Good Advice

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are your pots and pans making your food less healthy?

woman cooking

If you’re like me, your produce is mostly organic, your meat is hormone-free, and your dairy is, well, largely almond-derived. But how healthy are your pots and pans?

Despite my fastidiously healthy food choices, I recently learned how lax I’ve been about the cookware I’ve used to prepare it all. Like searing an expensive cut of meat in a scraped-up non-stick pan I bought on the cheap, possibly even during college. Oops. That’s when a realization took hold: Isn’t what we cook in as important as what we cook?

We posed this question of three kitchen pros who gave us the searing truth about healthy cookware:

French Culinary Institute's Tim Shaw

Tim Shaw, special curriculum instructor at the French Culinary Institute at the International Culinary Center

People started using non-stick pans, like Teflon and Silverstone, because they’re afraid to use heat, or their stovetops at home are so weak that they don’t really heat the pan up adequately. But if you use an AllClad or Calphalon pan or—my favorite—cast-iron, and you heat the pan up, and add in a very, very small amount of fat, like coconut oil, that actually creates a non-stick coating. I tend to not use non-stick pans at all.

 

Junelle nutritionist at Miraval spaJunelle Lupiani, registered dietitian and nutrition manager at Miraval Resort in Tucson

Both Teflon pans and aluminum pots have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and birth defects in animals. But there are new, green non-stick pans that don’t contain the toxic chemical found in Teflon, so they can be more stable at higher heat and are also resistant to flaking. That said, I personally think we should all just go with an enameled cast iron or a nice stainless steel heavy bottom saucepan.

 

Harry Rosenblum Brooklyn Kitchen

Harry Rosenblum, co-owner, the Brooklyn Kitchen

There are few things about cookware that are inherently unhealthy— it’s how people use them. Non-stick coatings are not meant to be heated over 500 degrees. But if you’re preheating a pan on high without anything in it, the pan can get well over 500 degrees. Then the non-stick surface can degrade and release chemicals that can end up in your food and, subsequently, your body.

But you don’t need expensive tools—it’s just about using them correctly. I think people would be amazed at the kind of beat-up cookware used in commercial kitchens that turn out some of the city’s best food. —Nina Pearlman

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