he food choices you make are vital for your health, but choosing the right cookware is important, too. The types of metals and coatings used in pots and pans can make the difference between a nutritious meal and one filled with toxins that could lead to cancer or Alzheimer’s.
Aluminum: Aluminum cookware was very popular until it was linked to Alzheimer’s in some studies. As a result, many experts now recommend avoiding it. Non-anodized aluminum easily leaches into cooked foods, especially when the foods are acidic.
"Aluminum is cumulative, and even small doses over time become highly toxic," says Dr. Blaylock. "It’s a powerful neurotoxin. When aluminum combines with certain acids, such as those in orange juice, aluminum absorption is increased 11-fold."
Teflon: Teflon is the most familiar brand of nonstick cookware coating, but there are many others, including T-Fal and Silverstone. The fumes from overheated nonstick pans can make people sick with a condition called polymer fume fever. Symptoms are chills, fever, headache, and nausea. Teflon cookware can emit a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been linked to cancer and reproductive problems.
Copper: Copper pots and pans are expensive and prized by cooks for their excellent conductivity. But copper is another harmful mineral that leaches into acidic foods. Don’t buy cookware that contains copper unless the copper is on the outside of the pan or sandwiched between layers of a safe material, such as stainless steel.
Cast iron: "So much iron leaches into the food that in the old days, cooking in cast iron was recommended to treat iron deficiency anemia," says Dr. Blaylock. But too much iron can lead to health problems. "It can precipitate rapid aging of tissues and bring on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS," he says. "High iron levels can also cause heart failure, stimulate atherosclerosis, trigger diabetes, and increase cancer risk. I wouldn’t cook with iron."
Anodized aluminum: Some experts believe anodized aluminum cookware — which is coated with an electro-chemical oxidizing process that prevents aluminum from seeping into foods and forms a scratch-resistant surface — is a good, safe choice. But Dr. Blaylock says there are better options: "I’m not going to use anything that’s aluminum."
Stainless steel: Stainless steel is probably the best choice of all. Stainless is a composition of many metals, including nickel, chromium, and molybdenum, which are highly resistant to corrosion and rarely leach into food. "The amounts are tiny and not a cause for concern, unless you’re hypersensitive to chromium or nickel," says Dr. Blaylock.
Ceramic: Smooth, dishwasher-friendly ceramic cookware doesn’t leach chemicals, says Dr. Blaylock. It is usually easy to clean, but unlike Teflon, it can safely be heated to high temperatures. Although ceramic cookware contained lead and other harmful metals in the past, current FDA laws prevent lead from being used in cookware, says Dr. Blaylock.
Use a little TLC for your cookware to keep it safe:
- Never clean cookware, including stainless steel, with steel wool, scouring pads, or harsh chlorine detergents. They can scratch, penetrate the surface, and cause harmful substances to leach into food. Instead, use nylon scrubbing pads.
- Use only wooden, plastic, silicone, or nylon utensils — not metal. "You can safely use nonstick utensils, since they shouldn’t be in contact with heat long enough to be a problem," Dr. Blaylock says.
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