Is It Healthy To Use Metal Or Metal Alloy Pans For Cooking?

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Cookware made from aluminum, copper, iron, and metal alloys has been around for generations, but research is strongly suggesting you avoid some of these for your home. Using these pots and pans could actually be putting you at risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Everyone has a trusted pan in their kitchen arsenal. Whether it’s the reliable non-stick pan that miraculously makes sure a morsel doesn’t stick, the vintage cast iron pot handed down to you from your grandmother, or the state-of-the-art ceramic cookware you paid an arm and a leg for, you probably rely on these different shapes and makes of cookware to get good home-cooked food on the table. But what if the metal from these was actually putting your health at risk?

PFOA And Cancer Risk

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Used by leading manufacturers as a surface coating for cookware in materials like Teflon, it is supposed to be burnt away during the manufacturing process, leaving just trace amounts. The Environmental Protection Agency has named PFOA a “likely” human carcinogen. And while manufacturers have gone out of their way to prove Teflon-coated or other cookware using PFOA as an ingredient do not increase cancer risk, many consumers would prefer to be cautious.1

Animal studies have also shown that PFOA exposure raises your risk of developing liver, mammary gland, pancreas, and testicular tumors. There is also some evidence, albeit limited, that it can result in cancer of the kidney and testicles. The WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled PFOA as possibly carcinogenic.2

Iron From Your Pans

Cast iron pots and pans can result in your food having higher levels of the metal as it leaches in during cooking. While this is good for anyone of normal health or with an iron deficiency, getting too much may also be harmful. Excess iron intake can cause tissue damage as a result of its catalytic action on hydrogen peroxide in the body, which turns to free radical ions. These free radicals damage cellular membranes and harm your DNA and protein.3

Research also implicate excess iron in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease4 and cardiovascular disease.5 A separate study also found high iron intake raised the risk of colorectal cancer.6

Avoid Aluminum

Aluminum in particular, more than other metals used in cookware, has been identified as a potentially toxic metal when taken in excess through food. Studies the world over have determined that cooking and storing food in aluminum containers and cookware can cause the metal to leach into the food. This aluminum then acts as a neurotoxin, harming the body. It also results in the development of blood and bone disorders.7

Better Safe Than Sorry?

According to the American Cancer Society, you might experience symptoms not unlike flu if you overheat your Teflon-coated pots and pans. So while evidence right now isn’t conclusive enough to show that the use of Teflon-coated cookware may result in an elevated risk of cancer, you could avoid the discomfort or breathing issues that result from inhaling fumes of a very hot Teflon-coated pan.8

Be wary of using aluminum cookware because of the possibly serious side effects of excess ingestion of the metal. For other metals, use your discretion based on your health profile and deficiencies. If you need to up your intake of dietary iron, for instance, using a cast iron pan may not be a bad idea. Copper cookware can help bridge the shortfall in this nutrient that many Americans face but, again, be cautious so you don’t overdo it.

Stainless steel cookware made from nickel, molybdenum, and chromium is considered safe when in proper condition. Take care to replace any metal cookware that is dented or pitted as the metals leach more readily into the food from these cracks or pits. Even with ceramic cookware which doesn’t leach into food, be sure to replace if it ever develops a crack – this compromises the integrity of the material and could put your health at risk.

References   [ + ]

1. Hogue, Cheryl. “PFOA called likely human carcinogen.” Chem. Eng. News 83, no. 27 (2005): 5.
2, 8. Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, American Cancer Society.
3. Emerit, J., C. Beaumont, and F. Trivin. “Iron metabolism, free radicals, and oxidative injury.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 55, no. 6 (2001): 333-339.
4. Kell, Douglas B. “Towards a unifying, systems biology understanding of large-scale cellular death and destruction caused by poorly liganded iron: Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, prions, bactericides, chemical toxicology and others as examples.” Archives of toxicology 84, no. 11 (2010): 825-889.
5. Fang, Xuexian, Peng An, Hao Wang, Xinhui Wang, Xiaoyun Shen, Xiuyang Li, Junxia Min, Simin Liu, and Fudi Wang. “Dietary intake of heme iron and risk of cardiovascular disease: A dose–response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 25, no. 1 (2015): 24-35.
6. Qiao, Lei, and Yong Feng. “Intakes of heme iron and zinc and colorectal cancer incidence: a meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Cancer Causes & Control 24, no. 6 (2013): 1175-1183.
7. Bamji, M. S., and M. Kaladhar. “Risk of increased aluminium burden in the Indian population: contribution from aluminium cookware.” Food Chemistry 70, no. 1 (2000): 57-61.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.