Most of us love nonstick cookware because you don’t have to slather on butter and oil to keep food from sticking—saving you some calories—and it requires no scrubbing whatsoever so you’re out of the kitchen faster.
Unfortunately, there are potential risks to some types of non-stick surfaces known as Teflon. “The fluoropolymer coating of the nonstick cookware can release some carcinogenic chemicals, like perfluorooctanoic acid (C8), upon heating,” explains Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D., environmental toxologist at the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center. “C8 can be released at normal cooking temperatures, but at very high temperatures, the fluoropolymer coating can peel off and contaminate foods.”
These chemicals have been linked to a variety of adverse health effects including smaller weight and size in newborn babies, high cholesterol, abnormal thyroid levels, liver inflammation and a weakened immune system, according to the Environmental Working Group.
“There is even something called 'teflon flu,' which is a flu-like illness that occurs when people inhale these toxic fumes,” adds Susan Blum, M.D., assistant clinical professor of preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Symptoms of this “flu” include chills, fever and headaches. That’s the bad news. The good is that there are ways you can protect yourself:
• Don’t preheat cookware at a high heat temperature. The pan tends to reach high temps more quickly when it’s empty, releasing the harmful chemicals. Instead, heat at the lowest temperature possible to cook your food safely.
• Use only low to medium heat to avoid the release of toxic fumes.
• Prep new cookware. “Wash the pans well and boil water [in them] and discard that water a few times to get rid of C8 release when the pan is relatively new,” says Kannan.
• Keep the exhaust fan on so that airborne release of potentially toxic fumes can be vented out.
• Find safer options, such as non-stick cookware that doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals, as well as pots and pans made from different materials, such as ceramic and stainless steel. Check out our gallery of the healthiest cookware options.
This new line of cookware has a ceramic coating that’s a safe substitute for non-stick pans and doesn’t contain toxins or chemicals. This two-piece set includes one 8-inch and one 10-inch frying pan, available in elegant champagne or vibrant red. Both pans are dishwasher safe.
Xtrema by Ceramcor is healthy cookware that is 100 percent ceramic and perfluorooctanoic acid-free so it doesn’t leach toxins or metals into your food. The skillet, which has a non-scratch surface, can be used on your stove, in your microwave and even in the freezer.
Make quick, delicious breakfasts with this stainless steel pan. It has a stay-cool handle and three layers of stainless so your food is cooked with even heat. Best of all, it’s safe for the dishwasher, as well as your oven or broiler.
This legendary brand offers its beautiful, enameled cast-iron cookware in an array of fun colors, including orange, yellow and green. The surface is stain-resistant and the lid’s knob resists temperatures up to 500 F. Toss it in the dishwasher for easy cleaning—no elbow grease needed.
This 10-piece set features an 8-inch fry pan, 11-inch stir fry pan, 1-quart saucepan with a glass lid, 3-quart saucepan with an egg poacher insert and glass lid, 12-inch cast aluminum grill pan, 7-quart oval Dutch oven with a stainless steel steamer and glass lid. All items are non-stick, but they’re 100 percent toxin-free and come with T-Fal’s genius Thermo-Spot system, which changes to bright red so you know exactly when the pans are preheated.
Need a kitchen-full of healthy, non-stick cookware? Look no further than this aluminum, 12-piece set that contains a 1-quart saucepan with a lid, 2-quart saucepan with a lid, 5-quart Dutch oven with a lid, 11-inch frying pan, 9.5-inch frying pan, 8-inch frying pan, steamer, spoon and spatula. The cookware has a non-stick coating called Hydrolon, which is applied with water (rather than harmful chemicals) and is perfluorooctanoic acid-free.
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