Updated April 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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Buying guide for Best healthy cookware

Whether your current cookware is wearing out or you’ve decided to upgrade your kitchen, a new set of healthy cookware can help keep harmful chemicals and materials out of your food.

The nonstick chemicals that make cooking and cleaning some metal cookware so easy can leach into food, potentially causing either short-term illness or major health problems down the road. In addition, wooden cutting surfaces can harbor bacteria and be difficult to clean thoroughly. But there is plenty of cookware made of safe materials that are easy to care for too.

Don’t let your healthy choices stop with the foods you choose to prepare. A set of healthy cookware made of stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, or other materials can protect you and your family from harmful chemicals.

healthy cookware
Using cast iron cookware protects you from harmful chemicals and adds iron to your food, making it one of the healthiest choices available.

How to buy the best healthy cookware

What we eat has a huge impact on overall health and well-being, and because chemicals from cookware can leach into food, choosing safe cookware is crucial.

Health risks of unsafe cookware

Some materials that have long been used in cookware can lead to illness even if the cookware is used properly.

PFAS

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the nonstick chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can “affect reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver.” Unfortunately, PFAS, which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), are used on many nonstick pans due to their ability to resist heat and oil.

PTFE

The popular nonstick coating Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene) is easy to cook with and clean, but it’s made of PFAS and may have similar health concerns. It can release toxic fumes in high temperatures. While PTFE may be generally safer than PFAS, it’s best to avoid this substance if possible.

Copper

Though popular for cooking because it heats evenly, copper is a heavy metal that can cause illness if it leaches into food. Copper cookware should be lined with a safe material.

Wood

This material absorbs liquids and odors and is easily damaged. Cracks and scratches in wooden cutting boards can harbor bacteria even if you clean them thoroughly. Wooden cooking utensils are less likely to become damaged and can help to protect your healthy cookware from scratches.

While you should avoid scratching or overheating nonstick cookware to prevent the release of toxins, you don’t need to take as many precautions with healthy cookware.

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Features to look for in healthy cookware

Just like shopping for any cookware set, you want to consider the design, number, and variety of pieces you need. In addition, consider the materials that would work best on your range and how durable the set needs to be.

Materials

Each type of healthy cookware material has advantages. If you can, purchase pots and pans of a few different materials so you can use the right cookware for the right foods.

Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for cookware for a reason. It’s sleek and timeless, and most foods don’t stick to it. In addition, it’s difficult to damage and easy to clean. Stainless steel heats evenly, and most types work on an induction range.

Cast iron is a classic choice. Not only is cast iron free of chemicals, but it also adds a healthy amount of iron to your food. While caring for cast iron involves seasoning and scrubbing, it will last for generations. However, cast iron heats unevenly and cools slowly.

Enameled cast iron has most of the advantages of cast iron but without the need to season it. In addition, it comes in a variety of colors besides black. While the enamel provides a safe nonstick surface, it can lose its effectiveness over time. Enameled cast iron also can be expensive.

Aluminum does a good job of distributing heat, and these cookware sets are inexpensive. Anodized aluminum helps keep the metal from leaching into acidic foods. However, some aluminum cookware is coated with a nonstick layer that could leach PFAS into food. Aluminum also scratches easily.

Ceramic is a popular coating on metal cookware. While this is a safe nonstick option, it can be scratched by metal utensils. Ceramic-glazed cookware should be avoided because it can contain lead that can leach into food.

Cutting boards and utensils

In addition to healthy pots and pans, you might want to replace a few other items in your kitchen to keep your food free of chemicals and bacteria.

Cutting boards: Even when wooden cutting boards are cleaned properly, there is always the risk of bacteria lingering in the wood. Plastic and glass are your best options for cutting boards.

Utensils: Many of the materials in healthy cookware also work well in utensils. However, you don’t want to scratch your pots and pans, so consider buying a silicone or wooden kitchen utensil set.

healthy cookware
DID YOU KNOW?
Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminate our food and water supplies, but keeping these chemicals out of your cookware can reduce your overall intake.
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How much does healthy cookware cost?

Inexpensive

There are many sturdy stainless steel cookware sets available for $100 to $200. These include a variety of items, but they might not contain all the pieces you need. Some ceramic and cast iron sets are also available at this price.

Mid-range

Healthy cookware sets that cost from $200 to $400 are made of a variety of materials and include all the pieces a typical kitchen needs. Some of these sets also include utensils.

Expensive

Spend $400 or more and you can find cookware sets that include a wide variety of pieces that will last a lifetime. You can expect to see well-known brands at this price, but know that you might pay more for the brand name.

It is generally safe to use dish soap on your cast iron cookware, but it isn’t always necessary. Sometimes just wiping out the pan will suffice.

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Tips

  • Hand-wash your cookware. It might be tempting to put your pots and pans in the dishwasher, but hand-washing them in hot water is the best way to make sure your healthy cookware is clean and will last a long time.
  • Soak cooked-on food. Fill the pot or pan with water and dish soap and leave it for a few hours or overnight to loosen cooked-on food and grease. Scrubbing burned-on food with baking soda and a little water can safely remove it without damaging your healthy cookware. Note that cast iron should never be soaked.
  • Use the right cleaner on stainless steel. Whether you have a particularly tough cleaning job or you want to restore the appearance of your cookware, a stainless steel cleaner is safe and effective.
  • Switch to glass or ceramic storage containers. While you’re upgrading your cookware to be more healthy, consider ditching the plastic storage containers in favor of glass or ceramic ones.
healthy cookware
Using the right utensils with your cookware can keep your food healthy by preventing scratches that could trap bacteria.

FAQ

Q. What foods can damage cookware?

A. Acidic foods can damage aluminum pans and might remove the seasoning from cast iron pans.

Q. When should I get rid of worn cookware?

A. A crack can be difficult to clean and become a home to bacteria. Similarly, rust flakes can be harmful if ingested. If you can clean off the rust, your pots and pans will be safe to use. Otherwise, it’s best to dispose of rusty or cracked cookware.

Q. Should I throw out my nonstick cookware?

A. If the pots and pans are significantly scratched, it would be a good idea to get rid of them, but don’t throw them in the trash. Teflon is harmful to the environment. A local recycling center might be able to process your Teflon-coated cookware.

Q. Is healthy cookware harder to clean?

A. It can be. Nonstick cookware performs as its name indicates, but you might need to scrub healthy cookware a bit harder to remove oil and grease. Just be aware that abrasive sponges can damage materials like stainless steel.

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