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Are your pots and pans making your food less healthy?

woman cooking

If you’re like me, your produce is mostly organic, your meat is hormone-free, and your dairy is, well, largely almond-derived. But how healthy are your pots and pans?

Despite my fastidiously healthy food choices, I recently learned how lax I’ve been about the cookware I’ve used to prepare it all. Like searing an expensive cut of meat in a scraped-up non-stick pan I bought on the cheap, possibly even during college. Oops. That’s when a realization took hold: Isn’t what we cook in as important as what we cook?

We posed this question of three kitchen pros who gave us the searing truth about healthy cookware:

French Culinary Institute's Tim Shaw

Tim Shaw, special curriculum instructor at the French Culinary Institute at the International Culinary Center

People started using non-stick pans, like Teflon and Silverstone, because they’re afraid to use heat, or their stovetops at home are so weak that they don’t really heat the pan up adequately. But if you use an AllClad or Calphalon pan or—my favorite—cast-iron, and you heat the pan up, and add in a very, very small amount of fat, like coconut oil, that actually creates a non-stick coating. I tend to not use non-stick pans at all.

 

Junelle nutritionist at Miraval spaJunelle Lupiani, registered dietitian and nutrition manager at Miraval Resort in Tucson

Both Teflon pans and aluminum pots have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and birth defects in animals. But there are new, green non-stick pans that don’t contain the toxic chemical found in Teflon, so they can be more stable at higher heat and are also resistant to flaking. That said, I personally think we should all just go with an enameled cast iron or a nice stainless steel heavy bottom saucepan.

 

Harry Rosenblum Brooklyn Kitchen

Harry Rosenblum, co-owner, the Brooklyn Kitchen

There are few things about cookware that are inherently unhealthy— it’s how people use them. Non-stick coatings are not meant to be heated over 500 degrees. But if you’re preheating a pan on high without anything in it, the pan can get well over 500 degrees. Then the non-stick surface can degrade and release chemicals that can end up in your food and, subsequently, your body.

But you don’t need expensive tools—it’s just about using them correctly. I think people would be amazed at the kind of beat-up cookware used in commercial kitchens that turn out some of the city’s best food. —Nina Pearlman

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  1. March 22nd, 2011 at 11:04 am

    loved this! it is so true .. for years I used teflon – even when it began flaking not realizing my grass fed hormone free meat was being poisoned! I have discovered some GREEN alternative cookware that seem to work quite well and are not expensive.. I believe crate and barrel and sur la table carry a line of them

  2. March 22nd, 2011 at 11:14 am

    This is a great public service…thank you! Although I’ve know about this for many years, many others have not. It has been posted on my FB + Tweeted Keep ‘emn coming.

  3. March 22nd, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Great piece,,,thanks for that. Stainless steel or cast iron is the way to go or, if you favor non stick for cooking foods which are best with a gentle touch such as eggs, at least replace your non-stickers every year or two and keep them from getting overheated.

  4. March 22nd, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Agree with northbridge. It’s not realistic for most people to stop using all non-stick cookery – it is important to replace frequently – - before flaking & chipping occur.

  5. March 23rd, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Preheating a stainless steel pan before frying makes all the difference in the world but in my experience, the pan doesn’t have to be piping hot to prevent food from sticking. There are also some sturdy non-stick products on the market now. I recently bought a pan made by Swiss Diamond that seems to be better than most. It’s easy to tell whether the non-stick film on the pan is okay. If you can see signs of scraping, scratching, or erosion, replace it.
    I’m skeptical about the “aluminum pots cause Alzheimer’s” argument. From my reading, the jury is still out on that one, but with so many other kinds of cooking utensils available, why take the risk?
    About heating a pan to a high temp, I get very good results browning meat and vegetables at medium temp, keeping the temp just high enough so that water draining out of the meat gets evaporated immediately. The point is to avoid “frying” the food in liquid that is mostly water.

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