Episode 10 - Exploring Safe Cookware

Karen: Hi, I’m Karen Bannister, mom, and green living newbie. Welcome to Conscious Choice Podcast...episode 10. Today we are going to talk about choosing the safest cookware for the kitchen. The health benefits for safe cookware are extraordinary and worth taking the time to learn what works best for you and your family. I’m with my co-host Jenny Michelle Bailey...

Jenny: Thank you Karen. This is Jenny, mama, and green living advocate. I’m so happy we are together again recording episode 10!! Karen and I took a couple months off to regroup…..and Karen has an exciting announcement.

Karen: I have moved from California to Tennessee! It’s so green here, it’s almost unbelievable. I’m meeting some amazing people, and I just know that I’ll be learning so much about the area that I will love to share with you, and I’m very excited to be here.

Jenny: Whether you’re a newcomer to green living, like Karen or you’ve been living green and healthy for a while, like me, you are welcomed here at Conscious Choice Podcast. We love exploring new ways to incorporate conscious habits, especially in the areas of health & wellness, fashion, home, travel, and personal care products, into our daily lives.

Karen: That’s right, in a mere six months we recorded nine episodes covering topics like the benefits of spending time outdoors, non-toxic personal care products, and clean pillow and soft good options. We understand everyone has spent A LOT of time at home during the Shelter-in-Place requirements during the Covid Pandemic. Many of us have turned to baking as a pastime and cooking instead of starving…or eating out of course!

Jenny: Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how many loaves of banana bread I’ve made since March! I found a recipe that I really like, I will share it in the show notes. My family eats most of our meals at home, before Covid that meant breakfast and dinner. I could handle that load, but once the kids were at home 24/7 - it went from two meals a day to five or six! I wish I were joking, but I had to figure out how much food to keep in the house for two teenagers. My son eats the most quantity and the most often. My daughter and I eat about the same with three meals. As a way to keep up with their hunger pangs, I brought out a few kitchen appliances that I thought could help make meal prep easier. In researching for this episode, I discovered they weren’t the best. Today, we’re going to discuss which cookware is the safest.

Karen: Yes, let’s dive in! As is our format, we will share three choices relating to safe cookware. Jenny has organized the three choices into-- Avoid, Good, Best -- categories.

Yup, that’s right, there are cookware products that ARE NOT SAFE and really need to be AVOIDED for your health’s sake.

Jenny: Yes, before we talk about the safe choices, it’s very important to Karen and I to share the NOT SAFE choices. We encourage everyone to avoid these as much as you can. There are four. The one that tops the list is:

NON-STICK COOKWARE is really, really bad for our health. NON-STICK cookware contains the chemical components PFOA, PTFE and PFAS (also known as Teflon by Dupont). It’s a film applied to the surface of the cookware, so food is resistant to sticking; however, there are better and safer solutions, which we’ll get into. According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group) non-stick cookware has been linked to:

· Testicular, Prostate and Kidney cancer

· Thyroid disease

· High cholesterol

· Pre-Eclampsia

· Ulcerative Colitis

· Weakened immunity

· Liver inflammation

· Obesity

Toxic fumes from nonstick cookware being used at too high a temperature can kill pets - birds are especially susceptible. An example is leaving an empty pan on the stovetop for just 2 minutes can create enough toxic fumes to kill birds - which the term “canary in a coal mine” is referenced! Not to mention, toxic fumes from overheated cookware can cause flu-like symptoms in humans - often called "Teflon Flu" by industry insiders. Symptoms of Teflon flu include diarrhea, headaches, nausea, fever, and malaise.

Pregnant moms exposed to the chemicals in non-stick cookware have a higher incidence of:

· Low birth weight babies

· Birth defects

· Preeclampsia

· Pregnancy related hypertension

The second NOT SAFE/AVOID cookware is Aluminum.

Aluminum can leach into foods. This one shocked me, since I’ve been using an aluminum bread pan, to make all that banana bread! It is a known neurotoxin -- which has been found to damage the brain and the blood-brain barrier. In addition, aluminum has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, reproductive issues, autoimmune conditions, cancer, and neurological problems. It may contribute to the body’s depletion of phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Based on the research I did from Irina Webb, who writes a blog called “I Read Labels for You,” she states that aluminum is bio-accumulative, meaning that it accumulates in the body over time. Scary stuff!

According to Katie Wells of Wellness Mama, “The main issues with traditional bakeware like non-stick and aluminum are that they can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals and heavy metals into food. The research is divided on the newer non-stick options and some of them fall into the ‘better than before and maybe safe but we don’t know yet’ category.” Which then leads me to the next concern…

Copper. When the copper is uncoated it will leach into your food. While some copper is essential, elevated copper can lead to zinc deficiency. There is a way to use copper safely and that is IF the copper is lined with stainless steel. Copper leaches into food when heated, prompting the FDA to caution against using unlined copper for general use. Accordingly, the cooking surfaces are usually lined with tin, nickel, or stainless steel. Coated copper cookware can lose its protective layer if damaged or scoured. Keep in mind that the metals of the “protective” surface can also end up in your food.

Whew... it’s certainly more fun to talk about the positives and the safe choices, but we felt it wouldn’t be a complete picture if we skipped over the UNSAFE cookware, that would be best to avoid.

I’m going to hand it over to Karen.

Karen: Whoa...that was very informative! Now, let’s talk about GOOD COOKWARE. Our next two categories are -- good and best.


Ceramic coated non-stick and Porcelain Enamel is a broad category to squeeze into a single type of cookware since there are so many different options. These pans are typically cast iron with an enameled ceramic coating of some kind. It gets complicated because this coating can be made in a variety of ways so there is no clear safety data across the category.

There have been studies that show concerns for lead, heavy metals, and nanoparticles in ceramic-coated non-stick and Porcelain Enamel products. There are mixed reviews on the brand Le Creuset.

Shannon, the blogger behind Natural Baby Mama, tested the dune and palm colored Dutch ovens with XRF technology and found only trace amounts of lead or cadmium on the exterior, and no lead or cadmium on the interior. This is consistent with what Le Creuset has published; however, she did find some questionable results when she performed a leachable test. Please know her test has limitations and can be read in further detail in our show notes link.

Tamara Rubin of Lead Safe Mama tested two yellow Le Creuset enameled cast iron items. She found some elevated levels of certain metals. Again, just know that her findings also have limitations. First, her sample size is very small. Second, she tests for total amounts in the piece itself, not the leachable amounts that could go into the food. We encourage everyone to do their own research on this brand. Likely still one of the safer options and arguably much safer than PFOA and PTFE in Teflon.

Xtrema cookware, another ceramic cookware option, is made for the stove top. They claim that their non-toxic cookware is free of lead and cadmium. On their website, they publish documents that show that the levels of lead and cadmium are compliant with California Proposition 65 limits.

To summarize, ceramic non-stick coating is better than Teflon, but there needs to be more testing to see if it’s truly non-toxic cookware.

Slow cookers

Traditionally, slow cookers use ceramic inserts – which could contain lead, either because lead is added or because it comes in the raw materials used to make the ceramic cookware.

Irina Webb, blogger of “I Read Labels for You,” contacted KitchenAid, who assured her that their ceramic had very small amounts of lead – below the FDA’s limit – and that the protective glaze did not have any lead. KitchenAid would not say how much and would not provide anything in writing.

Cuisinart in another slow cooker brand. Again, Irina contacted the company who assured her there was no lead or cadmium in their slow cooker inserts; however, they did admit that they did not test for lead or cadmium because they knew they did not add them?? Okay, we all have to use our best judgement on this.

InstaPot slow cooker does have a stainless-steel insert, which is the best option for slow cookers.


Cast Iron:

In general, cast iron cookware is safe and effective in the kitchen. It may even be a great addition for those who are deficient in iron, as some of the iron will make its way into the food. While cast iron is fairly heavy and takes a while to heat up, it holds heat very well and is oven-safe. Plus, a well-seasoned pan is non-stick.

Cast-iron is known for its durability and even heat distribution. Unglazed cast iron can transfer notable amounts of iron into food, but unlike the metals that come off other types of pots and pans, iron is considered a healthy food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The nonstick quality of cast iron comes from seasoning. Seasoning is the term used for treating cast iron with oil and baking it. This fills in the porous surface of the cookware. A guide to seasoning cast iron is available here.

Tips on taking care of your skillet: Do not clean with soap, as this will remove the seasoning on the pan. Clean with water or scrub with lemon and salt, dry, then coat with oil. To season pan rub with olive oil and heat in slow temperature oven for 1 hour.

A word of caution: if you have a history of iron-overload (hemochromatosis), you should avoid cast iron cookware, especially for acidic foods. Post-menopausal women should also use caution, as monthly menstrual periods often mask hemochromatosis until a woman enters menopause.

Brands Dr. Kara Fitzgerald recommends:

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – Get it with the silicone handle, as the handles tend to get very hot.

Utopia Kitchen Cast Iron Skillet

Stainless Steel:

Stainless steel is another safe cooking option. Along with being non-toxic, stainless steel cookware is durable, heats quickly, and has been found to brown food better than non-stick alternatives. As with all things we recommend, we’d like to bring awareness that if you have a nickel sensitivity, you may still want to avoid stainless steel as it does contain some nickel.

Tips for cooking: In order to minimize sticking (like when frying an egg), use a generous amount of oil/fat to coat the bottom of the pan and give it time to heat up. The hot oil will create a layer that prevents sticking.


· All-Clad Stainless-Steel Set — This is the best brand for stainless steel cookware, but you will certainly pay for it.

· Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Set — This is a more economic option but still of very high quality.

· Note: if you have a nickel sensitivity, you may still want to avoid stainless steel as it does contain some nickel.


Glass cookware tends to be mostly for baking, though some stovetop pans are available. It is completely non-toxic, but not as durable as some other ware, and doesn’t hold heat as well as, say, cast iron. It tends to be inexpensive.


It’s not as versatile and is mainly used for baking, but it is inexpensive (comparatively) and is low on the leach-poisons-into-my-food scale.

Katie Wells of Wellness Mama says her favorites: This set of Corningware which I’ve used Pyrex Storage set. She and I avoid plastic so everything in my fridge and freezer is stored Pyrex storage or mason jars. I also use my Pyrex Bowls with Lids and my Bake and Store Pyrex Set a lot! I’ve been happy getting mine at our local Costco. Amazon sells them too.

Jenny: Well, there you have it. Three conscious choices regarding safe cookware - Avoid, Good, Best.

Karen: As with all things, we encourage you to do what is best for you and your family. Find out what your health needs are before investing in any of our suggestions. We will have the show notes posted, so you can reference the links.

A huge thank you to our resources for this episode: Lead Safe Mama, Tara Rubin / Dr. Kara Fitzgerald / Wellness Mama, Katie Wells / I Read Labels for You, Irina Webb / Tree Hugger / Natural Baby Mama, Shannon

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