Non Stick Cookware | Does It Cause Cancer?

When non-stick cookware first came onto the market,  we celebrated that at last  we had a way cook with less fat and oil. Healthier right? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is healthier to cook with less fat. And it is healthier to avoid eating cooked fats and oils. BUT, the problem with non-stick cookware is that it is made with coatings containing toxic chemicals that end up in our food and in our environment,  toxic chemicals that persist in our environment for a long long time. Now there is a truly safe alternative.

There are two primary chemicals that coat non-stick cookware:

PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) is a synthetic fluorocarbon made from carbon and fluorine.  DuPont coined the name Teflon for their brand name product. (And by the way, this stuff is also used to make nice slippery grafts for arteries and veins when surgeons are patching up damaged blood vessels in patients with vascular disease or damage.) Do you want this inside your body, in contact with your blood?

At high temperatures (as in cooking) PTFE gives off toxic and carcinogenic gases and by products.  One study documented that the by products of heating PTFE kills birds.

As PTFE heats up it breaks down and decomposes. What kills birds can cause flu like symptoms and possbly cancer in people. The Environmental Working Group and The US Consumer Product Safety Commission want cookware as well as heated appliances coated in PTFE to have warning labels describing the risks to birds and humans. Their real goal is to get these chemicals banned. Remember, they don’t break down. They last forever.

Although PTFE is stable and non-toxic when not heated, at high cooking temperatures it is not stable and starts to break down.  And the manufacturing process itself requires high temperatures. So, why use it to coat cookware and appliances that come in contact with our food???

PFOA (Perfuorooctanoic Acid) also known as C8 is used in the manufacture and production of PTFE. PFOA is known to be linked to a number of health concerns such as elevated cholesterol, ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon that causes it to break down, bleed and ulcerate) and thyroid disease. Rats and mice exposed to PFOA develop brain tumors. The EPA admits that PFOA is a “likely carcinogen”. Well, why wait for them to be certain? Do you want your kids exposed?

At high temperatures PFOA turns into a gas and enters food and the air we breathe. PFOA has actually been detected in the blood of people throughout the United States.

The only company that uses PFOA in manufacturing in the US is DuPont. And they are still using it, though they agree to limit its use (not eradicate its use) in 2015. Why wait?  Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency does not feel there is sufficient evidence to ban the use of PTFE or PFOA.

By the way, these chemicals are also used as coatings in weatherproof clothing like rain gear, (think Goretex), carpets, computer chips, packaged food containers, fuel lines and medical devices.  This stuff is everywhere in our daily lives.  As it does not break down and stays in the environment, we are all going to be exposed to it for a long time even if it stops being used today. This is what is called a “POP”, a persistent organic pollutant, as in forever.

While non-stick cookware leaches toxic PFOA into your food, Heavy Metals leaching tests show that conventional cookware also has its problems in terms of food contamination. Aluminum readily leaches into food and is a reactive metal associated with neurologic diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and higher rates of breast cancer. In my opinion, aluminum should never come into contact with food. Stainless steel, although relatively inert, can leach small amounts of iron into food.  Of course cast iron cookware leaches significant amounts of iron. Iron is a pro-oxidant creating more reactive oxygen species that can damage tissue, cells and our DNA. Copper cookware readily leaches this toxic metal into food. Copper is a neurotoxin and promotes angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels that allows cancer tumors to grow and spread. Elevated blood copper levels are common in patients with advanced cancer and metastatic disease.

Never ever cook or heat food  in plastic or styrofoam containers in a microwave. This drives plastic particles into our food.  Plastics are extremely toxic hormone and immune system disruptors.

Glass, unchipped enamel cookware and ceramic cookware are the safest choices for cooking and storing food. The best choice for food storage is glass containers.

Green Pans | An Eco-Friendly Safe Cookware Alternative: The good news is that there are non-stick coatings that do not contain PTFE and PFOA. The safest choice is stainless steel cookware coated with a non-stick ceramic PTFE free and PFOA free coating that is stable at high temperatures and allows you to cook without oil. Ceramic coatings are made from the mineral silica (think sand).  The ceramic mineral coating is hard, highly heat resistant and provides a non-stick surface.  It is durable and long lasting and guaranteed safe for food contact use. This coating goes by the brand name Thermolon and is a safe eco-friendly non-toxic alternative. These pans need  more thoughtful care to maintain than their non-stick surfaces. If manufacturers directions for use and cleaning are followed, they provide a safe green choice. The first generation of these coatings had some problems that have subsequently been solved and newer more durable coatings are found on more recent products sometimes called “GreenPans”. Did I mention it has a low carbon footprint? And it does not poison your kids? The intelligent choice seems obvious.