Is nonstick cookware safe? While used for decades, safety concerns about nonstick cookware have put many consumers on a mission to find other pots and pans. Let’s talk truth and safer cookware recommendations.
Teflon became a household name in the 1960s when the brand’s first nonstick cookware came out and wowed consumers with its ability to cook on and clean off so easily. Other brands followed suit and soon nonstick pots and pans became staple cookware in many homes.
It wasn’t until more recently that concerns around nonstick cookware safety became more apparent. Let’s talk about what those concerns are and how to choose safer cookware.
Is nonstick cookware safe?
It’s important to note that not all pots and pans labeled as being “nonstick” are the same. For example, ceramic and cast iron cookware have nonstick characteristics but don’t contain the same nonstick layers as other pans have.
The concern is when the nonstick cookware is made by adding a layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) to metal pans. PFAS are very stable and don’t interact much with other chemicals, so they are often used in making products that resist oils, stains and water, like non-stick coatings on cookware. PFOAs or PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) have both been shown to cause health problems in humans when ingested. Studies have found them at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood, though higher blood levels have been found in communities where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFAS and in those who work with PFAS. Therefore, the risks associated with these chemicals are largely for those working in and living around factories that produced PTFE.
What about newer nonstick cookware?
Nonstick manufacturers have now phased out PFOA and replaced it with other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These break down faster, but their health effects are still being studied. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that potential associations with PFAS and adverse effects, like preterm birth and low birth weight, are noted from reports of animal studies and limited human studies. And, although there are reported associations between exposures and adverse obstetric outcomes, association does not necessarily mean that exposure is the cause of the outcome and more research is needed.
The American Cancer Society states that “while PFAS can be used in making some of these (non-stick) coatings, it is not present (or is present in extremely small amounts) in the final products.” The biggest risk comes when PTFE-coated pans are heated at high temperatures. Research has found that when they are very hot, around 750° F, they can release toxic fumes that have been shown to cause polymer fume fever, a flu-like condition.
This is why nonstick cookware often comes with a disclaimer not to use at high heat and if you do use non-stick pots and pans to ensure that you are using them at medium to medium-low heat.
The bottom line? More research is needed to determine if there is any health risks associated with using non-stick pans as directed. And, if you are concerned, then options like cast-iron, ceramic and/or stainless steel are a better option.
Our favorite cookware options
We use a variety of cookware in our home. These are our favorite options!
Stainless steel cookware is durable, cost-effective, and versatile.
It contains metals like nickel and chromium, which should be avoided by people who have sensitivities to these. But for most healthy individuals, research shows that by the 10th time stainless steel cookware is heated, it is only releasing metals at levels that are well within the daily limits for human consumption.
If you are concerned about these metals leaching at all, we recommend choosing higher-grade stainless steel options and hand washing them versus using the dishwasher.
We both received stainless steel cookware for our weddings and these are the pans we use most often. Alex recently splurged for her birthday on this Hestan wok and loves it! The only downside is how much room it takes up in the pantry.
Cast iron is known for being heavy, but it’s also durable, safe, and naturally nonstick (look for preseasoned cast iron).
Plus, cast iron can actually contribute some iron to your food, especially when using acidic ingredients, like tomato sauce.
While this may not be a good option for people who have hemochromatosis (a condition in which the body stores excess iron), it is safe for those who don’t. We both have a Lodge cast-iron skillet that we cook from often, as well as an enameled cast-iron dutch oven.
The two types of ceramic cookware include ceramicware and ceramic non-stick coating. While ceramicware is real ceramic that has been hardened and glazed, the latter is made by coating metal cookware with a layer of naturally nonstick silicon. Ceramic-coated cookware is relatively new, and there’s little research on its possible impacts on the environment or human health. The downside to ceramic is that the silicone based coating doesn’t tend to last as long as other nonstick ones.
Our favorite ceramic cookware is from Caraway. Their ceramic-coated, aluminum-core cookware is free of lead and cadmium and comes in several gorgeous shades! We both recently grabbed their white set (mostly for Instagram cooking!) and love it. You’ll need a small amount of oil, but nothing has stuck to the pans so far.
Chime In: What type of cookware do you use? What do you like about it?
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