"All that glitters is not gold." is an apt expression that comes to my mind when looking for the best cookware! The market is flooded with all kinds of attractive, colorful and shiny cookware mostly made from metals, alloys, and ceramics (a clay-like material). To make the right choice, one must understand the effects of raw material on cooking and food. Let's discuss the effects of different cookware materials on your food's health.
All metals are reactive, they leach metal ions at the cooking temperature and contaminate food. Iron occurs in its ferric and ferrous form. Our bodies can assimilate (or process) iron from food - plants and meat which is in ferrous form. The ferric form of iron from cast iron can not be assimilated or digested by our bodies! This ferric iron when combined with the oxygen in the body, can release oxygen-free radicals, which are unstable molecules. And studies now show that the damage caused by free radicals may be the cause for many forms of cancer.
Stainless steel is made up of a combination of various metals like iron, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, carbon etc. Even small amounts of these metals in the cellular or organ level can prove extremely toxic. For instance, a very small amount of concentration of nickel can cause kidney dysfunction, low blood pressure, muscle tremors, oral cancer, skin problems etc.
Aluminum is a reactive soft metal that reacts with the different foods and releases its ions into the food. In fact, there is enough evidence today to prove that there is a strong connection between Aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. Chronic aluminum exposure has contributed directly to hepatic failure, renal failure, and dementia.
Effects of These Metals On The Environment
The mining and processing of these metals call for massive deforestation affects wildlife and they poison the nearby air and water resources. People working in these mines and processing plants suffer irreparable damage to their body due to interaction with toxic gases and chemicals released as by-products of mining, extraction, and processing of these metals.
The people living in nearby areas also face various health problems due to increased pollution levels. They ever have to relocate to a safer place to save their lives and that of their children.
The Finishing: Enamel, Glazing And Other Chemicals:
Chemical glazes are commonly used these days to make cookware colorful and attractive to the eyes which may enhance their sales numbers but are toxic to the food. These chemicals consist of metal oxides and toxins that also leach into food during cooking. There are three types of coatings commonly used:
1. Enamel (in Cast Iron)
Enamels are hard coatings used to prevent metals from corrosion and for making them inert but unfortunately, they are themselves chemicals that leach while cooking and contaminate food.
2. Glazing (in Ceramics)
Ceramics is clay made from oxides, metal ores and a small amount of natural clay. It is further glazed with paint-like substances to give it shine and color. These contain oxides of different metals like Lead and Cadmium.
3. Nickel Finish (in Aluminum and Stainless Steel)
Is a form of chemical finish used on Aluminum and Stainless Steel. As explained before, Nickel can damage organs and cause many diseases of the likes of cancer.
4. Non-Stick Coating (in Non-stick Cookware)
A chemical ingredient most common to non-stick cookware is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This is a synthetic chemical that creates a soap-like slipperiness and the non-stick finish. When heated, the PFOA release toxic fumes and chemicals into the air and food. It has been known to produce serious changes in organs like the brain, prostate, liver, thymus kidney showing toxicity.
Pure Clay: A Viable Alternative
Pure clay (unglazed primary clay) is not an unknown material for cookware, on the contrary, it is the oldest material used by one civilization after other for this purpose. It is the highest quality natural clay without any contaminants. It is easily available on earth's surface and no mining or extraction is required. In the purest form, it is 100% non-toxic and inert - a perfect material for making cookware. Pure clay cookware is unglazed and no chemicals are used at any stage from harvesting clay to making the final product. Unlike metals, making pure clay cookware does not affect the environment or the health of people that come in contact with clay or the manufacturing plant. There are no toxic liquid or gaseous wastes - the whole process is completely safe and non-toxic just like the finished product.