Invented by an American chemist working for DuPont in 1938, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is the chemical responsible for giving pans their non-stick qualities (Teflon is just the brand name for this chemical and can be used interchangeably). These pans have become extremely popular over the years because it allows you to cook foods with minimal sticking and even reduces the need for cooking food in oils. Especially with the low fat craze of the 80s, Teflon cookware and bakeware has become an indispensable tool in the modern kitchen. But are these miracle pans more harmful than helpful? You probably already know the answer because this chemical has been talked about quite a bit by the media over the past few years and for good reason.
It seems that more and more evidence is coming out showing just how dangerous these coatings are. For starters, when the coating is heated to 300 C (570 F) it releases a toxic gas into your home. These fumes are strong enough to cause an immediate adverse response in humans. This syndrome is called polymer fume fever and the symptoms mimic that of a flu after just 4 hours of high exposure to this gas. These fumes are strong enough to cause death in smaller animals like birds whose breathing rates are more rapid than ours.
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) can also be found in small amounts on Teflon coatings because of the way it is produced. Data done on animals showed that PFOA exposure can cause tumor growth, infant death, and adverse effects on the immune, liver and endocrine systems. People with thyroid disorders are now being asked to avoid non-stick pans because of the potential for the chemical to mess with our hormones; not to mention that workers who worked in Teflon producing plants gave birth to infants with unusually high levels of birth defects. These reasons are just skimming the surface for avoiding Teflon and I encourage anyone interested to look at some of the data for themselves!
Many people are also worried about scratched Teflon surfaces which can increase the likelihood of flaking from the coating. Although it may be true that you probably have ingested Teflon when you’ve used a poor quality scratched pan (and many of us probably have), it seems that actually consuming the coating poses little danger to the body because the polymer is too big to be absorbed by the body. Phew! With that being said, I still don’t feel comfortable with eating bits of Teflon regardless of whether it’s considered inert or not. It is also important to note that PTFE is just one of many fluorinated chemicals under the toxic umbrella of PFAS. I will discuss in detail the dangers of other PFAS in another article.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The good news is that you can easily avoid these toxic non-stick pans by using these common alternatives…some of which you might already have!
Stainless steel can be surprisingly non-stick if you prepare the pan beforehand.
1. Heat stainless steel on medium without adding anything to pan.
2. After few minutes, add a few drops of water to the pan and if it evaporates instantly then the pan is ready. If the water droplets take a few seconds to disappear give it a few more minutes to heat up.
3. Once the pan is hot enough, add your fat of choice and swirl it around your pan. I find a tablespoon of butter is enough for something like eggs. It’s also completely fine if it sizzles a bit.
4. Cook your food as you normally would and that’s it!
It is important to note that stainless steel is made up of a variety of different metals with varying degrees of Aluminum. Aluminum cookware has also be shown to have many adverse health effects and as a result should be avoided as much as possible. Sourcing a high quality stainless steel pan, preferably from a country with stricter regulations like the US, is important. More information on aluminum and stainless steel will be discussed in the future.
100% pure ceramic cookware is another natural alternative that is excellent for certain dishes. Because acidic foods can corrode stainless steel and cast iron it is recommended to use a hard enameled surface for such foods. Foods like tomato sauces or anything that requires several hours of cooking like bone broths are perfect for ceramic. Xtrema, although expensive, seem to be the best ceramic cookware company out there. All of their products are made in the USA and undergo strict inspections for any heavy metal contamination. On their website it even states that every product is inspected individually before it’s shipped to its customers. Even though you will be paying over $100 for a single pot, it’s well worth the investment. I’m not even affiliated with Xtrema (wish I was) I just really love their products!
Is one of the safest and most inert bakeware outsure to buy glass that has been tested to show no detectable levels of lead or other heavy metals. Companies like Anchor and Pyrex are lead free. Avoid glass made from China as they might be contaminated with lead and cadmium. Unfortunately you can’t use glass on stove top cooking for obvious reasons.
Good old cast iron is another great non-stick option that your grandma probably used regularly. It does have some drawbacks. Seasoning and learning how to take care of cast iron can be overwhelming at first but well worth it in the end. The leaching of iron intro your food is an additional health benefit.
Very similar to cast iron except it has a more smoother surface and is usually a lot lighter. Best of all, it releases nothing toxic into your food as the materials used are completely safe. These pans must be seasoned like cast iron.
Not only are these alternatives safer but they will also be durable enough to pass onto your children. Well that is if you don’t drop your ceramic…