Is Your Cookware Making You Sick?

The next time you find yourself in the kitchen about to make dinner, think twice about reaching for that non-stick pan. Chemicals and toxins are present in many cookware options. In this article we’re going to go through what to toss and what to keep/buy for a healthy home and kitchen!

Toxic Cookware

Teflon coated cookware
So many of us have used Teflon coated cookware, however, when heated, Teflon breaks apart and emits a deadly chemical called PFOA – a known toxin categorized as a carcinogen by the EWG. PFOA is also used in food packagings like pizza boxes, microwave popcorn packages, French fry containers and more to prevent food from sticking. The off-gases from this chemical are very fatal to birds and have a very long half-life in the human body, once absorbed. It’s best to avoid Teflon at all costs. Some suggestions for better cookware options are below!

Ceramic coated pans
This may come as a surprise, but I highly recommend avoid using ceramic coated cookware because the ceramic breaks down over time and exposes the base surface residing beneath the ceramic coating, which is usually aluminum (more on that next). Ceramic coated cookware does not contain the same chemicals as Teflon but still isn’t the best choice. However, ceramic coated (or enameled) cast iron may be a decent option because the base layer is different (aluminum vs. cast iron), but you would have to choose a reputable brand. *Note: ceramic coated and 100% ceramic cookware are not the same thing.

Aluminum cookware and aluminum foil
Aluminum cookware is usually coated with another substance (like ceramic) to contain the harmful aluminum, which can cause aluminum toxicity if over exposed. Aluminum is widely accepted to be a neurotoxin that places stake inside the organs and tissues of the body causing muscular dysfunction and memory loss. There’s not enough research to support the claim that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s, but autopsies on patients have shown high amounts of aluminum present in the brain, which makes it a possible risk factor.

Probably the most aesthetically pleasing, copper is a beautiful addition to any kitchen, but I wouldn’t recommend cooking on it, even though it heats up quickly and evenly! A little bit of a bummer there! The main reason is because of leaching concerns – even though copper is usually lined, the lining will break down over time and more quickly, too, if you are prone to cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. Excessive intake of copper will cause a huge imbalance in the copper- zinc ratio that’s needed for most every system in the body, especially adrenal and thyroid health. This imbalance can also cause acne, depression, eczema, headaches and poor immune function.

Takeaways: Avoid Teflon, ceramic coated aluminum, aluminum and aluminum foil, and copper.

Non-Toxic Cookware

Cast iron
Cast iron has been around for hundreds of years and is completely non-toxic. Personally, this is the cookware option I use almost daily and absolutely love it, especially because it gives me a boost of iron! Those with iron overload should probably not use cast iron as the iron leaches into the food. From a care perspective, you’ll need to season your pans – I use avocado oil after each use, which helps give it a natural non-stick coating and great flavor. Never use soap on cast iron. I’ll use a brush with coarse salt if I find I need to remove difficult food particles. Enameled or bare cast iron are both great choices!

Glass is another great, non-toxic option for cooking and storing foods. I bake with glass and only use glass storage for food containers to avoid plastics, which can imitate estrogen and other sex hormones in the body.

Stainless Steel
If you’re not avoiding metal due to metal toxicity or overload, stainless steel is a great option with a bit of a learning curve since most foods will stick to the surface of the pan if not used properly. I have found that by first heating avocado or coconut oil in the pan then adding the food helps, but also wait until the food has cooked completely on the heat facing side before trying to move it or flip it. Also, stainless steel is non-reactive so it doesn’t interfere with the food at all!

Takeaways: Start using great non-toxic cookware options like cast iron, glass, and stainless steel!

Other Considerations

  • When baking, always use UNBLEACHED parchment paper – I only use
    Zenlogy, which you can get from Amazon.
  • If you do choose to use copper cookware, use only over low heat and
    avoid using metal utensils that could potentially scrape the surface
  • Know your worst offenders: Get rid of Teflon first and then swap out
    others as your budget allows
  • I didn’t touch on this, but be mindful of lead glazes – make sure you are
    not eating out of or cooking in any china that you know is not 100% lead-free. China handed down over generations most likely contains lead. Don’t use any terra cotta unless specifically labeled as using a lead-free glaze.

Download PDF

Stephanie Wharton is a Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and part of the Lending Hearts Up Street team. You can learn more about her at