This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.
With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.
Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.
6 Dangers of Conventional Cookware + 4 Best Types of Nontoxic Cookware
January 4, 2018
Updated: April 20, 2018
If you’re a regular reader of my website, then you probably already know a little about what healthy foods to eat and what toxic foods to avoid, but have you ever given your cookware any thought? Are you currently using nontoxic cookware? I have to warn you — the products you’re using to cook healthy food on a daily basis just may be toxic!
We live in the age of convenience and the age of fast. We don’t even want to be bothered taking the time to melt some butter or coconut oil on our pans so food doesn’t stick so we opt for nonstick cookware. Some of the most popular and widely used brands of cookware are nonstick and known to contain a chemical that has been linked to major health concerns including cancer. (1, 2)
I’m sure you’ll agree that using unhealthy cookware to cook healthy food simply doesn’t make any sense. Are you being poisoned by your cookware? Let’s take a look at the toxic cookware you should be avoiding and the safest cookware you should start using instead today!
Why Cookware Is Important (Hint: Don’t Be Cheap!)
You may be thinking that your pots and pans do the job they need to do or they were pricey so they have to be good, but are you actually using healthy cookware?
For example, do you know that using nonstick pots and pans to heat your food could be putting your health in danger? It’s true. Nonstick cookware pretty much always contains a manmade chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8. According to the American Cancer Society, “PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Studies have found that it is present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood.” Animal studies have also presented a link between PFOA exposure and cancer development. (3)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In laboratory animals given large amounts, PFOA can affect growth and development, reproduction, and injure the liver.” So in addition to cancer concerns, we’re talking about some other highly serious health repercussions including liver damage, infertility, and delays in growth and development. (4)
Nonstick cookware and its PFOA content is just one main example of why I want to urge you to reconsider the cookware you’re using. Many people think it will be a burden to get rid of their cookware and replace it all. But I ask you to consider the burden associated with cancers and other serious health problems being linked to toxic cookware products.
Let’s take a closer look at the cookware I recommend avoiding as much as possible (ideally, entirely!).
Toxic Cookware? These 6 Health Dangers Are Real
Unfortunately, if you go into a department store these days, it’s going to be very easy to pick up a pot or pan that may potentially be dangerous to your health. These are some of the most dangerous cookware options that I recommend avoiding completely: (5, 6)
- Nonstick cookware is by far one of the most concerning forms of cookware. In just two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, nonstick cookware containing perfluorochemicals can exceed temperatures that cause a break down in its coating and hence the release of toxic particles and gases linked to bird deaths and human illnesses, according to tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- Aluminum cookware is known for being highly reactive and leaching into food. I would avoid cookware with any type of aluminum as a cooking surface including nonstick anodized aluminum and ceramic nonstick aluminum.
- Speckled metal bakeware and enamel cast iron skillets have also been shown to leach aluminum. (6)
- Silicone cookware is a synthetic rubber made of bonded silicon and oxygen. It is approved by the FDA and many people view it as safe, but personally, I avoid silicone cookware because there hasn’t been enough scientific research to confirm for sure whether or not silicone can leach out of cookware and possibly contaminate food.
Toxic cookware made from materials like these may lead to all kinds of seriously concerning health problems including:
1. Child Developmental Delays
According to a UCLA study led by Chunyuan Fei, prenatal exposure to perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) has been linked to developmental delays in offspring. The study found that mothers with higher levels of PFOAs in their blood have toddlers and babies who are less likely to reach developmental milestones early. (7)
2. High Cholesterol
Research has shown that the chemicals used to make nonstick cookware may lead to some major health concerns. For example, high cholesterol has now been linked to cookware chemicals. A study of 12,000 children living in Ohio and West Virginia were tested for blood levels of the PFOA and PFOS (the two chemicals commonly found in non stick cookware). The researchers observed that the children with the highest levels of these two toxic chemicals also were more likely to have abnormally high levels of both total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. (8)
Aluminum is often used in cookware because it is able to conduct heat quickly. What’s the problem? Aluminum can leach very easily, especially when it is exposed to heat and/or acidic foods.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,
Eating large amounts of processed food containing aluminum additives or frequently cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots may expose a person to higher levels of aluminum than a person who generally consumes unprocessed foods and uses pots made of other materials (e.g., stainless steel or glass). (9)
Aluminum’s controversial relationship with Alzheimer’s disease has resulted in many scientific studies evaluating a possible relationship between aluminum accumulation in the body and neurotoxicity. (10) To be on the safe side, I would avoid aluminum cookware including nonstick anodized aluminum and ceramic nonstick aluminum. And as I already mentioned, speckled metal bakeware and enamel cast iron skillets have also been shown to leach aluminum.
4. Thyroid Issues, Liver Inflammation and Weakened Immune System
There are some other major reasons to avoid nonstick cookware containing perfluorochemicals that can be leached into the food you eat. (11) According to the EWG, “Perfluorochemicals are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, and weaker immune defense against disease.” (12)
5. Allergies and Flu-Like Symptoms
According to Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at EWG, nonstick pans can produces toxic fumes that can create allergies and flu-like symptoms for users. (13)
If this list wasn’t bad enough already, cancer has to be included as well. Scientific research is demonstrating a possible link between PFOA and cancer.
The American Cancer Society points out:
Studies in lab animals have found exposure to PFOA increases the risk of certain tumors of the liver, testicles, mammary glands (breasts), and pancreas in these animals. In general, well-conducted studies in animals do a good job of predicting which exposures cause cancer in people. (14)
4 Best Types of Nontoxic Cookware
After reading all the facts above it may not seem so challenging to heat up a little butter or coconut oil on your pan, huh? In fact, it’s that easy to protect yourself and your family from these serious health dangers of nonstick pots and pans. You can simply choose a better nontoxic option and take a few seconds to make them nonstick yourself!
Looking for the best cooking pots and pans? Opt for any of the following types of kitchen cookware, add a healthy fat source and start cooking. These tried-and-true kitchen cookware choices have stood the test of time. Sure, you may have to pay a bit more attention so food doesn’t stick, but in the long run it’s well worth it. You’ll get peace of mind knowing you’re protecting your loved ones from one more of the many dangerous toxins in our environments today. Get ready to toss that toxic cookware stat!
These four categories of nontoxic cookware are the only ones that I currently use:
1. Cast Iron
If you go back 100 years ago, you would find most people using nontoxic cookware in the form of cast iron pots and pans on a daily basis. Cast iron cookware is an old-fashioned favorite made from cast iron and many health experts agree it’s one of the safest cooking options available. It’s common to see it topping nontoxic cookware lists all the time.
Cast iron retains heat extremely well so you can use a lower heat setting, which is an easy way to prevent food from sticking to a pot or pan. Cast iron cookware can also stand much higher temperature than non stick cookware so you can use it on the stovetop or in the oven. (15)
Cast iron cookware free of PFOA and PTFE should not contain any other chemicals. But there is one substance that can end up in your food with this type of cookware: iron! It’s very common to struggle with an iron deficiency and cooking with cast iron is actually a natural way to increase iron levels.
The only people that wouldn’t want to be cooking with cast iron too often are individuals with iron stores that are too high.
To season cast iron, you simply apply a very light coating of a high smoke point oil such as avocado oil to the surface of the cookware when it is clean and ideally a little warm. Each time you use your cast iron cookware, make sure to season it after cleaning to maintain an optimal cooking surface.
2. Stainless Steel
Is stainless steel cookware safe? Along with cast iron, it’s often considered to be one of the safest of nontoxic cookware options. Real, high-quality stainless steel cookware is the perfect solution for many of your needs in the kitchen because it’s made to resist dangerous leaching and reactivity. This cookware material can resist corrosion — hence its name “stainless” steel. It also won’t flake off and end up in your food the way nonstick products can.
There are so many grades of stainless steel so first off, make sure you are buying cookware made with a food-grade version of stainless at the very least. Stainless steel is a mix of metal including carbon, chromium, nickel and/or manganese. Food-grade stainless steels include 304, 316 and 430. There’s also the specification of 18/8, 18/10 or 18/0 stainless steel. The first number specifies the percentage of chromium and the second number is the amount of nickel. The nickel actually makes the stainless still more resistant to rust or corrosions, but some people are concerned about the leaching of nickel from stainless steel so pay attention to those numbers if you are concerned about the nickel content of your stainless steel cookware. (16)
The combination of metals in stainless steel pots and pans is said to make it generally more stable and less likely to leach nickel or any other metal into food. However, if stainless steel cookware is cleaned in a harsh manner with abrasive cleaning materials, then this can result in damage to the lining. Once damaged, it’s no longer as healthy of a cooking device because the leaching of metals then becomes possible. I would make sure not to clean stainless steel too harshly and throw out any stainless steel cookware with damaged cooking surfaces. (17)
Glass cookware is not just nontoxic and friendly to the environment, it’s also really durable. It’s another option to reduce the use of cookware containing polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or highly fluorinated chemicals. These dangerous compounds are added to clothing, furniture, carpeting, cookware and more to make them nonstick, waterproof and/or stain-resistant, so watch out for them in your cookware and elsewhere around your home. (18)
For safer cooking, the EWG recommends oven-safe glass along with cast iron and stainless steel cookware. (19) For storing foods, glass containers are also a much healthier option than plastic ones and using glass is a smart way to avoid BPA toxic effects.
Copper falls in somewhat of an in-between category when it comes to the best nontoxic cookware. While it can be safer than other options, the risk of using 100 percent copper cookware is that it could lead to an overconsumption of copper. However, many diets are low in copper and it’s possible to have a copper deficiency especially if you suffer from a digestive disorder that generally impairs nutrient absorption. Copper toxicity from copper cookware is unlikely, but if you want to completely avoid getting any extra copper in your diet, then you wouldn’t want to choose 100 percent copper cookware. (20)
It’s common to find copper cookware that is actually copper on the outside (great for conducting heat) but has a non-reactive stainless steel lining on the inside, so you get the best of both materials. Older copper cookware can have a tin or nickel coating and should not be used for cooking.
What About “Green Cookware”?
There are a number of brands that you’ll see when doing best nontoxic cookware searches (such as “nontoxic cookware 2016” or “safest cookware 2017”). Some of these newer “green” lines have apparently come up with healthier ways to make cookware nonstick. Some of these brands include names like GreenLife and Green Pan cookware, which both use a ceramic nonstick layer derived from sand called Thermolon. There’s also Ozeri Green Earth, which uses a nonstick coating called Greblon that does not contain PFOA or PTFE.
Xtrema cookware is another name that comes up and this is a line of ceramic cookware. Xtrema’s products were found to be “non-leaching” by an independent lab. Ceramcor makes the Xtrema line of cookware which is said to be made from “a unique ceramic clay formula that is 100% natural.” Xtrema cookware products are also said to be free of lead, cadmium and toxic heavy metals, PFOA and PTFE-free, non-scratch, nontoxic, and non-metal. (21, 22)
In my opinion, the concept of nonstick ceramic cookware falls in the “gray zone” right now. Some are known to contain nanoparticles, which are tiny, invisible particles with the ability to penetrate the skin and cross the blood-brain barrier. Like GMOs, engineered nanoparticles are in products on store shelves today and we’re often not even realizing it. As a scientific article published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives points out, “Nanotechnology-enabled products are quietly proliferating on U.S. store shelves, despite nagging questions about the safety of synthetic nanoparticles and the products that contain them.” (23)
As nanoparticles continue to show up in all kinds of products including cookware, food and cosmetics, Phil Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of community and preventative medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital, points out that companies are including nanoparticles in their formulations even though emerging data suggests that nanoparticles could produce toxic effects due to their ability to enter the body’s cells. (24)
The problem is that we don’t have long-term studies showing how nano-ceramic could impact human health and it wouldn’t be the first time something was available to consumers before we really knew if it was safe. So for me, I stick with more traditional cookware like cast iron to play it safe.
If you are wondering if a cookware brand contains nanoparticles, don’t hesitate to reach out to the company that make the cookware and ask them. You have a right to know what’s in the cookware you are buying or already own! If you don’t feel comfortable with the presence of a certain material in your cookware, it’s important to do your homework and go directly the maker of a particular cookware. Looking into third party evaluations of cookware is always a wise idea as well.
- The results of toxic cookware studies thus far should make us question what these dangerous chemicals can do to our bodies, especially when exposure is on a daily basis.
- I would avoid any cookware with a nonstick coating containing artificial toxic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS as well as cookware with any type of aluminum cooking surface.
- Both nonstick and aluminum cookware are known for toxic leaching when used for cooking.
- Speckled metal bakeware and enamel cast iron skillets don’t have “aluminum” in their name, but have been shown to leach aluminum.
- Some cookware contains nanoparticles and to date, there are no long term studies to prove their safety.
- It’s much healthier to create a nonstick cooking surface using grass-fed butter or coconut oil with nontoxic cookware rather using toxic nonstick cookware.
- The best nontoxic cookware is going to cook your food as it should, but without posing major risks to your health and the health of your family.
- The only nontoxic cookware options I use are made of cast iron, stainless steel, glass or copper.
- If you have any questions or concerns about the cookware you already own or are thinking about buying new nontoxic cookware, I highly recommend contacting the manufacturer of the cookware directly. Also, look for third party evaluations of cookware brands.