healthy pots and pans
*Updated October 17th 2023
Healthy cooking starts with non-toxic pots and pans. It’s counter-productive to go out of your way to get the best ingredients only to use cookware that leaches heavy metals or other chemicals into the food.
Nickel is commonly allergenic (showing up as contact dermatitis) and can also be destructive and ageing in accumulation in the body. It is a heavy metal that, just like lead, mercury, cadmium etc. produces free-radicals. All heavy metals are potentially toxic, enzyme poisons that cross the blood-brain barrier, contributing to the incidence of diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, Autism and others.
Most ‘stainless steel’ cookware contains a percentage of nickel. When purchasing stainless steel cookware, it’s important to look out for these reference numbers that relate to the metal content:
- 18/10 – indicates 18% chromium, 10% nickel
- 18/8 – indicates 18% chromium, 8% nickel
- 18/0 – indicates 18% chromium, no nickel
- 16/0 – indicates 16% chromium, no nickel
Nickel-free stainless steel is also commonly referred to as ‘430 stainless steel’.
Unfortunately to make the steel properly ‘stainless’, it needs the nickel (which neutralises the natural ferrous properties of the iron in the mix to prevent rust), but I’d rather put up with a few marks over the years then just replace them if they get tired.
To check the nickel content of your stainless steel pots at home, there are two simple tests you can do:
- Baking Soda Test: Boil some water in the pot or pan with one tablespoon of baking soda in it. After boiling it, taste the water. If it tastes metallic the stainless steel isn’t of a high quality and is leaching metals.
- The Magnet Test (easier): You want to buy and use only the magnetically-attractive stainless steel, which means it’s very low in nickel content and does not readily leach nickel into food. If the pan is magnetic inside and out, it is 18/0 (nickel-free) or at least low in nickel. If not, it is 18/8 or 18/10. Use a fridge magnet on your pots at home or take one when you’re out shopping for new pots.
“There are two main types of stainless steel, magnetic and nonmagnetic. The nonmagnetic form has a very high nickel content, and nickel is allergenic and carcinogenic. It is much more toxic than iron or aluminum. You can use a little ‘refrigerator magnet’ to test your pans. The magnet will stick firmly to the safer type of pan.” – ‘From PMS to Menopause’ by Ray Peat.
When I go pot shopping, I take a magnet with me in case the pots on display don’t display the nickel content on the label.
Some brands I’m using:
Raco *Update: when I purchased , their pots were 18/0 and passed the magnet test. Their newer pots however are not nickel-free.
Yoshikwa Yukihira – 18/0 and 16/0, nickel-free. Made in Japan (pictured below).
I’ve also seen it noted that IKEA 365 stainless steel cookware is nickel free, but I’m yet to test it to confirm.
Cookware made from other materials
Silit is a brand from Germany. It’s cookware range is made using their ‘Silargan’ ceramic coating, which is described as: ” … extremely durable high-tech ceramic is not only ultra-hard, scratchproof and non-abrasive; it is the cookware material predestined for wellness cuisine. It is anti-bacterial, very hygienic and neutral to taste. It is equally suitable for cooking, serving and storing foods. Moreover, Silargan is nickel-free and thus first choice for persons with allergies”. *Update: I bought my Silit pots ten years ago and they’re still in great condition. Unfortunately I rarely see them available in Australia anymore.
Xtrema pure ceramic cookware – another I’ve heard good things about but yet to try myself.
Other cookware materials that are safe and easy to find: Pyrex, glass, ceramic, bamboo (steamer baskets) and ceramic-enameled cast-iron (make sure the ceramic isn’t worn down and wash it gently with a soft sponge only).
Never go near aluminium or uncoated cast-iron (can leach too much ferrous iron into the food; read this article). Important to note that compounds in Teflon and many other conventional ‘non-stick’ cookware items, such as PFOA and PFOS, are associated with elevated cholesterol due to their damaging effects on the liver, linked to birth defects and are shown to be carcinogenic. The maker, DuPont, was found out and sued in a 2005 lawsuit. If you purchase ‘non-stick’ cookware, make sure it’s PFOA and PFOS free, also lead and cadmium free, and even still, never use a metal scourer to clean it. Discard if the coating becomes chipped, scratched or wears thin.