every nonstick pan is coated with chemicals. That coating eventually breaks down and can emit harmful toxins when it does so. It can break down when heated over high heat, scratched with cooking utensils, or simply over time. Different pans are coated with different chemicals, some indisputably more harmful than others. At the top of the avoid list are PFOA and PTFE, which the Environmental Protection Agency cite for having the potential to cause everything from flu-like symptoms to birth defects.

Can nonstick be green?

In response to the negative studies that have come out warning of the dangers of nonstick cookware, several companies have created new coatings, like silicone, that are marketed as "green." They certainly look like they are less harmful than other nonstick coatings but the jury is still out on whether they are safe to use over time. When it comes down to it, they still require a lot more resources and technology to produce. Since these pots and pans have been introduced to the marketplace fairly recently, we don't know what the long-term health or environmental implications may be. Why even take a chance and hold our breath waiting for the next study to come out when traditional options, like stainless steel and cast iron, work perfectly well?

With that said, I know a lot of people who love their nonstick pans. They have solved a lot of cooking woes: They are easy to clean, food doesn't stick to them as easily and you don't have to use as much fat or oil. They're all totally legitimate. But if you are interested in replacing your nonstick, here are (what I hope to be) practical solutions to those concerns:

Case No. 1 for nonstick: They are easier to clean

Yes, nonstick pans are undeniably easier to clean. To clean stainless steel pans, you have to use a bit more elbow grease and sometimes a cleaning agent other than dish soap. For hard-to-remove food stains, I sprinkle baking soda on the spots and then scrub the baking soda over the surface with a damp sponge. For heat stains, I rub a small amount of white vinegar over the stain with a soft cloth or paper towel.

More eco-friendly kitchen cleaning tips >>

Case No. 2 for nonstick: You have to use less oil

Most health experts agree that using a tablespoon or so of heart-healthy cooking oils like olive oil and canola oil here or there is good for you. Cooking food on a potentially toxic surface is not. I'll take the healthy fat and calories over the chemicals any day.

Case No. 3 for nonstick: Food doesn't stick to them

Many people use nonstick pans because food doesn't, well, stick to them as easily. So for delicate food like eggs and fish fillets that seem to immediately and irreversibly adhere themselves to stainless steel pans, I have a secret weapon. A big, time-tested, super affordable weapon: cast iron.

How to season cast iron for a nonstick finish >>

Cast iron is some of the most inexpensive cookware you can buy and has (almost literally) been used as a cooking element forever. When properly seasoned (cookware-speak for lightly oiled and baked) it is wonderfully nonstick. It's also heavy, durable and will last for generations.

When it comes to making our best efforts to be greener in the kitchen, it looks like how we cook our food may be just as important as what kind of food we are actually eating. Sauteing organic produce on a chemically manufactured cooktop just doesn't seem to jive, does it? I suggest going for the tried-and-true options like cast iron and stainless steel. It may be tough at first to wean ourselves off of those nonstick pans, but I'll venture to say that our health is worth it.

More green kitchen tips

6 Ways to green your kitchen
3 Ways to conserve in the kitchen
All-natural ways to clean your kitchen

Tags: kitchenware

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Comments

Comments on "Dangers of nonstick cookware"

Erin June 11, 2012 | 12:31 PM

Anything that makes life easier is usually welcomed by consumers with open arms. I have always found the ease of cooking with (and cleaning) non-stick cookware to be a huge convenience over traditional pots and pans which require extensive cleaning and scraping after every use. Now that I think about it, however, it makes sense that non-stick cookware which is exposed to extreme heat, scrapes and dish washing chemicals over long periods of time is eventually going to cause the non-stick coating to wear away and seep into the food you are preparing. Sometimes streamlining every aspect of our lives comes at a price – in this case, our health. The issues raised in this article definitely make me reconsider using non-stick cookware. I am somebody who has a hard time eating healthy food to begin with; therefore I don’t need the added danger of chemicals from non-stick cookware further polluting my food. I'm glad articles like this point me in the right direction and help me make positive choices!

Julie June 11, 2012 | 10:25 AM

Mamma was right. She was so skeptical when non-stick came out; she wouldn't use it. Stainless steel and cast iron truly are the way to go. She bought a set of "Lifetime" stainless steel pans in the 60's and my siblings and I still use them to this day.

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