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Pondering Pots and Pans

By on January 21st, 2011 Categories: Uncategorized

We all have different reasons for the cookware we like — my favorite pan heats evenly and is easy to clean. It’s also made of cast iron because I don’t want to use Teflon or other non-stick pans.

What you cook in is just as important as what you’re cooking when you’re trying to eat healthy and reduce your risk of breast cancer. That’s because very small amounts of the material the pot or pan is made of can transfer into the food you’re cooking. In most cases, these small amounts aren’t harmful, but there are concerns about Teflon and other chemicals in some cookware.

Below are the pros and cons of several types of cookware. No matter which you choose, inspect it regularly for dents, scratches, or other wear. If a pot or pan is damaged, it’s a good idea to replace it.

Cast iron: Cooking with cast iron adds iron to your diet, which can be good for premenopausal women. Acidic foods with a lot of moisture, tomatoes for example, pick up the most iron from these pans. Cast iron can be used for almost any kind of baking and cooking, except deep-frying or boiling water. After it’s properly seasoned, cast iron is non-stick! The Real Simple website has good tips on seasoning, cleaning, and caring for a cast iron skillet.

Enameled cast iron: The enamel glaze on this cookware coats the iron and makes it non-reactive, so no iron transfers into food. Enameled cast iron pans also don’t need to be seasoned. Most people find it easier to clean and like the bright colors available. Still, enameled cast iron cookware is usually more expensive than pans made of other materials and the enamel can eventually chip. It’s best to avoid older enameled cast iron (even though it can hurt to pass up a deal on eBay) because it might contain lead or cadmium.

Non-stick pans: Teflon is the most well-known, but because of concerns about chemicals released during cooking, other materials are now available.

  • Teflon: When Teflon pans are overheated, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is released as a gas. PFOA has been shown to cause cancer and developmental problems in lab animals. Besides non-stick pans,  PFOA is used in many other industries, including waterproof clothing and microwave popcorn bags. If you use Teflon pans, make sure they’re not scratched or dented (PFOA can be more easily released) and your kitchen is well ventilated. Most importantly, cook at medium heat or lower and never preheat an empty pan.
  • Other non-stick cookware: New non-stick options are on the market, but figuring out what the pans are made of can be difficult. Some use Thermolon, a mineral coating made from silica. The manufacturer says no fumes are released, even at extremely high temperatures. According to Consumer Reports, some new non-stick pans are made with nanoparticles, which haven’t been tested for long-term safety.

Other choices include stainless steel, aluminum, anodized aluminum, copper, and layered combinations of metals.

  • Stainless steel pots and pans are made from iron and other metals, such as nickel and chromium. Very small amounts of these metals can get into food, especially if the cookware is damaged. The amounts aren’t considered harmful, except for people who are allergic to nickel.
  • Aluminum cookware is lightweight and inexpensive. Very small amounts of aluminum can transfer into food, but it’s not considered harmful. Because they’re so light, aluminum pans can be easier to dent.
  • Anodized aluminum cookware is sealed with an electrical and chemical process, which makes it non-reactive. No aluminum transfers from the cookware to food. Anodized aluminum is also stick-resistant — not non-stick — because the metal is non-porous. Over time, the anodized layer can wear off.
  • Copper pots must be lined with another metal. This protective layer prevents too much copper from transferring to food, which can be poisonous. Make sure no copper shows through the protective layer.

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president, and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 14 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.


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