2020 shocked us all but a New Year is a chance to make changes and better decisions. I hope this article informs you, inspires you, and helps you in the name of health. Happy 2021!
On some level, most people today are aware that eating unhealthy foods, buying products with cheap ingredients, and harmful chemicals can negatively impact their health and promote illnesses. But many still don’t realize that we not only need to be cautious about WHAT WE EAT but also WHAT WE COOK WITH. Even those making daily efforts to stay healthy by shopping clean, avoiding fast-foods and sugar can fail to improve their health by continuing to cook on cheap cookware made with toxic materials. I didn’t always know that investing in non-toxic cookware is just as important as shopping for organic healthy ingredients. I only began learning this out of necessity, when I realized how much toxicity surrounded our everyday life, and how much it's affecting my innocent baby boy. When you know better, you do better. Right..? Unfortunately, it often takes for us or someone we love to receive a severe diagnosis or show severe symptoms before we actually decide to change. In our case, autism woke us up.
“THE TRUTH ISN'T TOLD, IT'S LEARNED”
Did you know most cookware brands on the market are made with harmful materials? I know what you’re thinking... why isn’t the FDA placing restrictions on cookware materials? I don’t have the answer to that, but with consumer awareness continuing to rise on this topic, let’s hope things change in the next few years.
When my husband and I moved in together (11-12 years ago) my mother gifted us a very nice red cookware set as a house warming present. Years later, we began learning about the many ways our lifestyle can worsen our son's regressive autism symptoms. My poor diet before conceiving him, the medications I relied on, the fake and unhealthy food I ate before, and during my pregnancy, what I fed him as a baby/toddler, and the many things I allowed into his environment are all factors that have worsened his regressive autism symptoms. So my husband dug deep into research while I was the skeptical one at first. But thankfully he was patient with me because, after a few months of new information, I also became a concerned parent researching ways to improve our health as a family. We began by gradually changing our lifestyle about 7+ years ago and switching our cookware was at the top of our list! I still cringe watching cooking videos of people ruining delicious looking meals with their Teflon, aluminum, steel, and copper pans because I know how harmful it can be. As you shop, you’ll see affordable cookware that looks good and functional but remember this...
”What looks good, isn't always good for you“.
Sorry to break it to you but just because something is allowed to be sold, that doesn’t mean it‘s safe. I know it shouldn’t be this way and you might feel like this topic is too overwhelming for you but I’m only pointing this out because there is a way to do better and I’m here to help you!
WHAT TO AVOID:
Rule #1: Don’t buy a cookware set based on how cheap, non-stick, and how nice it looks.
• PTFE a.k.a TEFLON: Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon is a coating used on non-stick cookware such as frying pans, and saucepans. How great is it to cook a perfect looking pancake or fry bacon and eggs without it sticking to the pan? Yup... non-stick is so cool! but did you know that what makes Teflon so non-stick is also a coating of PFOA, and PFAS?
• Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is also used to produce non-stick cookware. When this chemical reaches a certain degree in heat, it begins to release those toxins into the air and your food. PFOA has even been detected in newborns. Isn't that alarming?! — A study by a scientist at John Hopkins took over 300 samples from umbilical cords and found that 99% of the samples had PFOA’s in them, affecting the baby while in the womb.
• Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS): Can be found in everyday products like tap water, waterproof jackets, food packaging, carpets, and nonstick pans. The problem is, PFAS doesn't easily break down, so it can remain in your body and in the environment for decades! Because of this, more than 95 percent of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Studies of the best-known PFAS show links to kidney cancer and testicular cancer, as well as endocrine disruption in humans. More recent studies have shown a link between COVID-19 and PFAS, suggesting that exposure to PFAS may increase the risk of contracting diseases like COVID-19.
• Aluminum: Is commonly found in cookware, tap water, aluminum foil, canned foods, and antiperspirant deodorants. It’s super cheap and cooks food fast. But did you know Aluminum is a known neurotoxin?
Neu·ro·tox·in: (noun) — is a poison that affects the nervous system (especially the brain).
It’s no secret aluminum is a very big factor in brain function and overall health. The most groundbreaking fact about aluminum is its connection with Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Autism, and specific encephalopathy. The most eye-opening study was done on the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients which concluded that 100% of the brains tested had aluminum. One of the scientists conducting this study (Christopher Exley), has openly expressed his belief that ”no aluminum = no Alzheimer’s“.
• Stainless-Steel: Although it's often spoken of in a positive light, be cautious! The metals in stainless-steel can also leach into food, causing negative effects on your health. Cooking acidic foods on stainless-steel causes even higher exposure to heavy-metals. That’s because stainless-steel is made with a mixture of heavy-metals containing iron, chromium, titanium, and nickel. These heavy metals can easily leach into your food especially when your pan is scratched or old.
Stainless-Steel knives, forks, spoons, or homeware is fine to use without heat. Stainless steel alone is a poor conductor, that's why most high-quality stainless steel cookware uses stainless steel only as cladding on top of an aluminum or copper core of better conductive materials. This means when using stainless steel, you may also be receiving a dose of aluminum and copper into your food (more of it if your pan is old or scratched).
• Copper cookware: Similar to stainless-steel, copper is also a heavy metal. Did you know that receiving too much copper can send you to the ER with a scary case of copper toxicity and metal poisoning? On top of that, cooking acidic foods on copper pans releases copper at an even higher level, causing foodborne illnesses. Some copper cookware can also contain nickel. Nickel helps the pan produce a more balanced level of heat but it also means more heavy metals in your food.
Copper isn’t essential to our health in large amounts. Your copper levels should never be high and because of your own bioavailability, there’s no way of knowing or controlling how much copper your body is going to absorb and utilize. That’s why copper cookware and copper IUD for women shouldn’t exist!
When cooking for children think about this:
A doctor wouldn't prescribe a child medication or vitamins at the same dosage as an adult patient, right?... Imagine your child receiving the same level of copper as you do. Children are still in development, they’re smaller and fragile therefore the harm could be far worse!
• Cast-iron: Cast iron pans are very popular, and considered to be generally safe to use but... they can leach iron, which is a strong pro-oxidant. Iron overload is no good, and some of us are genetically more at risk of iron toxicity than others. Like Copper, bioavailability is a big factor. There’s no way of knowing how much dietary iron and supplemented iron your body is able to absorb and utilize and what amount will push you towards iron toxicity. Too much iron has been linked to a wide variety of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer to name a few. There are few groups of people who don’t have to worry as much about iron overload: menstruating women and vegetarians/vegans. Menstruating women can naturally unload iron from their bodies due to their monthly menstruation. If you don't have a normal/monthly cycle that's a huge RED FLAG that should be addressed starting now. There's a good theory that women tend to live longer than men because their monthly menstrual is a form of detox that helps maintain health. Those who eat red meat, do not need more iron, and getting extra is risky because their normal dietary-iron intake should be more than enough, and it doesn’t take much to push yourself into the iron overload territory.
Men and menopausal women should stay away from an additional source of iron like cast-iron pans and supplements with iron. In fact, many men (like my husband) result in donating blood every once in a while to help eliminate some stored iron from their system. This risk of iron poisoning is also present in children, which started being recognized in the 1980s and led to the removal of iron from some children’s multivitamins. Personally, I have never cooked on cast iron so I cannot comment on functionality, but when the iron is sourced naturally cast iron pans can be ok for occasional use. Due to the risk in iron-toxicity, I don’t recommend cast iron being your daily cookware. Also, not all cast-iron pans are sourced and created equally. Again, be cautious because many of them are also pre-seasoned in soybean oil (which isn’t ideal). Soy is a hormone disruptor and it’s something we avoid consuming.
• Ceramic Cookware: Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely recommend using ceramic cookware and bakeware when it’s 100% ceramic. But not all ceramics are created equal. Many are ceramic coated metal cookware which may contain lead, and PFOA’s in the coating covering the metal center. Again, when it ages or scratches this too can release heavy metals and toxins into your food— [I linked my favorite ceramic products below]
I currently own three different sets of cookware. When I began switching my lifestyle in 2013, the first set I ever purchased is by Xtrema which we found out about from Dr. Mercola's website, sold as "the healthy chef set." Xtrema is 100% ceramic and does not have a non-stick coating but the ceramic naturally has some non-stick abilities (see more details below).
I used this set every day for the first 3 years since switching our lifestyle. It's technically not non-stick so it does require pre-greasing with butter or oil before you begin cooking. The ceramic naturally comes with some non-stick abilities but still requires good greasing when cooking. In the beginning, it was a little bit of an adjustment but after a while, I got the hang of it, and this process became my new normal. The only real issue I had was when one of the pots + top cracked during our move from NY to LA which is reasonably expected since it is made of 100% ceramic, not metal. We were always so careful washing and storing it away because of this but it's now been 7+ years with this set moving from 5 different homes and I still own 3 of the pots from the set I purchased 7+ years ago! In 2016 we moved to a home with an electric stove and unfortunately ceramic is not a good conductor on electric stoves so we couldn’t use our Xtrema set for stovetop cooking like we use to. That’s when we found GreenPan at our local SurLaTable store. I no longer live in a home with an electric stove, so I still love using Xtrema for specific dishes today.
XTREMA PRICE RANGE:
• 12pc set $397.49 (currently 20% off)
• 9pc set $374.99 (currently 20% off)
• 100% NON-TOXIC
• 100% CERAMIC
• For use on stovetop, oven + grills
• No cadmium, lead, and toxic metals or the PFOA and PTFE chemicals used
GREENPAN DIAMOND + EVERSHINE:
Greenpan makes many different sets of non-stick ceramic coated cookware. All created differently but all have a coating free of PFAS and PFOA's. The description in some of the sets say lead, and cadmium free, but the fact not all sets are equally non-toxic was a concern for us so we only trusted one set from this brand that we felt comfortable with so that we can begin cooking on our electric stove immediately. We purchased our diamond + evershine set at the SurLaTable store where this specific collection was sold exclusively. On Greenpan website you can find the Venice Pro Ceramic non-stick 10 pc set which seems to be the most similar to our diamond + evershine set from SurLaTable. The Greenpan website claims no toxic fumes get released even if the pan is accidentally overheated, but as I mentioned earlier, old and scratched pans can still release toxins from their core materials, and not all the sets are described as scratch-resistant, so what happens if any of these get scratched from the coating? These sets from Greenpan have an aluminum and stainless-steel core. Greenpan was great to us for the past 4+ years. I only disliked that they weren’t a fully non-toxic company with all their collections. So after much searching, we found Caraway!
GREENPAN PRICE RANGE:
• Diamond + Evershine 10-pc set (exclusive to Surlatable) $459 only sold in stores not online
• Non-stick without PFAS and PFOA
• some sets are free of lead and cadmium
• ceramic coating on metal core
• Dishwasher safe
• Freezer safe
• Compatible with all stovetops
• Oven and broiler safe to 600°F (glass lid to 390°F)
• Glass lid lets you keep an eye on food without releasing heat or moisture
I found caraway's website while searching for new non-toxic cookware online. Caraway has a mineral-based non-stick ceramic coating (without Teflon) that prevents leaching toxic materials into our clean, and healthy ingredients. So to start, I only purchased 2 of their pans (the saucepan + frying pan) to see how we like them. Since it arrived, I began using it every day and my husband complimented it so much as he also cooks often. So a month later we decided to get the full set and it's all we've been using now. Caraway is by far the best set I've ever used because it tops all the best features I care about. All their pans are made equally non-toxic and they also carry 5 different colors to choose from for your personal taste. I chose the grey set because it matches my kitchen and my minimalistic taste. I prefer neutral colors so that my home aesthetic remains no matter what changes in my home or location. It'll never go out of style in my book.
CARAWAY PRICE RANGE:
4 pc set with 3 tops, 2 cork pot holders, magnetic rack + canvas lid holder: $395 (currently on sale)
Individual pans with top: $95 -$135 each
• Non-stick ceramic coating (NO TEFLON)
• Handwashing is best (no abrasive metal sponges)
• Super easy to clean (dishwasher not necessary)
• Stove and oven safe up to 550°
• Pan and lid storage solution
• 5 colors to select
• Shipped in recycled cardboard (zero plastic or styrofoam), and 100% biodegradable cork trivets.
VITACLAY ORGANIC MULTI-COOKER:
The VitaClay VM7900 smart organic multi-cooker is the most versatile kitchen appliance we own. It's not like other slow cookers or crock-pots that can take up to 8 hours to cook. This clay pot multi-cooker is a rice cooker, steamer, soup maker, stew maker, bone broth maker, and yogurt maker! The organic clay acts as a natural insulator that holds and absorbs heat to cook foods slowly, and evenly. Naturally, thermal clay cooks 4 times faster and stays warm longer. The longest I've cooked a soup/stew is 2 hours and I use this for stews, soups, and chicken often. What's great is that prep time only takes 5 minutes as you simply just put ingredients in, add seasoning + water, and the rest of the work is left up to the multi-cooker. It also automatically goes on warm mode after my food is cooked so I never have to worry about overcooking my food or rushing home to turn it off. Most importantly, the inner pot is made of unglazed organic clay instead of metals that can leach toxic materials into your food, that's what caught our attention. It's free of non-stick chemicals, glazes, lead, and aluminum! This Vita Clay is not a pressure cooker that can choke out nutrients and flavors from your food, and clay is naturally Alkaline with slow-heat that allows natural flavors to develop.
• 4 quarts / 8 rice measuring cups: $199.95
• 3 quarts / 6 rice measuring cups: $169.95
• Easy to prep & forget it + easy cleanup
• Made of unglazed organic clay, NOT metal
• No non-stick chemicals, aluminum or lead
• Cooks 4 times faster than other crock-pots
• Preserves nutrients unlike pressure cookers
• Delay timer automatically keeps warm for up to 12 hours
• Pre-programmed for specific dishes like stews, soups, rice, and more!
MORE KITCHEN RECOMMENDATIONS:
CERAMIC BAKEWARE: I love the ceramic bakeware from the Surlatable brand. I have 3 of their baking dishes in 2 sizes. I've been using the large one for my Thanksgiving Turkey 3 years in a row now. It's 100% ceramic covered in porcelain. The dish pictured above is a similar item from the brand STAUS which is also sold at Surlatable.
I love these ceramic knives, especially for meats, and vegetables. They are so sharp and cut so smooth. It's just so satisfying to use. But also be careful, the blade is ceramic so if you drop the knife or cut the wrong item like hard bread or the shell of a coconut (lol) you will crack or break the blade. I have a total of 5 of these knives in different sizes and 1 of them is slightly chipped but still functional so we still use it. I've had these for years and still love them.
NON-TOXIC BAKING SHEETS + MUFFIN PANS:
Finding non-toxic baking sheets and baking pans wasn't easy. But in 2018 I finally found a ceramic-coated baking sheet from the brand GreenLife that's free of PFAS, PFOS, lead, and cadmium. Perfect! I love using their baking sheet and muffin pan and I line them with my re-usable baking mat or compostable parchment paper (shown below). These pans are listed in my Amazon store (kitchen list).
• Lead: According to numerous studies, as much as 20% of dinnerware contains lead. Glass, ceramic, and enameled cookware + dinnerware with designs and glazed colors are typically manufactured with lead. As you might expect, lead-based dinnerware leaches toxins straight into your beautifully prepared food, and children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. Although plain white dishes aren't an exception, lead is rarely found in plain white dishes. The only way to determine if certain dinnerware contains lead is to test it.
The FDA began testing dinnerware for safety in 1970. China made before 1970 will likely contain higher levels of lead so avoid using antique china. I know antique china sounds luxurious but remember what I said earlier? What looks good isn't always good for you. Lead and cadmium are commonly found in antique china, Mexican terra cotta, decorated Asian plates, handcrafted or brightly colored dinnerware with decals or designs on the surface. Expensive china is not an exception!
It's definitely not easy to find bakeware, and dinnerware without lead and cadmium since manufacturers aren't required to disclose whether it contains lead or not. Tamara Rubin, the founder of the Lead Safe America Foundation, tested a bunch of dinnerware and glassware and released the results. The Dinnerware listed below is free of lead and cadmium according to Tamara Rubin.
It's made in Turkey (lead and cadmium free)
* This is the set I use in my home (I purchased it in-store but it's available on Amazon)
It is made in the USA (lead and cadmium free)
It is made in USA (lead and cadmium free) available on Amazon
Dishes with lead and cadmium can leach while food is served on them, and they leach more when acidic food is served. Pasta sauce or tomato-based dishes, apples, citrus fruits, and salad dressing are considered to be acidic foods. If a dish has a chip or its glaze is worn out from frequent dishwashing in the dishwasher, it will leach even more. Microwaving food in the dishes that may contain lead will also accelerate the leaching of lead and cadmium but don't get me started on microwaves... you should know by now to never eat anything cooked in a microwave! Microwaved food is seriously bad for you, but that's another important topic for another day! But just so you know... I haven't used a microwave since I lived back home with my parents over 11 years ago. Any home of mine that came with a microwave installed was unplugged and used for extra storage.
LEAD-FREE glass drinking cups!
Of course, glass drinkware is typical to contain lead. But I found this great set of 6 that is lead-free!
Also available in my Amazon store (kitchen list) 10oz set of 6
Wood and heat-resistant silicone covered utensils are always best, especially for non-toxic and non-stick cookware. Metal cooking utensils will scratch and age your cookware much sooner while also wearing out the non-stick abilities from the pan. Plastic utensils may seem more gentle but using plastic for stove cooking purposes can expose you to dangerous chemicals like BPA and BPS which are both hormone disrupters and highly dangerous to our health. BPA-free plastic utensils do exist, but BPS is typically never disclosed on the packaging. So I would avoid all plastic utensils for cooking on heat but you can totally use BPA-free and BPS-free plastic utensils for cold dishes like salads or for preparing and mixing ingredients.
Re-usable & Multi-purpose Stasher Bags:
Stasher Bags provide a waste-free solution without plastic! These bags are re-usable, so convenient and they come in many colors and sets. I use them for everything! from fridge food storage so food stays fresh, as go-to lunches for me and my kids, food storage while traveling, and to freeze vegetables and fruits! You can store other things too for when you travel for example (use them just like a Ziploc bag except these are re-usable without BPA and plastic).
100% pure silicone
BPA-free & Non-toxic
Dishwasher + microwave safe
Instead of buying disposable parchment paper over and over, this is a great way to save money and produce less waste while still serving its exact purpose. This Silpat baking mat is used just like parchment paper except it's a one-time purchase because you can wash it by hand or dishwasher, roll it up, store it away, and re-use it over and over!
If you still want to purchase actual parchment paper, I recommend the If You Care brand which is compostable, unbleached and chlorine-free. I get mine at my local organic market and Whole Foods Market. But I also linked it in my Amazon Kitchen list for you.
Have a healthy and happy NEW YEAR!
❤ Alba Ramos