Fans of marble cookware also extol its fast and even heating and natural nonstick properties that virtually eliminate the need for butter or oils. It's important to handwash marble in order to protect it from scratches and damage from abrasive dishwasher detergents.
However, North American and European manufacturers are also starting to offer marble cookware, which has increased its availability in non-Asian markets. 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.
The “safest” cookware in the world can still make you sick if it isn’t cleaned correctly. You can reduce wear and tear on your cookware to help it last a little longer by pairing it with the right cooking utensils.
Wooden cooking utensils can cut down on the chances of scratching up nonstick coatings. If you know you have a nickel sensitivity, “safer” cookware options like stainless steel and copper might not work for you.
Pots and pans can be a significant environmental waste hazard, both because of the way they’re produced and the fact that many don’t hold up well and equate to non-biodegradable junk after a couple of uses. 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. However, ceramic cookware is safe at higher temperatures than traditional Teflon nonstick pots and pans.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve done some research to help you sort through fact and fiction so you can brush up on your knowledge to find the healthiest and safest cookware to use for your family meals. So if your head is buzzing like mine was when I started researching safe cookware, then read on.
I’m sharing the basics of non-toxic cookware, plus my personal favorites and what I’m comfortable using every day. Sure, we take time to choose healthy good and avoid unnecessary additives when we can, but these aren’t the only toxins that can be present in our food.
And unfortunately, a lot of modern cookwares leaches toxins right into the food we’re eating. We may not have all the answers when it comes to cookware, but we can avoid the worst and start making healthier choices with the information we have now.
Aluminum also leaches very easily, especially when heated or exposed to acidic foods (tomato soup, anyone? Some cookware uses an aluminum core that is encased in a safer cooking material.
These are generally acceptable and safe options, as long as the surface is strong and undamaged (so no aluminum actually comes in contact with your food). This is one of the most common types of cookware, but Teflon and some polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) nonstick surfaces can release toxic fumes into the air when overheated.
It’s also in a somewhat affordable price range, so it’s easier to make the switch without going broke. Stainless steel is definitely not nonstick, so keep that in mind when using it so your eggs don’t glue themselves to the pan (true story).
Using a good bit of oil, butter or other fat in the pan can definitely help, but sometimes that’s just not reasonable with every recipe. The other downside is that quality stainless steel is stabilized with both chromium and nickel.
I would caution against using stainless steel for acidic dishes, especially those that need to be slow-cooked for longer periods of time (such as a tomato-based sauce that needs to simmer for hours). Anodized aluminum is not the cheapest cookware on the market, but it can be purchased at a mid-range cost.
I’m reasonably careful with my set and never use metal utensils on it, but I still use the heck out of it and wash it in the dishwasher, too. If the ceramic is produced by individuals or made in a foreign country it could very well contain lead in the glaze.
There are a lot of brands claiming to have amazing nonstick ceramic cookware, but I’ve tried a few ceramic frying pans, and none of them have lived up to the hype so far (and the same goes for the supposed “granite” frying pans, etc. Another old-fashioned favorite, cast iron cookware is probably one of the healthiest cooking pans available.
Seasoning requires a little extra work (typically coating with oil and baking at high heat for about an hour; your cookware should come with detailed instructions). My secret to seasoning is to lightly coat my pan with coconut oil, then heat at 500 degrees F for one hour.
Cast iron is also pretty heavy (maybe cooking with it could be considered a good workout?). This is even a step up from regular cast iron because the enamel surface is easy to cook with and clean (dishwasher- safe).
Of course, it’s not easy to shell out the cash for the healthiest cooking pans, especially when you’re trying to afford better quality food. If your current cookware is in good shape, you can probably squeak by if you’re being careful with it and replacing a little at a time.
However, if you’ve got scratch-and-dent Teflon you might want to consider taking the plunge and replacing it with something safer. Elizabeth is the founder of The Nourished Life and has been writing about natural living for 12 years.
Her work has been featured at Shape, Bustle, and Mother Earth Living. Her mission is to help you lower your stress levels and find fun ways to become happier and healthier.