"Always start out with a larger pot than
what you think you need."
— Julia Child

Are Iron Cookware Safe

Ellen Grant
• Monday, 14 December, 2020
• 15 min read

We have a great way of seasoning them and using them, so they act like non-stick pans for eggs, searing meat, and much more. When iron toxicity is severe, a person may get gray skin and develop heart, liver, and blood sugar issues.

cookware iron cast materials comparison types pan fix guide enameled stovetop skillet infographic round sizes comprehensive most
(Source: www.fix.com)


(Donating blood is a great way to lessen iron load!) It functions like a barrier between the cast iron and the food that's cooking in it.

Acidic foods “react” with metals, and cast iron is no exception. Your food tastes metallic and takes on an unappetizing grayish color.

You can mitigate against this by ensuring your cast iron pans are well seasoned as I show you right here on #Awardee 062. It's hard to know the exact amount of iron transferred into the food.

More acidic, longer cooking times, and worse seasoning all contribute to more iron transferring into the food. That is true, however you have to be very careful because there's a huge problem with lead and cadmium contamination, especially in brightly colored ceramics.

Lead is a known neurotoxin that causes brain damage and it takes the place of calcium in bones, among other things. This is a big problem for pregnant women, who pass on a large portion of the calcium in their bones to their unborn babies, especially during the third trimester.

cookware stainless steel
(Source: periwinklewellness.wordpress.com)

And while this one isn't cast iron, right here you can see a Le Crest Mixing bowl that tested at 40,700 ppm lead! For reference, the safe level of lead in the U.S. for children's toys is below 90 parts per million (source).

For drinking water (or anything else that could be ingested), the safe standard for lead is below 15 parts per BILLION, although many scientists consider water contaminated with lead over 5 ppb to be unsafe (source). The safe standard of cadmium in drinking water is below 5 parts per billion, as well (source).

Ideally, we don't want ANY lead or cadmium in our cookware, or at least we want it to be within safe levels, so since learning this I'm not sure I can recommend any enameled cast iron at this time. I know that the men in our household probably don't need more iron as we women do, so we also cook a lot with stainless steel to balance it out.

Through regular blood tests, we are able to ensure and monitor that iron levels are where they should be for all members of our family. The #Awardee Show is the weekly show devoted to answering your niggling questions about Traditional Cooking: whether it's your sourdough starter, your sauerkraut, preserving foods, broth, superfoods or anything else to do with Traditional Cooking or your GNOWFGLINS lifestyle.

For well over a thousand years, cast iron has been used as a reliable cooking surface. Fast-forward a couple millennia, and we’ve been thrust into the “Spend all day on the Internet Age”.

cookware iron cast
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

People are starting to question the healthiness of everything, including the venerable cast iron. This provides evidence for its lack of obvious harm, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s totally safe.

And it's actually pretty soft, so not great for making pans without adding in some carbon for hardening. Our discussion also applies to carbon steel cookware (such as woks), which is made up of 99% iron.

Other than being such an important material for making pans and skyscrapers, iron is also an essential dietary mineral. Some will see this as a good thing, especially considering that 1.6 billion people around the world are anemic, with iron deficiency being the main cause.

Too much iron has been linked to a wide variety of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and colorectal cancer to name just a few. There’s a couple groups of people who don’t have to worry quite as much about iron overload though: menstruating women and vegetarians/vegans.

But for others, especially those who regularly eat red meat, it doesn’t take much to push yourself into excess iron territory. Out of all the micronutrients, iron may be the riskiest to supplement with, due to a higher chance of overloading.

(Source: nypost.com)

Excess iron levels are linked to a wide variety of serious health conditions. For the nearly one million Americans who have hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that typically emerges in adulthood where you absorb too much dietary iron, the risk is much more serious.

The first is to simply eat less of it, like by switching to an iron -free multivitamin if you choose to take one at all. Second, you can take advantage of the various iron -absorption inhibitors, such as coffee and certain plant phytochemicals.

Note that while regular blood donation helps both you and others, and is quite effective at normalizing iron levels according to a randomized trial, it's not always well tolerated. It’s easy to build up too much iron, from a combination of fortified foods, supplements, and red meat.

Two ways to mitigate this build up are donating blood and adding in iron -absorption inhibitors to the diet. Three other factors that cause more leaching are: using liquid, increased cooking time, and mixing the food more often.

Some of you may be wondering why cast iron (and carbon steel) are uniquely susceptible to this leaching process. A thin layer of chromium oxide makes stainless steel pans moisture and rust resistant, unlike cast iron pans which can rust very easily.

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While iron overload is a risk that applies to many millions of people, a far smaller number of people are allergic to nickel and chromium, and both of these metals can theoretically leach from stainless steel pans. For people with severe nickel or other metal allergies, an enameled pan may be a safe bet.

Stainless steel doesn’t leach much iron, due to its protective shield of chromium oxide. But it may still leach small amounts of other metals such as nickel, which some people have allergic reactions to.

The other possible danger is only theoretical at this point: the risk from eating tiny bits of flaked-off seasoning from the pan’s surface. Well, cast iron pans can easily collect moisture and develop rust.

To prevent that, and also get a nice non-stick finish, you have to season the pan with oil rich in polyunsaturated fats. When exposed to high heat, on top of iron which acts as a catalyst, the unsaturated fatty acids oxidize then polymerize into a coating that fills in pores, and then further heating carbonizes/hardens the coating.

You have to keep adding thin layers of fat over time to get that perfect seasoning, since attempting to add one thick layer all at once will result in a greasy pan, with largish pieces chunking off. The seasoning layer comprises broken down then polymerized unsaturated fatty acids.

stackable cookware nonstick greenpan levels piece
(Source: www.cutleryandmore.com)

Multiple thin layers of seasoning built up over time are a sign of a well-used and largely non-stick cast iron pan. Nobody knows exactly how much comes off over time, nor do they know what the health effects are of eating tiny bits of this type of broken down fat.

The flaxseed oil seasoning on your cast iron pan may be oxidized, but it’s not rancid. This may seem confusing at first, since all the double bonds in a bottle of flaxseed oil mean that it can go rancid easily, when not refrigerated.

But when you season your pan using flaxseed oil and heat, the double bonds don’t get randomly attacked. It’s a delicate game -- gently heating a pot of flaxseed oil would be a recipe for rancidity, but doing it in a thin layer with the help of a really hot iron pan and air … that creates the oh-so-useful seasoning.

But if you want to get really up in arms about seasoning, you’d better make sure to also stay away from other heated foods that contain known carcinogens, like the acrylamide in browned potatoes and in breakfast cereals, hetero cyclic amines in cooked meat, etc. You don’t have to boil or steam all your foods in order to live a long and healthy life.

It’s cheap, it can and will last a lifetime and get better with age, and you can safely throw it into a super hot oven. All that heavy iron also means that these pans retain heat really well, so they excel in tasks like searing a thick and juicy steak.

lodge iron cast skillet cookware usa griddle oval griddles antique 13x10 kitchen largest
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

Another benefit is that the fairly-nonstick nature of cast iron pans will still allow it to develop a “fond” (which is French for “base” or “foundation”) on the bottom, if you happen to enjoy making delicious fond-based sauces. On the con side, cast iron is extremely heavy and not that easy to take care of (at least until it’s older and well-seasoned).

But cast iron isn’t actually a very good heat conductor, so it’s prone to developing hot-spots and cold-spots. It doesn’t leach anything under normal heart conditions, and even ingesting tiny amounts of Teflon shouldn’t really harm you, since it’s inert.

Eating bits of oxidized oil every day might seem unwise, but a perhaps more likely detriment is getting too much iron, especially when using a newer or less-seasoned pan. The decision to choose cast iron or a different cooking material depends on a variety of personal preferences, including risk aversion, what you enjoy cooking with, and what you already own. It seems that every household purchase these days has been somehow complicated by health concerns, and cookware is no exception.

Nonstick, aluminum, and even copper cookware have become concerning in recent years because of their tendency to leave trace deposits of chemicals and metals in food. To make the brand recommendations below we relied on user reviews, the tests, analyses, and standards of organizations including Consumer Reports, the Cookware Manufacturers Association, and America’s Test Kitchen, and data available on manufacturers.

There are so many types of cookware that researching products can start to feel like an endless black hole of information. Cookware needs to be cleaned thoroughly each time to avoid bacteria buildup and lower the risk of foodborne illness.

iron cast scrubber cleaner chainmail stainless xl steel hudson premium chain mail 7x7 pots pans
(Source: boingboing.net)

You can reduce wear and tear on your cookware to help it last a little longer by pairing it with the right cooking utensils. If you know you have a nickel sensitivity, “safer” cookware options like stainless steel and copper might not work for you.

People’s concern in recent years center around if aluminum exposure from cookware can be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. And according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there’s little chance that everyday cooking with aluminum plays any role in the development of the condition.

Anodized aluminum cookware is treated with an acidic solution that changes how the metal behaves. It’s called “stainless” because it’s resistant to rust and corrosion, which makes it a great material to cook with.

Stainless steel tends to distribute heat evenly over its surface, making it especially great for griddle cooking and flat baking sheets. For stainless steel that will be durable and stand the test of time, consider finding products that have a copper or aluminum-based core.

Ceramic cookware needs to be cleaned by hand and some consumers say that it doesn’t conduct heat evenly across its surface. Ceramic cookware claims to be “greener” and better for the environment, but the truth is that it’s still pretty new as far as mass production goes.

viking iron cast dutch oven braiser quart cutleryandmore related items
(Source: www.cutleryandmore.com)

However, ceramic cookware is safe at higher temperatures than traditional Teflon nonstick pots and pans. Cast iron cookware that has been seasoned correctly has nonstick qualities and gives food a distinct flavor that other kinds of pots and pans can’t duplicate.

But if you have hemochromatosis, a disorder that allows your body to absorb and hold onto too much iron in your blood, you should avoid cast iron cookware. Usually, this type of pan has a base made of another metal like stainless steel, with a copper coating over it.

“Nonstick” is a category that can include different finishing and materials to make a pot or pan release cooked food from its surface more easily. But a chemical used in the original Teflon formula was eventually shown to have links to thyroid disease, lung damage, and even short-term symptoms from inhaling fumes.

Nonstick cookware is very common and affordable which makes it an easy option, but not necessarily the safest. These tips will minimize your exposure to any metals or materials that could be carried from your stove to your table.

Don’t store food in the pots or pans where you’ve cooked it, unless you’re using glass or stone bakeware. Avoid using metal and hard utensils when you use your cookware, as they can scratch and compromise the surface of your pots and pans.

dutch iron cast oven viking quart cutleryandmore
(Source: www.cutleryandmore.com)

Replace cookware made of aluminum or nonstick every 2 to 3 years or when gouges or scratches in the coating happen. There are legitimate safety concerns with some nonstick coatings and types of metal cookware, but they won’t affect everyone the same way.

Look at your budget, ask simple questions, and use the answers to guide you to the product that feels best for your family. If you can, buy cookware that will last a long time to reduce environmental waste and limit chemical and metal exposure in your food.

There are countless options, from classic cast iron to modern silicone cookware. You will save money, have more control over the quality of your ingredients, and likely eat better when you are in charge of your own meals.

Cooking at home is a lot easier when you meal prep and plan out what you’re going to make for the week. A well-stocked kitchen will have a healthy pantry, the basics like an oven, stove top, and refrigerator, and then a variety of accessories like knives, cutting boards, and other helpful appliances.

I’ve included pros and cons of each, with links to available and affordable options. Eco-friendly and Long-lasting 100% ceramic cookware is not manufactured with chemicals and is made of durable, inorganic materials.

lid deep calphalon skillet nonstick inch contemporary skillets cutleryandmore
(Source: www.cutleryandmore.com)

Not Completely Non-stick It’s hard to compete with synthetic non-stick coatings, especially if you’re accustomed to eggs sliding right out of your pan with no residue at all. While 100% ceramic cookware is effectively non-stick, it’s still advisable to use a little of oil when cooking.

A company like Greenspan uses a nonstick coating that is free from Pas and FOA. They can also be nonstick coated or anodized, meaning that the pan won’t react with acidic foods.

The amount of leaching has been found to be minimal and well under the tolerable level, but it is still a contribution to your overall metal intake. You’ll need to coat the surface of your pan with oil to prevent sticking.

Durable Stainless steel is pretty resistant to scratches, dings, and corrosion. Low-stick You’ll still need to use a little of oil, but high-quality stainless steel generally cleans easily.

You can choose mid-range sets for a few hundred dollars–just keep in mind that you get what you pay for, and high-quality stainless steel will be safer and more durable. While stainless steel isn’t treated with a chemical coating, it comprises an alloy containing nickel and chromium.

cookware stainless steel misterlau
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

Nickel isn’t necessary for the body, while chromium is only needed in trace amounts from food. Commonly, non-stick cookware is coated with PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene, often referred to as Teflon) or silicon.

FOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which was introduced in food manufacturing in the 1940s, is no longer used in non-stick cookware due to health concerns. All you need to do even after cooking a messier meal is rinse with water or wipe out with a damp cloth.

Not Suitable for High Temperatures The coating on some non-stick cookware can emit toxic fumes if heated past 450-500 degrees; it may be a surprise that a frying pan can easily reach or surpass that temperature on the stove top. There’s also some concern that PTFE coatings emit toxic fumes even at normal temperatures.

Leaching and Fumes FOA and PTFE are suspected of being linked to health problems (such as breast cancer.) Even though some brands claim to be dishwasher- safe, regularly putting this cookware in the dishwasher can damage the coating.

In addition, some cast iron cookware is enameled, giving it a nearly non-stick finish and more aesthetically-pleasing appearance. It’s a solid, heavy piece that requires preheating to best conduct heat, especially to incredibly high temperatures.

iron balusters stair basket twist single parts baluster coated powder install
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If your cast iron is preheated properly, you can even take it off the stove and it will retain enough heat to cook or warm food. Low-stick Properly seasoned and maintained cast iron cookware is virtually non-stick and easy to clean.

In addition, you may want to avoid cooking delicate food like fish or crêpes in cast iron. Take care when choosing what to cook in cast iron –savory dishes may linger and impart a taste to sweet foods and some may notice a distinct metallic taste with foods such as fish or eggs.

Expensive Copper cookware is a serious investment, with the cost of a set soaring into the thousands. Home chefs who want a piece of copper cookware can purchase just one for a few hundred dollars or fewer.

All the items on this list fall into the category of non-toxic cookware, but there are pros and cons of each option. Those who cook acidic dishes such as tomato sauces most often may want to choose ceramic or copper.

Those who cook at high temperatures may go for cast iron, while those who want mess-free clean up may choose nonstick options. This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.

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(Source: ironman1821.wordpress.com)

This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission. We are participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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