The term organic has permeated most households. Whether people strive to eat all organic, avoid the “dirty dozen” or don’t believe in organic at all, the label organic doesn’t necessarily ensure your food is healthy. If you take the time and energy to eat well, do you also consider how you cook and store your food? If you don’t invest in organic, do you realize that the cookware and food storage you use at home could be compromising your health?
Between Tupperware, zip-lock bags and plastic wrap, plastic has become the preferred form of food storage due to its convenience, durability and low cost. What’s clear about plastic is that it is a large source of burden on our bodies. Not only does the production of plastic contribute to environmental toxicity, as it is mainly sourced out of crude oil,1 but often when plastic is in contact with food it leaches chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors interfere with our hormones leading to anything from infertility to heart disease to early onset of puberty to breast cancer.2 Although BPA-free has become mainstream in baby and toddler products, the replacement forms of plastic have not been proven safe either.
The replacements are commonly referred to as regrettable substitutions because there is no reason to consider them safer, they just have not been pinpointed for research as of yet.3 Although plastic is an versatile product that can make daily life a lot easier, here are some ideas about how to use it safely.
First, avoid heating food in plastic as much as possible. This includes storing hot food in plastic. Heating plastic can lead to “chemical shredding” releasing toxins into your food. If you must store hot food in plastic, look for the more stable forms of plastic labeled numbers 2 and 5. Plastic number 1 is safe for single use and should never be heated. Plastic number 4 is generally thin and flexible, for plastic bags. It should not be used for food storage. Avoid 3, 6 and 7 as much as possible as they are known to leach endocrine disrupting and neurotoxic chemicals.4 Also, consider alternatives such as reusable glass or stainless steel containers, reusable fabric “baggies” or wrapping products in wax-paper as healthier options.
When it comes to the stove-top, there is nothing better than sliding an egg off of a non-stick skillet, or is there? Non-stick skillets are made with a chemical known as Teflon.
Teflon is made with Perfluorooctonoic acid or PFOA. PFOA has become so pervasive that, according to one John Hopkin’s study, it has been found in 100% of umbilical cord blood of 300 US newborns.5 Avoiding non-stick cook-ware, leaves us with aluminum, cast-iron, stainless steel, and ceramic.
Aluminum is commonly used in everything from foil to soda cans to vaccinations. The problem with aluminum is that it is a known neurotoxin with research linking it to Alzheimer’s disease.6 Aluminum may not be the worst option in the kitchen, but it is not the best. If you choose to use it, avoid cooking acidic food as it increases leaching of aluminum into your meal. Additionally, only use soft utensils, such as a wooden spoon, in order to avoid traumatizing the surface of the pan.
Cast iron is actually a great option for cooking on the stove or in the oven. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet becomes non-stick with time and is a source of Iron in the diet. Overall, a high quality cast-iron skillet may not heat the most evenly, but it is a rather safe way to cook a meal. Like aluminum and cast-iron, stainless steel may also leach.
Stainless steel is slightly more stable than aluminum, but has been found to be a source of iron, nickel and chromium. Chromium and iron are both required nutrients in our diet, but nickel has been implicated in many health conditions. Therefore, people who develop contact dermatitis from the nickel in their jewelry or buttons, might prefer to choose another cookware option to optimize their health. 7
Ceramic is among the best choices for cookware.. Ceramic cookware has been around through the ages. It is non-stick, easy to clean, cooks evenly and is generally non-toxic, making it a great choice for the kitchen. The source of ceramic cookware should be known due to the fact that foreign ceramic glazes commonly contain lead.8 Overall, no cookware is perfect. But some things that you can do to optimize your cooking choices involve, choosing safe ceramic or cast-iron cookware. When you do use the less safe forms, such as Teflon and aluminum, avoid scratching the surface, cook at reduced heat and minimize exposure to acidic foods.
The best thing that you can do to reduce burden on your family is remember to keep a toxin-clean kitchen. When you return from the grocery store to prepare your whole foods, remember to take in to consideration how you store and cook your food in order to optimize the whole families health.