Another reason to avoid non-stick pans – and what I use instead

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I know there are lots of you out there who are thinking, “I could never live without my non-stick pans”, but, believe me, you can – and there are plenty of reasons why you should.

Non-stick cookware is coated in polymers called long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (or PFCs). You’re probably more familiar with the brand-name Teflon. This is one incredibly slippery substance that has the unique ability to repel just about anything. As a result, it is used as everything from cookware to stain-repellent for your sofa fabric, and to make your raincoat waterproof.

While, on the surface, Teflon is simply marvellous, the trouble with it goes deeper than that. Studies have shown that just about every human on this fair planet has traces of PFCs in their bodies, even Eskimos who have never even heard of Jamie Oliver let alone used his pots and pans.

The Guardian reports, “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked in laboratory animals to an increase in tumours of the liver, pancreas and testicles and reduced fertility, is one of the chemicals used in the chain of reactions that makes the common non-stick surface Teflon.”

While the effects on humans have not been confirmed, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year told companies to phase out PFCs to be on the safe side – a bold step that will no doubt be put down to “consumer concern”, which is supposedly why many plastics companies made the switch to producing BPA-free products.

What we do know about Teflon is that your pet budgie will cark it if you let a non-stick frying pan get too hot while you chase your toddler out of the kitchen. Humans can be affected too – there’s  a thing called “Teflon flu” that gives you aches, pains and a stuffy head after exposure to the fumes.

Research has linked PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and also to obesity in children. A recent study found kids that had higher levels of PFOA in their food were more likely to be slightly heavier at age 8, reports Healthy Child, Healthy World.

The common advice is to only throw your non-stick pans away when they start to flake and you’re eating the coating. But, according to the Environmental Working Group, the danger is not in ingesting the coating (so eat up! Joking – please don’t) but the big unknown is what long-term exposure to this chemical fug does to our bodies. And as the EWG points out here, it only takes a minute or two for your pan to reach a dangerous heat on the hob.

As you know, I practise the precautionary principle, which boils down to this: if in doubt, cut it out. For this reason, I long ago ditched non-stick cookware.

So what do we use instead?

I am absolutely in love with cast iron. We have the best collection of frying pans, all of which we have picked up at op shops for around $30. We originally started collecting them for camping, but once I realised how easy they were to clean and how well they cooked food, I started using them in the house too.

Stainless steel is also great and is widely regarded as the safest cookware but can be a pain to clean if something does stick. Ceramic and glass baking dishes, along with my one prized Le Creuset, make up the rest of the collection. These all require soaking and elbow grease to remove baked-on grime but I am someone who believes that stains make food taste better…

Another option that I haven’t tried personally but would if I didn’t have such an ace collection of cast iron pans is the new breed of non-stick, such as this range, which is coated with silica. I do love the colours and retro look of these pots and pans.

Tell me, do you use non-stick? Would you consider switching to a safer alternative? And have you got any tips for getting my ceramic baking dishes more presentable?

 Image: Flickr

Comments

  1. becky says

    Great topic to write about. I have also looked for healthy and not suuuuuper costly options. I have tried the neoflam and the baccarat bio+. Both seem ok but are not really quite as non stick as the evil teflon (which is ok by us to use a bit of elbow grease). I’m wondering if you have any thoughts/ research on that baccarat range? It seems to be the most reasonably priced of the ceramic coated ones, but I’m less certain about trusting the claims somehow….
    thank you

    • (dt)em says

      Hi Becky, I haven’t used Baccarat but as they have a ceramic interior, I’d say they are safe to use. They do take a bit more care (no metal spoons etc) but at least they are black and you can’t see any stains :)

  2. Veggie mama says

    I haven’t used Non-stick in probably 12 or 14 years. We do pretty well with cast iron (my fave) and stainless steel. Aldi has amazing cast iron when you can get it! Also for your baking dishes, use a magic sponge xx
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    • (dt)em says

      I didn’t know Aldi sold cast iron pans, thanks for letting me know. I’ll defo try the magic sponge, I’ve never used one, is it really magic? x

  3. Linda Vergnani says

    I’ve long discarded those dangerous Teflon pans. I now use mainly stainless steel but also one of the green substitute brands. To clean enamel pans, scrub with a paste of bicarbonate of soda (sprinkle over wet pan and use sponge) then add vinegar for a fizzy clean.

  4. Cat says

    Hi Jo,

    Great post! I too have phased out non-stick cookware as much as my omelettes hate me for it. Oh well, just add more butter I suppose! The potential long-term side effects are not worth it, especially considering all the other harmful exposures we encounter in daily life. Thanks for the post!

    Best,
    Cat

    • Selendyne says

      I have never used non stick cookware and I never will, only stainless steel since I bought my first cookware and that was over 35 years ago. Never trusted any other kind.

  5. Luz says

    Hello Jo.
    Trying to decide what cookware to buy for over a week now.
    Going a little batty 😖
    So far I’ve figured out that different cooking techniques require different types of cookware and therefore a set is probably not needed?
    What do you recommend for
    – scrambled eggs
    – crepes
    – salmon with skin
    – browning meat
    If you could recommend a brand for each that would be awesome.
    Thank you

    • (dt)em says

      Hi Luz, here’s what I use:

      – scrambled eggs: my seasoned lightweight steel wok
      – crepes: enamel pan or well seasoned cast iron skillet
      – salmon with skin: I’d use the bbq for this, or a cast iron pan. When you put the skin down on the hot surface, immediately pick it up again two or three times and then let it settle
      – browning meat: stainless steel for mince or my la cruset cast iron/enamel dish for chicken or silverside (for example)
      Hope this helps!

  6. stainless steel pan says

    Nonstick pans are not good for the all time some time it has some negative effect too. but don’t worry about this you can use the stainless steel pan instead. It has some awesome features to get good benefits from it. just learn first then buy it’s a word I wanna suggest you.

  7. Janie Westberg says

    The main disadvantage of nonstick for me is that my relatives wreck it when they use it. The stuff is actually quite sensitive to heat and once it is overheated it gets more sticky than a properly seasoned pan of almost any other material would be. Most coatings are only guaranteed to about 350, a few are said to resist heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing an empty pan on a hot element and then fiddling about getting your ingredients ready to put in it is often enough to destroy the effectiveness of the coating, and most of the time you won’t even see a color change in the surface of the material, it just won’t be nonstick any more.

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