Your cookware could be affecting your health, says expert nutritionist

Priya Nagwani, a seasoned nutritionist, speaks about important facts to consider before deciding on the right utensil to cook a meal.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Dec 10, 2023 | 11:00 AMUpdated Dec 10, 2023 | 11:00 AM

Your cookware could be affecting your health, says expert nutritionist

Have you ever thought about how the pots and pans you use in your kitchen affect your health and the taste of your food?

Priya Nagwani, a seasoned nutritionist and weight management specialist, sheds light on the often-overlooked importance of choosing the right cookware.

Taking to X, she says that this seemingly small choice can have a big impact on both our well-being and the quality of our culinary creations. She discusses some of the most commonly used cookware and the safety measures.

In a series of tweets, she breaks down the different types of cookware and gives the pros and cons.

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Cooking in non-stick cookware

Material and Safety

Nagwani says that non-stick cookware, commonly made with an aluminum base and coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), known as Teflon, is widely used for its convenience. While generally safe, proper usage is key to avoid health risks.

She explains to South First that exposing non-stick cookware to temperatures around 260°C can lead to the breakdown of the PTFE coating, releasing fumes that can cause polymer fume fever, characterised by flu-like symptoms. The toxicity of these fumes, also deadly to birds, raises concerns about their safety for humans.

Ingestion Concerns

Ingesting small, non-burnt particles of the non-stick coating is usually not hazardous, but larger quantities can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Best practices while using non-stick cookware

  • Cook at low or medium heat.
  • Never heat an empty pan.
  • Avoid scratching the cookware.
  • If you’re not cooking yourself, it might be best to choose other types of cookware, as it’s difficult to ensure others will adhere to these safety practices.

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Aluminium cookware: Popular but problematic

Aluminium cookware, known for its heat conductivity and affordability, is a common choice in many households. However, Nagwani says that it can react with certain foods and there are concerns about its impact on health.

Health Risks

Regular exposure to high levels of aluminium, especially when cooking acidic or alkaline foods, may lead to an increased concentration of aluminium in the body. This overexposure has been linked to neurotoxicity and possible connections to Alzheimer’s disease.

She says that it is best to avoid using aluminium cookware for safer cooking.

Instead, she says, hard anodised aluminium cookware is a safer bet.

This cookware is treated through an electrochemical process, resulting in a durable, corrosion-resistant surface. The anodisation prevents aluminium from coming into direct contact with food, making it a safer choice.

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Cast iron cookware: Traditional and effective

Benefits

In her tweets, Nagwani explains that cast iron is known for its exceptional heat retention and distribution. With proper seasoning, it develops a natural non-stick surface, ideal for low-fat cooking. It can also add a small amount of dietary iron to food, benefiting those with iron deficiency.

Drawbacks and Cautions

However, cast iron is heavy and can be cumbersome to handle. Cooking acidic foods for prolonged periods might lead to a metallic taste; transferring the contents to steel or glass post-cooking can help.

It’s also important to be cautious of excess iron leaching, which can be toxic.

She says that a well-seasoned cast iron pan is great for a non-stick experience, but handle with care due to its weight and potential for iron leaching.

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Ceramic cookware: Eco-friendly and safe

Made from a mix of clay, minerals, and water, ceramic cookware is non-reactive and ensures even heat distribution.

It requires careful handling to prevent cracking from sudden temperature changes. Nagwani advises choosing unglazed ceramic over glazed to avoid the risk of lead or cadmium, which can be present in some lower-quality glazes.

Ceramic or clay cookware is an eco-friendly, non-reactive option. Handle it with care due to its brittle nature, she added.

She says that sudden temperature changes can cause ceramic to crack. Avoid transferring hot ceramic cookware to a cold surface or vice versa, she advices. Avoid abrasive cleaning.

Choose unglazed over glazed cookware as some lower-quality ceramic glazes may contain lead or cadmium, which are poisonous

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Copper cookware: Precise cooking control

Copper cookware is not naturally non-stick, but its excellent heat conductivity allows for precise cooking control. This can reduce the chances of food sticking.

However, she says, pure copper can react with acidic foods, leading to unsafe copper leaching. To counter this, many copper pans are lined with stainless steel or tin. It’s crucial to avoid high heat with an empty copper pan to protect the lining.

She warns, “Choose copper cookware lined with tin, and use it for low to medium heat for safe and effective cooking.”

Stainless steel cookware

Resistant to corrosion and rust, steel cookware is generally safe for cooking as it doesn’t leach harmful substances into food and is easy to maintain. However, Nagwani says that stainless steel is not the best conductor of heat among metals used in cookware.

“While it has moderate conductivity, it tends to have hot spots, and the heat may not distribute evenly across the surface,” she explains.

Avoid for cooking food as it can burn it due to uneven heating and hot spots.

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So, what is the best cookware?

Nagwani says that using three-ply cookware is the best followed by cast iron, clay, and stainless steel. Three-ply cookware is a type of kitchenware designed with a triple-layered structure, combining different materials to optimise cooking performance.

It typically consists of an inner layer of stainless steel for a durable, non-reactive cooking surface, a core layer of aluminum or copper for excellent heat conductivity and even distribution, and an outer layer of stainless steel for strength and compatibility with various cooktops, including induction.

This construction not only ensures even cooking without hot spots but also maintains the cookware’s aesthetic appeal and longevity, making it a preferred choice in many kitchens.