Knowing how to choose safe cookware is very important. Many types of cookware are harmful to our health. In this post I share the best non-toxic cookware and the types of cookware to avoid and why.
By far the most common question I get asked on Instagram is how to choose safe cookware. Between pots, pans and bakeware I answer more direct messages about this than any other question. So I decided it was finally time to write a whole post dedicated to this topic to help you choose the best non-toxic cookware. Because cookware can be expensive, and I want to ensure you are spending your money on quality items that are also good for your health. There is also a lot of misleading information out there that can make deciding what to buy that much more challenging.
Unfortunately, many of the materials used to make pots and pans can be quite harmful to our health so it’s important to do your research before purchasing. In this article I will review the best non-toxic cookware, the materials to avoid when choosing cookware, which materials are safe to purchase as well as my favourite brands and what I use in my own home. And if you are interested in the research, I have included the references I used to write this article at the end of the post.
The best non-toxic cookware: materials to avoid
Non-Stick or Teflon Coatings
Non-stick or Teflon coatings are one of the most toxic materials you could have in your home. They are extremely bad for our health. And sadly they aren’t just isolated to use in cookware. They are used for many different purposes including making fabrics stain-proof or waterproof, making floss “non-stick” etc. For the purpose of this article I will just focus on their use in cookware, but if you are curious to learn more about the health effects and coverup that has allowed these materials to be used to such a huge extent in many different industries, I highly recommend watching the documentary, The Devil We Know.
Non-stick or Teflon coatings are made with Perfluorooctanoic acid (which is also known as PFOA, or C8). PFOA is a synthetic 8-carbon perfluorinated compound used in manufacturing fluoropolymers such as polytetrafluoroethylene, which is the material used to create non-stick pots, pans and bakeware.
PFOA is persistent in the environment, is not metabolized by the body, and has a half-life in humans of 2–3.4 years (meaning it stays in the body for many years after you get exposed). We get exposed to PFOA through many different means including through our cookware, drinking water and air. And unfortunately, most of us have high levels of PFOA in our systems, with greater than 99% of the U.S. population found to have PFOA in their serum when tested in the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The problem with PFOA is that it is extremely harmful to our health. PFOA can cause or contribute to many different health problems including:
- Colon cancer (interestingly the risk is highest with low level exposure, typical of what is seen in the general population compared to those with higher exposure levels)
- Thyroid disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
- Kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Reduced fetal growth
- Increased cholesterol
In other words, you want to avoid PFOA exposure as much as you can. And one of the easiest ways to do so is to avoid any non-stick or Teflon coated cookware including pots, pans or bakeware (baking sheets, muffin pans, donut pans etc).
Lead is very difficult to avoid in cookware. Most brands claim to be lead-free, but it’s been shown multiple times that there are actually low levels of lead (below Prop 65 standards) in many cookware products. This is a huge problem because lead is extremely harmful to our health and accumulates very easily in the body, so even small amounts of exposure accumulate overtime.
Lead is toxic, especially to children. Lead harms almost every system in the body and has been linked to numerous health problems including brain damage, hearing loss, miscarriages, premature births, increased blood pressure, kidney damage, hormone imbalances and nervous system problems.
Cadmium is a heavy metal that may be used in ceramic bakeware to give it those bright, pretty colors. Unfortunately cadmium is toxic to the kidneys and can also cause bone demineralization (thinning of the bones). Ideally you should avoid cookware items that are red, orange or yellow as those colors tend to have intentionally added lead and/or cadmium.
Nickel is used in stainless steel cookware to prevent corrosion and heat damage. The most common harmful health effect of nickel is an allergic reaction. Approximately 10-20% of people are sensitive or allergic to nickel. In high concentrations nickel can harm the kidneys, cause heart problems, congenital abnormalities, miscarriages and blood disorders. If inhaled, nickel can cause bronchitis, decreased lung function and lung cancer.
Chromium is used to make stainless steel. Fortunately, less than 10% of the chromium we ingest gets absorbed. The body actually requires a certain amount of chromium to properly use insulin so that the body can use sugars, proteins and fats. However, high levels of chromium exposure can increase the risk of cancer, asthma, impair the immune system, and cause DNA damage.
Aluminum is used very frequently in cookware. And besides being found in aluminum cookware, it can also be found in lower levels in some ceramic and stainless steel cookware as well. At high doses aluminum is known to be toxic to many organ systems including the brain, liver, skeletal muscles, heart, and bone marrow. At lower exposure levels, aluminum has been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as breast cancer (this is related to antiperspirant use). However, not all studies have shown these increased risks so until we have better, more definitive studies I suggest taking a cautious approach and avoiding aluminum cookware if possible. There are many other healthier alternatives.
Nano Particles (used in most Ceramic Coated Cookware)
Most people consider ceramic coated cookware to be safe and a better choice than most other non-stick pots and pans (like the ones coated in Teflon). And some brands are. But unfortunately, many brands are not, and the reason has to do with nanoparticles. Nano literally means “very small” or to be more specific, nanoparticles are particles between 1 and 100 nanometres in size. Nanoparticles are used in many different industries, not just in cookware.
Because of their small size, nanoparticles can easily enter many bodily tissues or organs, leading to many different health problems (for example asbestos is an example of a nanoparticle that can cause cancer).
When looking at ceramic cookware, the ceramic coatings used by many brands have been found to release titanium dioxide nanoparticles from the non-stick coating into food. Specifically, most ceramic coated pots and pans use a material called Thermolon. According to the manufacturer, Thermolon coating is a polymer hybrid nano-composite material (meaning that it uses nano particles). And unfortunately, many of the most popular ceramic cookware brands use this material.
This is a problem as nano titanium dioxide has been shown to cause immune system problems, lung cancer and pre-cancerous lesions in the gut. And since this is a very recently recognized material that has just started to be studied I suspect we will hear of even more health problems as time goes on and more studies are done.
The good news is that in undamaged ceramic coatings, the titanium dioxide nanoparticles don’t get released until exposed to temperatures of 500 °C or higher. So, with typical cooking temperatures the nanoparticles shouldn’t be released. However, mechanical degradation studies showed that any surface scratches or damage to the ceramic coating (which would occur with normal use) leads to significant release of the titanium dioxide nanoparticles. So, if your ceramic coated pots or pans are in perfect condition (no scratches or signs of use) and you don’t heat them to excess you should be safe. However, once the surface of those pots or pans have any scratches or imperfections they would no longer be safe to use.
The other problems with ceramic coated cookware, is the materials used underneath the ceramic coating can also be harmful or dangerous, so if the coating ever gets scratched or damaged you then get exposed to even more harmful materials (such as aluminum or other heavy metals).
So while I do believe that ceramic coated cookware is a safer choice compared to Teflon or other non-stick coatings, it is still not as safe as many brands would like you to believe. I do have some ceramic coated cookware in my home, and I can say with certainty that with regular use, the surfaces do get scratched or damaged (indicating that they are releasing those harmful nanoparticles and other potentially harmful materials into food) which is why I have a hard time recommending this type of cookware. However, the good news is that pure ceramic cookware is safe to use, so keep reading to find out more!
The best non-toxic cookware: materials that are safe
Unfortunately it is very difficult to find brands of cookware that are purely ceramic. In fact, I have only been able to find one: Xtrema. Their products are made from pure clay and they do not use nanoparticles (I even emailed them to ensure this). Their products are also third-party tested for lead and cadmium migration and they pass all Prop 65 leaching tests, meaning that any heavy metals that naturally occur in the clay are unable to migrate out of the product.
If anyone knows of any other pure ceramic cookware brands please let me know. I would love to be able to recommend more!
For the most part stainless steel is a safe option when it comes to cookware. Just be aware that it does release low levels of nickel and chromium, especially when cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. For most people this is not a big concern, but if you do have a nickel or chromium sensitivity or allergy this would be problematic.
With this in mind, any damaged stainless steel pots and pans should be discarded to decrease heavy metal exposure. As well, the amount of heavy metal leaching depends on the stainless steel grade, cooking time, and cookware use, so I recommend using high-quality, surgical-grade stainless steel cookware, and it’s even better if it’s nickel-free. Stainless steel lined copper cookware is also safe because the copper surface doesn’t come into contact with the food.
Cast Iron and Carbon Steel
Yep your grandmother’s favourite cast iron pan is a great option. Both cast iron and carbon steel are safe to use. Both contain a type of iron called ferric iron which does get absorbed into the food you cook in these pans so I would recommend alternating these types of cookware with others to help prevent getting too much iron exposure.
The best non-toxic cookware: Safe options to purchase
Here is a list of safe cookware options that I recommend:
- All-Clad Copper Core (with no aluminum)
- Chantal Induction Cookware (copper core, not aluminum)
- Cuisinart Multiclad Pro
- Hammer Stahl 3i6Ti (has titanium instead of nickel)
- Lagostina Stainless Steel
- Le Creuset
- Viking Professional
**Remember to avoid any stainless steel with non-stick surfaces or with ceramic enamel coatings.
Stainless Steel Lined Copper:
- FINEX Cast Iron Skillet with Lid
- King Kooker Cast Iron Skillet
- Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
- Simple Chef Cast Iron Set
- De Buyer Carbon Steel Pan
- ICON Carbon Steel Cookware Set
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok
- Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet
- Paderno World Cuisine Black Steel Pan
The best non-toxic cookware: What I use in my home
I have several different types of cookware in my home. My pots and pans are all stainless steel (an older version of this set) and then I have a couple cast iron pans and one Xtrema ceramic pan (but shipping to Canada is very expensive which is why I only have one) that I love!
I hope you found this post helpful! Of course there was no way that I could review every single type of pot and pan on the market so if you have specific questions please let me know. And stay tuned for the next review I am doing on bakeware! Make sure you are signed up to my email list to be the first to know when it comes out.
Other posts you will love:
- How to choose non-toxic sunscreen
- Is there mercury in your mascara?
- Healthy Living 101 Guide
- Is retinol harmful?
- Design, methods, and population for a study of PFOA health effects among highly exposed mid-Ohio valley community residents and workers.
- Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Exposures and Incident Cancers among Adults Living Near a Chemical Plant
- Inverse association of colorectal cancer prevalence to serum levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in a large Appalachian population
- The Navigation Guide – evidence-based medicine meets environmental health: integration of animal and human evidence for PFOA effects on fetal growth.
- Exposure to Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Cholesterol, Body Weight, and Insulin Resistance in the General U.S. Population
- Association between Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Thyroid Disease in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
- Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and thyroid function in pregnant women and children: A systematic review of epidemiologic studies.
- Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in the U.S. population: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004 and comparisons with NHANES 1999-2000
- Exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in U.S. children 12-15 years of age
- Cadmium & its adverse effects on human health
- Public Health Statement for Nickel
- Congenital defects, abortion and other health effects in nickel refinery workers
- Health Effects of Arsenic and Chromium in Drinking Water: Recent Human Findings
- Effects of chromium on the immune system
- Adverse Health Effects of Child Labor: High Exposure to Chromium and Oxidative DNA Damage in Children Manufacturing Surgical Instruments
- Nanoparticles released by quasi-ceramic pans
- Characterisation of food contact non-stick coatings containing TiO2 nanoparticles and study of their possible release into food
- Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles Induce DNA Damage and Genetic Instability In vivo in Mice
- Titanium dioxide nanoparticles: a review of current toxicological data
- The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure
- Aluminum: Impacts and Disease
- Stainless Steel Leaches Nickel and Chromium into Foods During Cooking
- Mamavation Ultimate Cookware Investigation