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Cookware Metal and its Impact on Health

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

If cooking is an art, then utensils are the canvas. With different cuisines in our country, even the variety of utensils is different. Each cookware has its own use. This makes it essential to know how the metals react to different foods. While we’re busy choosing fancy non-stick or enamelware cookware or microwave-friendly utensils, we need to understand that they are not safe as they can harm your health in the long run. Back in the day, clay pots, iron, brass, and bronze utensils were used for cooking as they not only preserved the nutrients in food but also enhanced the taste!

How Do Different Utensils Impact Health?

  • Stainless Steel: the old reliable staple in many kitchens. No doubt it's very popular amongst all people. It is the most commonly used iron alloy made up of chromium, nickel, carbon, and silicon and has aluminum or copper coating at the bottom for heating purposes. This metal is particularly resistant to tarnishing and rust. Stainless steel is not only a top-quality and durable metal but also the safest option for your home. Stainless steel is considered the safest metal to use for cooking as it does not react with food, flake, or leach harmful chemicals into the food, leading to no adverse effects on the immune system. You can enjoy all the lovely vitamins, flavors, and textures that your stainless-steel cookware brings out as you cook. What’s more, these pots and pans are so easy to clean and nothing will stick to the surface for the next meal.

  • Aluminum: Our baking utensils are mostly made up of aluminum as the metal is ideal for high temperatures. Aluminum also has a larger-than-life use in our Indian Kitchen, in the form of utensils or foil wrap. Aluminum is lightweight, conducts heat well, and is fairly inexpensive, making it a popular choice for cooking. Aluminum pots and pans provide only one or two milligrams of the total. While aluminum has been associated with Alzheimer's, no definite link is proven. The World Health Organization estimates that adults can consume more than 50 milligrams of aluminum daily without harm. Food cooked in aluminum utensils tends to absorb aluminum because aluminum dissolves into food and water during the cooking process. But cooking alkaline foods in aluminum is completely safe for our immune system as the amount of aluminum soaked is very less. During cooking, aluminum dissolves most easily from worn or pitted pots and pans. The longer food is cooked or stored in aluminum, the greater the amount that gets into the food. Leafy vegetables and acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus products, absorb the most aluminum.

  • Cast Iron: Cast iron cookware often evokes images of olden days and campfire cookouts, yet the classic culinary tool remains just as popular today as it ever was. There’s a good reason why cast iron cookware has been around for so many years — it’s incredibly durable and long-lasting. A prevalent metal for our kitchens. All our kadhai, tavas, and skillets are made of Cast Iron. The natural nonstick surface and sturdy nature may be cast iron’s most notable benefits, but the perks of the cookware don’t stop there. Cooking in iron is an excellent way to add some iron to our diet as it leaches iron into our food. Iron is not only a metal but also an essential mineral required by the body. Imagine cooking iron-rich food in an iron pan, this would help you add value to the daily required Iron for your body. For example, premenopausal women require 18mg of iron per day and A serving of scrambled eggs cooked in a cast iron skillet increased from 1.49 mg to 4.76 mg of iron. And along with it, we can prepare tomato sauce in an iron pan that can provide 5mg of iron which is 60% of RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance). In fact, cooking regularly with iron utensils can help you hit the struggle to achieve daily iron RDA. Cast iron works wonders for many foods, but there are a few cases where you might want to avoid cast iron cookware, such as when you’re boiling water or letting something simmer. The reason is that your food may absorb more iron flavor than you’d like if it’s cooked in cast iron for an extended period of time. Further, acidic foods like tomatoes, lemon juice, wine, and vinegar are likely to absorb the iron flavors of cast iron, which may be undesirable at times. They’re also harsh on cast iron cookware and might remove some of your pan’s natural nonstick coating.

  • Non-Stick: Mostly called Teflon coating, this is an easy cookware to use and clean. But unfortunately, as a Nutritionist, I do not recommend excessive use of these utensils as the chemicals used to manufacture the non-stick coating can harm human health by causing abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, cancer, elevated cholesterol, and reduced immune system response. We can use non-stick for a few recipes like pancakes, cheela, or dosa which is not a daily staple meal. But, I would not recommend making paranthas or subzis daily.

  • Glassware: Considered another Neutral cookware and a good heat conductor to consider for baking your dishes. Although a few unhealthy components such as lead and cadmium leach out in food while cooking, the amount is minimal to harm human health.

  • Ceramic: is considered to be the safest when it comes to healthy cooking. Environment-friendly cookware made using all-natural clay, water, and gas. This can be a great replacement for dishes we cook in Teflon non-stick pans and pots as it does not affect the immune system adversely.

  • Copper: An excellent metal to promote health in your kitchen. Copper utensils with tin or nickel coatings can be used for cooking rice due to its antibacterial properties or storing drinking water due to its medicinal properties, the ability to improve the digestive system, slow down aging and heal wounds faster. Copper can also detoxify the body and increase Haemoglobin. But you need to take care while cooking in copper as acidic foods react with copper and can hinder the taste.

Every metal has its pros and cons. The ideal way to cook is to choose the perfect cookware per the recipe. Try some more ancient cooking methods in iron, clay/earthen pots as they are safe and loaded with various health benefits like retaining/adding nutritive value to the food and helping the immune system.

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