Healthy cooking starts with healthy, safe, non-toxic pots and pans. It seems counter-productive to go out of your way to buy fresh organic produce and take the time to chop and delicately cook it, only to use cookware that leaches some noxious heavy metal or toxin into the food.
Recently I decided to clean out my kitchen and discard some tired old pots and pans. I wanted to make sure I was going to replace them with the safest cookware so I’ve researched all materials and brands available. Here’s what I ended up choosing…
Silit is a brand from Germany. It’s cookware range is made using their ‘Silargan’ ceramic coating, which is described as: ” … extremely durable high-tech ceramic is not only ultra-hard, scratchproof and non-abrasive; it is the cookware material predestined for wellness cuisine. It is anti-bacterial, very hygienic and neutral to taste. It is equally suitable for cooking, serving and storing foods. Moreover, Silargan is nickel-free and thus first choice for persons with allergies”. And they’re good looking to boot.
Nickel is commonly allergenic (showing up as contact dermatitis) but can be destructive and ageing in accumulation even for those not technically “allergic”. It is a heavy metal that, just like lead, mercury, cadmium, produces free-radicals. All heavy metals are very toxic, potent enzyme poisons and cross the blood-brain barrier, causing diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, etc. Nickel has been shown to be more toxic than mercury (source: Ray Peat).
Regarding stainless steel cookware, it’s important to look out for these reference numbers that relate to the ‘quality’ and metal content of the stainless steel:
- 18/10 – indicates 18% chromium, 10% nickel
- 18/8 – indicates 18% chromium, 8% nickel
- 18/0 – indicates 18% chromium, no nickel
Unfortunately to make the steel properly ‘stainless’, it needs the nickel (which neutralises the natural ferrous properties of the iron in the mix to prevent rust), but I’d rather put up with a few marks over the years, then just replace them if they get tired… and this is doable considering “18/10” is the most sort-after by cooks and more pricey. This is one such scenario where cheaper is actually better for you! It’s actually harder than I thought it would be to find 18/0 pots. Eventually I came across ‘Raco‘ – all their steel products (at the time of writing this) are made from 18/0.
You may come across other 18/0 products also. Otherwise at least look for low-nickel stainless steel. To check the safety of your pots at home, there are two simple tests you can do:
- Baking Soda Test: Boil some water in the pot or pan with one tablespoon of baking soda in it. After boiling it, taste the water. If it tastes metallic the stainless steel isn’t of a high quality and is leaching metals.
- The Magnet Test (easier): You want to buy and use only the magnetically-attractive stainless steel, which means it’s very low in nickel content and does not readily leach nickel into food. If the pan is magnetic inside and out, it is 18/0 (nickel-free) or at least low in nickel. If not, it is 18/8 or 18/10. Use a fridge magnet on your pots at home or take one when you’re out shopping for new pots.
“There are two main types of stainless steel, magnetic and nonmagnetic. The nonmagnetic form has a very high nickel content, and nickel is allergenic and carcinogenic. It is much more toxic than iron or aluminum. You can use a little ‘refrigerator magnet’ to test your pans. The magnet will stick firmly to the safer type of pan.” – ‘From PMS to Menopause’ by Ray Peat
Other cookware materials that are safe and easy to find: Pyrex, glass, ceramic, bamboo (steamer baskets) and ceramic-enameled cast-iron (make sure the ceramic isn’t worn down and wash it gently with a soft sponge only).
Never go near aluminium or uncoated cast-iron (iron being a potentially toxic heavy metal; must read this article). Important to note that compounds in Teflon and many other conventional ‘non-stick’ cookware items, such as PFOA and PFOS, are associated with elevated cholesterol due to their damaging effects on the liver, linked to birth defects and are shown to be carcinogenic. The maker, DuPont, was found out and sued in a 2005 lawsuit. If you purchase ‘non-stick’ cookware, make sure it’s PFOA and PFOS free, also lead and cadmium free, and even still, never use a metal scourer to clean it. Discard if the coating is chipped, scratched or wears thin.