If you’ve been a part of the organic living community for a while, you’ve probably heard of ceramic cookware. When we think of healthy cooking, we’re often just thinking of the ingredients we use and the places they originate. But the cookware we’re using could be having adverse effects on our and our loved ones’ health.
Again and again, tests have shown that common cookware materials can introduce trace metals and toxins into our food. What’s the point of sourcing healthy, organic foods if the very things we cook them in are hazardous? If this is something you’re concerned about in your kitchen, ceramic cookware could be the solution you’re looking for.
What is Ceramic Cookware?
Cookware is pretty much anything you prepare food in, especially over a heat source. Pots, pans, skillets, and other kitchen essentials are all considered cookware. The term “ceramic cookware” encompasses two distinct types: solid clay and ceramic-enameled.
True ceramic cookware is made from 100-percent solid clay and baked in a kiln, followed by a glazing process. These items are not all boring and brown. In fact, the glaze allows for all kinds of gorgeous colors and designs that will match any kitchen decor.
Ceramic-enameled cookware often uses a base of aluminum or other common metal. Only the very top layer is actually ceramic. While there are benefits to ceramic-enameled pots and pans over their non-coated metal counterparts, the reality is that this cookware can still carry some health risks. For this reason, we recommend solid ceramic cookware.
The Potential Hazards Hiding in Your Kitchen
While we recommend ceramic cookware for all organic cooking, you should be aware of the potential risks associated with the cookware that might currently be in your kitchen. Different metals and materials carry different risks, and these risks become more or less severe depending on how you use the cookware.
Although metals are the most common culprits of chemical leaching, plastic and glass cookware can also be hazardous to your family’s health. Educating yourself on the potential risks of these items is the best way to keep your family safe and healthy.
Many people are aware of the health risks linked to non-stick cookware. But pots and pans coated with Teflon, the brand name for the most common non-stick coating, are still in household kitchens around the world.
While Teflon itself is not linked to cancer, a chemical used in the making of Teflon is. Perfluorooctanoic Acid, commonly referred to as PFOA, triggers an increase in the rate of tumors for both lab animals and humans exposed to the chemical. Tests sometimes find trace amounts of residual PFOA in Teflon, and once it enters the human body, it remains there for a very long time.
Heated Teflon can trigger flu-like symptoms in some people, called polymer fume fever. This isn't a potential issue when using non-stick pots and pans as intended. However, leaving non-stick cookware on a stove for too long or at too high of a temperature can release these harmful fumes.
A cast iron pan's best trait is also a potential disadvantage. Cast iron cookware leaches iron into the food cooked within, which is great for those who are anemic or not getting the daily recommended amount of dietary iron. But for those who get enough or too much iron in their diet, this leaching could be dangerous.
Some individuals with metabolic disorders like hemochromatosis can undergo harm from this extra dietary iron. Excess iron in the body can also increase free radical formation and increase the risk of heart disease. If you or a loved one is at risk for any of these conditions, it’s best to avoid cooking with cast iron altogether.
Like cast iron, stainless steel cookware adds small amounts of iron to cooked food. But it can also leach the metals chromium and nickel. Similar to iron, chromium is beneficial in small amounts and harmful if we ingest too much. While nickel is technically safe for the human body, those who have a nickel allergy could experience symptoms if they ingest too much of this metal.
Not all stainless steel is equal, though. Magnetic stainless steel, versus non-magnetic, has little to no nickel and therefore poses little risk of toxic metal leaching. Testing your stainless steel cookware is simple, all you need is a magnet. If the magnet is attracted to your stainless steel cookware, it's the safer variety. If not, it might be time to invest in some new kitchen items.
You might not think of plastic as cookware, but how many times have you placed warm or hot food into a plastic container for storage? Or even microwaved something in a plastic container? The reality is that warm plastic can leach chemicals into our food very easily. This is especially true when the food in question is high in acidity, sodium, or fat.
Plastics can contain and therefore contaminate your food with three hazardous materials. Endocrine disruptors, the most well-known of which is BPA, can interact with our bodies and prevent hormone production from properly functioning. Monomers are also present in some plastics and are linked to cancerous growths. And, like metal pots and pans, plastic cookware can leach toxic metals into our food.
Glassware has some obvious physical hazards, like the risk of shattering or exploding. You should use care and avoid dramatic changes in temperature when cooking with glass. But this cookware can also cause damage to our bodies from the inside.
While responsibly manufactured glass cookware is actually very safe to use, some items can contain unsafe levels of lead and chemical pigments. Older glass items may pose a risk to your family's health, as these items were not subject to the same safety standards as today's cookware. All things considered, though, most glass cookware is equally or almost as safe as ceramic cookware.
Why Choose Ceramic Cookware?
Now that we've run through the reasons why you shouldn't use most popular cookware types, it's time to discuss the benefits of switching to ceramic cookware. In addition to being more sustainable than most metal counterparts, ceramic cookware is easier to use, more versatile in the kitchen, and, most importantly, less hazardous to our health.
Non-stick, durable, and toxin-free
Ceramic cookware is naturally non-stick, without the addition of dangerous compounds like Teflon. This means your ceramic pieces are less likely to stick to and burn your food and are easier to clean. Some critics of ceramic cookware claim that pots and pans made from this material don't last quite as long as Teflon-coated cookware, but this claim is still up for debate.
Ceramic cookware doesn't require any chemical coatings to protect its surfaces. Although ceramic pots and pans are naturally very durable, you should still use care when using and cleaning them. Wooden utensils are the best option to avoid scratching the cooking surface. While some sources recommend plastic utensils, we would avoid them due to the potential hazards mentioned earlier. You should also avoid using abrasive sponges when cleaning your ceramic items. Taking these small steps will keep your ceramic cookware in great condition for years to come.
Cookware made from ceramic can cook at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, you're probably not going to be cooking anything at such a high temperature. But you can rest assured that your ceramic cookware can withstand all kinds of cooking. Even if you don't choose to replace all of your current cookware with ceramic, anything you use at particularly high heat is a good candidate. This is especially true since higher heat tends to release more toxins and fumes from traditional cookware.
Ceramic cookware can be used on most stovetops, in an oven, and even in the microwave. One heat source that won't work with your ceramic cookware is an induction stove top, which relies on a magnetic field to heat the pot or pan placed on top. However, while induction stovetops are gaining in popularity, they are still pretty uncommon in the average household.
How to Shop for Ceramic Cookware
Unfortunately, switching to ceramic cookware is not as easy as just going to your local convenience store and picking up the first thing you see. There's a vast array of ceramic cookware on the market, but not all of it is beneficial to your family's health. Knowing how to discern between ceramic-coated and solid ceramic cookware is just part of the puzzle.
There are two important things to consider when shopping for ceramic cookware: the items' age and country of origin. Finding a high-quality product might mean spending a little more for your new cookware set. But this investment will ensure that your kitchen is free of toxic metals and chemicals.
Choosing the right ceramic cookware
While it might be tempting to pick up a few vintage pieces of ceramic cookware for your kitchen, we don't recommend this. Older pieces of ceramic cookware were not subject to modern safety standards at the time of manufacture. Many of these pieces test positive for lead and other dangerous chemicals. Instead, reserve vintage cookware for use as home decor only.
It's possible to find high-quality ceramic cookware from all over the world. But different countries have different testing standards when it comes to the presence of toxic chemicals in their cookware. The safest countries to purchase from are the United States and Canada, which both have systems in place to guarantee that ceramic cookware produced in the country is free of lead and other dangerous materials.
Where to buy & pricing
Some popular cookware brands, like Cuisinart, offer solid ceramic product lines. But ceramic-coated cookware is much more common from these brands. If you buy cookware from a brand that doesn't exclusively sell 100 percent solid ceramic cookware, double-check that their products aren't just ceramic-coated.
You might be able to find the occasional 100 percent ceramic cookware piece at your local department or kitchen supply store. But for a complete set, you will probably need to shop online. Two of the largest ceramic cookware brands are Xtrema and Dr. Mercola. Xtrema products are available on Amazon and the Xtrema website. Dr. Mercola products are available on Amazon and the Dr. Mercola online shop. You can also find a selection of handmade ceramic cookware on Etsy, but item quality can vary greatly between each seller.
At first glance, 100 percent ceramic cookware can seem much more expensive than non-stick or metal cookware. But cookware comes in a wide range of qualities, from extremely cheap to luxury. The average piece of ceramic cookware is much better quality than most bargain sets containing metal. Comparing ceramic cookware to comparable mid-range pots and pans shows the truth. Good quality ceramic products are very similar in price to those made from more harmful materials.
Making the Switch
While a ceramic cookware set is a great way to invest in your family's health, the task of replacing all of your cookware is often daunting. Specialty items like ceramic woks and steamers might be harder to locate. Don't fret if you aren't able to switch over your family's kitchenware to solid ceramic all at once. Start with the items your family uses most and slowly work from there. Any decrease in your food's exposure to leached metals and fumes is a step in the right direction.
A key part of responsibly replacing your metal cookware is how you discard of it. Some recycling facilities can accept and process these items. This prevents them from sitting in a landfill or continuing to cause direct damage to the environment. In time, more people will adopt safer, sustainable cookware. And with this change, we will hopefully see products containing Teflon and toxic metals removed from the market completely.
Do you have a favorite brand of ceramic cookware? Tell us about it in the comments!