A HEALTHY DOSE
As I cleaned one of our cast-iron pans a few months back after making scrambled eggs for the millionth time, I mentioned to my husband that maybe we should consider a non-stick pan for our almost daily egg cookery. It would save a little time and elbow grease when it came to doing the dishes. We didn’t talk about it much, because who has time for long-winded discussions about cookware when you are scrambling to get your child to daycare and get yourself to work, let alone some eggs? I imagine I’m not alone in this situation.
Recently, I saw a ceramic-coated non-stick pan that was labeled as “non-toxic” and “safe” and decided to buy it, without further research. When I got home, my husband started reading up on my purchase, and so began my journey to understand the safety concerns of cookware and how to best avoid carcinogenic substances in my pots and pans.
As I started reading about PFOA and other mind-boggling acronyms, my brain started to shut down. But, I persisted, in order to write this article. It is my mission to share information about how we can each lead the healthiest life possible in order to avoid illnesses like cancer. Since most of us cook at home, I felt that cookware was an important topic to discuss.
So, what is the problem with non-stick cookware? We all know it makes cleaning a breeze, as foods just slide right off. Unfortunately, the substances used to coat the pan, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are toxic and highly persistent, both in our bodies and in the environment. PFAS are fluorinated chemicals, as the name suggests, and provide that slippery texture.
When heated, these pans become a source of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical linked to a range of health problems, including infertility in women, thyroid disease, and organ damage, developmental issues, and reproductive problems in lab animals.
Now, how much research is there behind these findings? Is it science? Or is it only for crunchy tree-huggers? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that these substances are “likely carcinogens,” meaning they tend to produce cancer. The Madrid Statement, signed by more than 200 scientists from 40 countries, declares that there is a scientific consensus on the potential harms of PFAS. Even more alarming but not at all surprising, DuPont, the maker of Teflon, was fined $16.5 million for withholding decades’ worth of information about health concerns associated with PFAS.
Though some of these substances are being replaced with different PFAS, there is still cause for concern: a recent Danish study looking into the health hazards of PFAS, including the newer short-chain versions, found that women with higher blood levels of PFAS had a 16-fold increased risk for miscarriage.
Since more than 70 percent of the pans used now are nonstick, it puts us all in a sticky situation. Do we use these toxic pans in order to save a few minutes and a little scrubbing, or do we look for alternatives? Though we have given up most non-stick pots and pans in our household, I realized we still have non-stick cookie sheets. Even though the new pans that I bought have a ceramic coating and do not have PFAS, there is still some controversy because the base is made of aluminum, which has its own issues. We decided to give them to a family member whose non-stick pans are old and scratched up because it would at least be a step in the right direction.
Throwing away your nonstick pans is not necessarily the perfect solution, as they will likely end up burned or in a landfill, still releasing toxins. What you can do is use them carefully, by not letting your pans overheat and being careful not to scratch them.
If you are in the market for new cookware, purchase safer options like cast-iron, ceramic, glass, or stoneware. Though some of these items can be expensive, others are fairly affordable, like a set of Pyrex glassware. Two of our cast-iron pans came from a friend whose mother passed away. They were not only free, but full of history. And when cast-iron is well seasoned, it is a breeze to clean.
As I continue with this column, I hope to illuminate some of the ways our modern lifestyle is making us sick, without eliciting panic or hopelessness. Little by little, we can make changes in our daily life that will help us to feel true health and vitality, and avoid the diseases that have become commonplace in our society.
Lindsay Courcelle, CMT is a Myofascial Release therapist, part-time vegetable farmer, and natural-health advocate. Email her at alchemyMFR@gmail.com.