Best Tips for Avoiding
Toxins in Pots and Pans
April 7th, 2013 by Holly Cornish
We struck a nerve with our article a few weeks back on “Cookware That Won’t Leach Poison Into Your Food” (Issue 265). Readers flooded us with their ideas and suggestions.
I’m not surprised people are so interested. The kitchen is usually the heart of the home. Even if you take pains to buy healthy, organic, free-range foods, it’s a bummer to have to wonder if your pots and pans are sabotaging those efforts.
So this issue is a follow-up, including recent research on healthy cookware and an overview of cooking options we didn’t mention before, often based on tips from our readers. They came up with some interesting types of cookware I didn’t know about. . .
Continued below. . .
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Many users of glass bakeware and cookware rave about the easy cleanup and assumed safety. But I wouldn’t be so quick to recommend it. For one thing, the glaze on glass cookware is often manufactured with lead, the level of which is set by the manufacturer. That’s what gives it shock resistance and color uniformity. It’s possible to get unglazed glass pots and pans.
But the biggest problem with glass bakeware is that it can explode. Consumer Reports states that Pyrex and Anchor Hocking bakeware products, made from soda-lime glass, are more likely to shatter than European-made bakeware, which is made of a more expensive type of glass called borosilicate.
In fact, consumer-news website Consumer Affairs reported more than 20 complaints of exploding Pyrex in just the first three months of 2013. Pyrex-maker Anchor Hocking chalks this up to user error. It seems hot glass bakeware should never be placed on the top of the stove, on a metal trivet, in a sink, directly on a counter, or on a damp towel. Set the glass down on a dry towel or a dry, cloth potholder instead.
If you still like the idea of glass bakeware but the idea of exploding glass in the kitchen bothers you, I’d recommend doing an online search for “borosilicate bakeware” to find a better source, and be sure to look for an unglazed version.
Ceramic-coated nonstick cookware:
Ceramic is not a new type of surface, but it’s been improved in recent years. It used to be used to line heavy, cumbersome cast iron, but nowadays you can find razor-thin ceramic coatings fused onto a sturdy aluminum base. The base is lighter than before, and the cooking surface is said to be more nonstick and scratch-resistant then Teflon.
The biggest complaints about ceramic-coated products used to be chipping and cracking. But new lines on the market appear to withstand wear better over time.
Cuisinart is making a lot of noise over its GreenGourmet™ line, boasting that their ceramic-based (as opposed to petroleum-based) coating is completely free of PTFE and PFOA.
I’ve been happy with my cast iron (and pricey) ceramic-lined Le Creuset Dutch oven, but without a doubt it’s heavy to lift.
There’s a newer product on the market called Flameware that sounds impressive, though I haven’t had the chance to test it and found little information on it from consumer-test websites.
Several of our readers wrote in to recommend it, though, so I think it’s worth mentioning here.
Made by a company called Longaberger, Flameware is made of 100% natural materials and has no lead, aluminum, or other harmful metals. The main ingredient is Australian clay. It’s dishwasher safe, though you should only scrub it with non-metallic pads. Staining over time can be expected — some folks call this a patina or “history of use” on the pan. The pans take a little longer to reach standard cooking temperatures, but they also retain heat for longer.
The company recommends you season it using whole or homogenized milk — you’re looking for the milk proteins to adhere to the bottom of the pan. This is supposed to make for easy cleanup, since the pans don’t have traditional, toxic nonstick coatings (and so are completely free of PFOAs). Because of that, you’ll want to cook with oils to keep your food from sticking.
According to the Longaberger website, the Chinese have been cooking on non-vitrified Flameware for thousands of years.
Silicon is actually a common element found in rocks and sand. It makes up roughly 28 percent of the Earth’s crust. Silicone is a synthetic rubber made out of bonded silicon and oxygen. It is flexible and strong, stain resistant and nonstick, and is now a popular material for muffin pans, cake pans, cupcake liners, and even spatulas.
Silicone pans are considered great by those looking to make perfectly-shaped cakes and cupcakes, because the material bends and stretches. This means you can “pop” out your baked goods with minimal damage. Silicone cookware also comes in bright colors — part of the “color revolution” going on in kitchens.
It would be great if all silicone cookware were 100% silicone. But filler materials found in low-quality silicone products reduce the quality and heat-resistance.
Some consider silicone cookware the next great innovation in the kitchen, but I’m not convinced. Early reports of overheated silicone cookware talk about dyes or silicone oil oozing out of the bakeware. As of now, there hasn’t been much definitive research on the topic. Silicone rubber is said to be chemically inert and stable, meaning it’s not likely to react with foods or leach chemicals. But if you have any kind of chemical sensitivity, I’d steer clear of it till we see more conclusive research.
While all these options sound fascinating, I do most of my cooking on stainless steel or copper lined with stainless steel, and those still seem like the most sensible choices to me. There’s also a lot to be said for cast iron — I know serious cooks who love it — but I haven’t used it much.
Don’t damage your cookware while cleaning
Getting serious about the health aspects of your cookware might mean changing how you clean things — especially if you’ve been relying on easy-to-clean Teflon. You’re going to find the nontoxic surfaces are more challenging to clean.
One of our subscribers wrote in to recommend Cameo Stainless Steel Cleaner for scrubbing black stains that gather at the base of stainless steel pans. I’ve also heard ketchup and steel wool will do the trick — but steel wool is an abrasive (same stuff found in SOS or Brillo pads). It will scratch most surfaces.
As I said, I mostly cook on stainless steel, and clean it with steel wool pads. This approach is not for people who want to keep everything looking as good as new — you lose the shiny, pristine surface. But it sure is easier.
Some sources raise a concern that this will release toxic nickel used in the manufacture of stainless steel, but an engineer assured me this is nonsense. He said there’s no way you’re going to get significant amounts of nickel from a stainless steel pan.
Another reader suggests you put ammonia in the pan, put the pan in a trash bag in the sun for a few hours, and then open (keeping your face away from the opening) and scrub with soap and water.
I haven’t tried this approach. It may be effective, but I wouldn’t be keen on putting ammonia on a surface I’m going to cook on or eat from. Presumably it all washes off, but it’s nasty stuff and I just don’t care for the idea. I should think this is for stainless steel only. It sounds like a bad idea for a ceramic, clay or silicone pan because ammonia is such a powerful solvent.
Cast iron is best cleaned immediately after use, when the pot or pan is still warm. Use a sponge with hot water, but avoid soaps and steel wool that might strip the pan’s seasoning. Hard-to-clean spots respond best to Kosher salt and water. Another option is to boil water in the pan and then clean.
Searing foods is another technique that makes for easy cleanup and keeps you from having to use harsh cleaners. It works for stainless steel and cast iron: Get the pan hot enough to instantly sear your food when the food makes contact. That helps you avoid black stains that would otherwise require impossible scrubbing.
Searing has become a popular method of food preparation in recent years. Menus at good restaurants are full of seared fish, seared steak, seared this and seared that. The idea is that the inside of the meat or fish isn’t cooked at all, it remains very rare, while the outside is blackened or dark brown. Many people like it that way. It’s not to my taste.
It’s your life — opt for quality
We live in times of rapid change. People are cooking more at home and want to know where their food comes from. Along with that comes a natural vigilance for making sure your food is prepared in the safest way possible.
One thing is pretty clear: The safest cooking options are not the cheapest. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out half your pension for toxin-free cooking. Shop thrift stores, eBay, and even garage sales if you’re looking for cast-iron skillets or stainless steel (which is what I use, except for my prized Le Creuset Dutch oven).
At the end of the day, though, a splurge might be worth it. As someone once said, “Buy a cheap item and you cry every time you use it. Buy quality and you cry just once, when you pay the bill.”
By the way, when you get rid of your Teflon-coated pans, do the world a favor and put them in the trash. Don’t try to re-sell or donate used Teflon and pass the toxins along to someone else.
Someday I hope we’ll see change (and hopefully, advances) on the cookware scene. There are loads of options out there, though I’d like to see a bigger emphasis on the long-term health effects of different cookware brands. I’ll keep my eye on developments as they come and will pass them on to you.
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For maximum health, make sure you get plenty of vitamin B6, the HELPER vitamin! Your body uses B6 in a variety of important ways, including to:
- Help over 100 enzymes metabolize protein more efficiently
- Help skin cells regenerate quickly
- Prevent unwanted inflammation
- Process carbohydrates for energy
- Protect and strengthen your immune and nervous systems
Even more exciting are the numerous studies that suggest higher blood levels of B6 could also reduce your cancer risk by as much as 49 percent!
Results from one study published in the June 16, 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association compared 899 lung cancer patients with a group of 1,770 healthy comparison-group participants in the large European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study.
After taking smoking habits into account, the researchers found that people with the highest vitamin B6 levels had a 56 percent reduction in lung cancer risk, compared to those with the lowest levels!
A group of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health noted a similar association when examining the vitamin B6 levels of breast cancer patients.
There’s more. Another study, published in the March 5, 2003 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, reported that higher blood plasma levels of folate and B6 appeared to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
Although scientists say evidence for the link between vitamin B6 and breast cancer is mixed—anything that might help reduce the estimated 40,000 breast cancer deaths each year in the U.S. is a very good thing!
A gift from God for colon health?
It has been said that death begins in the colon… and for good reason. Your colon’s job is to change liquid waste into a solid form to be expelled from your body.
If anything disrupts this process—it can mean pounds of rotting waste will fester in your bowels. Talk about a breeding ground for diseases such as cancer!
But once again, nature has provided a potent cancer shield for your colon.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed results of nine different studies focused on the relationship between vitamin B6 and colorectal cancer risk.
The researchers concentrated on the active form of the vitamin, which is called pyridoxal 5-phospate or P5P for short. Their goal was to see how P5P blood levels affected cancer risk.
The researchers concluded that for every 100 pmol/ml increase in P5P levels, the risk of getting colorectal cancer dropped an amazing 49 percent!
The study authors thought this may be tied to the role of B6 in DNA synthesis and repair. Their theory was that low P5P levels are more likely to allow cancer to form.
But one curious finding was that vitamin B6 intake didn’t appear to have the same impact on colorectal cancer risk as P5P, the vitamin’s active form. This could be due to the fact that people have differing abilities to convert B6 to P5P.
Supposedly, most people can digest and convert B6 just fine. It’s pretty rare for someone to need pure P5P.
The authors of another study, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, wrote, “Published studies of plasma pyridoxal 5′-phosphate [P5P] levels consistently support an approximately 30%-50% reduction in risk of colorectal cancer comparing high with low concentrations.” The authors note that studies of B6, on the other hand, don’t always show such dramatic results. So it seems you’d need to take P5P to ensure the desired result.
So how do I know if I need more B6?
Vitamin B6 plays a critical role in cell formation. Because skin tissue regenerates quickly, it can be one of the first telltale signs of a B6 deficiency. In fact, skin disorders such as eczema and seborrhea have been linked to insufficient B6 in the diet.
Because it also plays a critical role in protecting your nervous system—a severe B6 deficiency could also produce convulsions and seizures.
A vitamin B6 deficiency could also impact red blood cell formation. This could lead to symptoms of anemia, malaise, and fatigue.
If you’re interested in boosting your vitamin B6 intake, there are plenty of food sources to explore. Some excellent choices include:
- Bell peppers
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Summer squash
- Turnip greens
Remember, your body has to be effective at digesting and converting the B6 into P5P for optimal colon health.
If you don’t want to leave this to chance, you can purchase P5P supplements—despite recent attempts by the company Medicure Pharma to manipulate the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into snatching this natural coenzyme off the market!
As you can imagine, the drug company wants the FDA to ban sales of the P5P nutrient so they can chemically alter it and sell it as a drug! Why go natural when you can have a heaping helping of chemicals coursing through your veins?
Nevertheless, a quick Internet search will show you their efforts to eliminate P5P natural supplements haven’t been successful.
In any case, bulking up on healthy foods rich in vitamin B6 may be an important first step in building your defenses against cancer.
What’s more, you’ll enjoy a colorful and great-tasting meal to boot!
Lee Euler, Publisher