What is Healthy Cookware ? and other thoughts on cooking

In light of the recent shedding of my microwave, I also have undergone re-evaluating the rest of my cookware collection.

Like many of you (or at least some of you!) I have an interesting collection of incomplete sets of frying pans, sauce pots and stock pots; different pieces from various sets, purchased from throughout the years, mismatched lids in some cases; and the smallest sauce pot that cannot be gotten rid of because it was from my mother’s collection  at our summer home on Long Island when I was a kid. But whether or not it has sentimental value, I am going to rate each piece I have, for its long term impact on actual cooking and affect on food, and my family and I. I’m not going to scrap everything today, and hit the stores for completely new sets (but wouldn’t that be fun!?); just to be mindful of what I DO have and what is becoming “more than gently used”.

There is plenty of information out there on what non-stick materials are composed of (PTFE-polytetrafluoroethylene, silicone or silicone polyesters, coated, and hard anodized varieties) and what they can do to your overall health (harmful fumes emitted  from high heating, and possible ingestion of scraped and pitted linings can be questioned as safe or not as well). There is much debate over all this, just like over the microwave.

The non-stick convenience (always with the convenience factor, eh?), the quick cooking, the easy clean up, and not to mention the fact you can cook with using less fat. Now THAT would catch the US population’s attention, wouldn’t it? Our fat-phobic society, always creating new ways to avoid an otherwise healthy small dose of a daily required nutrient!

And then there is the instruction: a lot of care instruction, out there too. Making sure you know how to care for this kind of cookware, so it will last longer and be less of a health threat if/when the coatings start to show signs of wear-and tear and deteriorate  is important. Basic tings we have all heard: Low to medium heat is best, not high; never use metal utensils or scrape the surface; read the specific manufacturer’s inserts/information for washing, as some cannot be put into the dishwasher. And of course, get rid of it, when the surface becomes worn and the coating begins to come undone.

But I think, it suffices to say at this point, that there are better choices for you pots and pans. If you have take special care to avoid potential damage which could possibly be a health threat, why continue to use it? I’m in the process of replacing the pots and pans as needed. Personally,  I like the cast iron skillets, and the stainless cookware for the stovetop. I am leaning towards the glass and enamel coated pieces for my bake ware.

As for cleanup and adding fat: I haven’t had problems with either. Watch your cooking times, and you wont have burnt messes (usually!) and clean up right away. The feeling of dirty dishes lurking in the kitchen overnight isn’t a good feeling, so I have been trying to get through the kitchen cleanup right after meals, and guess what, I have a more relaxed evening!  There is no reason to fear using a small amount of “cooking fat”.  Use a small amount, measure it out, let it coat the pan so you know there is “just enough” and watch you food cook! Cooking is fun, and it is interactive. Don’t just throw stuff in a pan and walk away. The more you pay attention to it, the more enjoyment it will give back to you, not just in the form of nutrients! I mean mindful satisfaction….more to come on that aspect of food and cooking!

Things to look for in your cookware:

Stainless Steel: One of the standards, it is actually a blend (18/8, steel mixed with 18% chromium and 8% nickel, or 18/10 respectively)  is the considered one of the best and safest types of cookware around. Harsh abrasive cleaning pads should be avoided as there can be scratching and pitting eventually, which could be troublesome to those allergic to nickel.

Cast Iron: It is a thick and heavy material that has great high-heat, and even-heating capacity. It is actually, I am sure you’ve heard, a source of getting iron into the diet. It needs to be cleaned carefully (NO abrasives) and light detergents are fine. And be sure to wipe it dry! You don’t want to let the rust have a chance at ruining the surface! Also, regular seasoning of this kind of pan is recommended to maintain it in prime cooking (no rust!) condition. (just a coating of cooking oil rubbed into it, nothing difficult or fancy!)

Ceramic or  Enamel Coatings: You can find iron and steel coated cookware that is now lead free; it HAD been an ingredient in the coatings in the past.  Again, because it is an “applied” surface, you should not use metal utensils, and any signs of these coatings becoming chipped should be monitored. These coatings are generally non-reactive and non-stick when in good condition.

Aluminum: The thing about aluminum is that it has been found to  react with cooking  foods to form aluminum salts and cause aluminum toxicity after some time. This has been associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, decreased liver function, and calcium deficiency. Anodized aluminum is one type of aluminum cookware that supposedly hardens the metal so there is no leeching and health risk is minimized.

Titanium Coated Aluminum sets are supposedly a good choice if you want non-stick, as the titanium is a good scratch resistant material and is non-porous so the aluminum wont leech out, and the inner aluminum core provides good, even heat transfer. Also, no added oil or water in necessary for cooking…all the low-fat cookers can breath a sigh of relief!

Some recommended sites for choosing your own cookware:

http://environment.about.com/od/healthenvironment/a/safecookware.htm

http://www.consumersearch.com/cookware/review

http://chriskresser.com/the-best-and-worst-cookware-materials

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