I recently participated in a food-related Twitter party. During our discussion about Thanksgiving turkey and whether or not stuffing is safe to eat, the host asked about cookware: what were people cooking their turkeys in? I immediately tweeted that I used to cook in a non-stick Teflon pan, but about two years ago I banned the substance completely — and not just for cooking my Thanksgiving meal. People started asking why — what was so bad about non-stick they wanted to know. Thinking I had a blog post of my own I could tweet, I did a search on this site and was surprised to see that I haven’t covered that topic yet. I was dismayed since, for those trying to lead a more healthy and natural life, banning non-stick is as simple and inexpensive as you can get. So without further ado, here’s my take — with a little research thrown in — on why tossing the Teflon (and other non-stick pots and pans) is a really smart move for the environment and for your health.
First, a little background. You and I call it Teflon, but what we’re really talking about is perfluorooctanoic acid (or PFOA), which is what manufacturers use to make all your brownie pans, frying pans, and turkey roasters non-stick. You can also find the chemical, which is sometimes referred to as C8, inside of packaged foods containers such as microwave popcorn bags and in many other consumer products. (The Environmental Protection Agency has a page dedicated to PFOA that’s got a lot more information. It’s certainly worth a read. You can find it here.)
Here are the problems that the EPA had with PFOA, taken directly from its site:
- PFOA is very persistent in the environment; it doesn’t break down and go away.
- It is found everywhere. You can see very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population
- It sticks around inside of us for very long time, too. Once you ingest it or breathe it in, it’s in there.
- It has been found to cause “developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.” (And in humans, too!)
If you’re like me, the last item in the list might be the one that’s giving you pause. What kind of adverse effects, you might want to know. Well, according to research studies PFOA can be linked to:
- Lower birth rate and size: Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that babies with higher concentrations of the chemical had smaller heads and lower body weights. Read the study here.
- Infertility: Women with higher levels of PFOA took longer to get pregnant, according to a study out of the UCLA School of Public Health.
- Elevated cholesterol: Kids with higher levels of PFOA have higher cholesterol levels, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
- Thyroid disease: A “study revealed that people with higher concentrations of PFOA in their blood have higher rates of thyroid disease. The researchers analyzed samples from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES),” according to researchers.
- ADHD: In this study, Boston University School of Public Health researchers found “increased odds of ADHD in children with higher serum PFC levels.” (PFOA is one of the PFCs they tracked.)
There have also been studies linking PFOA to cancer, although most of the research has been on the effects of PFOA released into the environment as a byproduct of manufacturing. No matter, the research is so compelling that, way back in 2006, the EPA asked manufacturers to phase out the chemical. Eight large non-stick manufacturers complied. The voluntary ban will be achieved by 2015, but that doesn’t do anything for all the folks who have non-stick cookware in their homes already unless they proactively get rid of everything non-stick they own.
That’s exactly what we did. Despite the fact that my husband loved his non-stick griddle, we tossed it along with four frying pans, a brownie pan, cake pans, cookie sheets, and a roasting pan. We actually threw it in the recycling bin rather than donating it to make sure it wasn’t going to be around to potentially make someone else sick. Today, we use either cast iron or stainless steel when we cook, bake, or fry, and I didn’t spend a fortune to make this happen.
My husband, for instance, got a $30 cast iron griddle to replace his beloved non-stick one. (No, he did not like it in the beginning, but has grown to love it.) I bought it from my local Target, and was thrilled to discover it was actually made in the United States, which is a rarity these days. Target also carries a number of other cast iron Lodge products including loaf pans, skittles, and fryers. (Note: I have nothing to do with Target or Lodge and am not being paid to say that. I just like the products.) I picked up some really inexpensive Pyrex brownie and cake pans at the Pyrex outlet. I got my stainless stuff as hand-me-downs, and was actually pleased to find that I had a plain stainless cookie sheet already sitting in my cabinet as well as a nice stainless frying pan.
From a cooking perspective, I love the fact that the glass and stainless stuff cleans up really easily. It’s also adding some extra flavor to my baking since I am forced to grease and flour my cake pans and butter up the brownie pan. The cast iron griddle, which is fully seasoned now, gives off a warm, homey smell when things are cooking on it. Plus, I love the extra boost of iron the entire family gets with our pancakes and eggs. (The American Dietetic Association confirms that cooking foods in or on cast iron increases the amount of iron in foods.)
Of course, most people aren’t going to be able to toss all their non-stick cookware into the garbage like I did, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. I challenge everyone to replace one pan — the one you use the most — by the end of the year since it can make a huge difference in your PFOA exposure. Ready to give it a shot?
This post is how I am participating in this week’s Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays, two awesome blog carnivals dedicated to promoting the use and consumption of — what else? — real food.