The Perils of Non-stick Cookware

Certain kinds of kitchenware can discharge toxic fumes and chemicals into your food. Over time these foreign substances can build up in your body and damage your health.

While non-stick pans are easy to use and clean, research has shown that they can harm our health.

Teflon is a brand name for the special coating on nonstick pans. A chemical – called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA – is used to make compounds called fluoropolymers, which are, in turn, used to make Teflon.

There is a growing body of evidence showing that perfluorochemicals used in Teflon are highly toxic. Recent research has shown that prenatal exposure to PFCs1 compromises early childhood immunity and that general exposure increases the risk of arthritis.2

At high temperatures Teflon is known to give off a cocktail of 15 types of toxic particles and gases, including trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) and phosgene. These chemicals are known to be poisonous to birds.3 And in humans they cause headaches, chills, backache and fever – a condition known as ‘Teflon flu’.

Another type of cookware to avoid is aluminium. Most cookware today is made of anodised aluminium. But if you’re using hand-me-downs or buying used, it might be made from non-anodised aluminium, which can leach aluminium salts, causing a variety of unpleasant symptoms.

You should also be careful of pans made from copper. Large amounts of copper from unlined cookware can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.4 Some copper and brass pans are coated with another metal to prevent food from coming into contact with copper. Over time, these coatings can break down and allow copper to dissolve in food. Older copper cookware may have tin or nickel coatings and should not be used for cooking.

Here are some safe cookware alternatives:

1. Ceramic cookware and bake ware

Pros: Ceramic cookware doesn’t leach anything, is easy to clean, and is dishwasher, oven, microwave and stove safe.

Cons: It can chip easily, so you need to be careful when storing or stacking ceramic cookware. You also need to be wary of old or imported products as they may contain unacceptable levels of lead or cadmium. It’s safer to choose larger domestic producers.

2. Cast iron cookware

Pros: Can be used in the oven, stovetop or campfire. Can be non-stick if seasoned properly.

Cons: Can rust, so needs to be seasoned properly. Is heavy to lift.

3. Enameled cast iron

Pros: The enamel surface is easy to cook with and clean. It is also dishwasher safe.

Cons: Can be expensive.

4. Stoneware

Pros: Stoneware is a great alternative to aluminium baking sheets or roasting pans. It gives amazing flavor to food and cooks evenly.

Cons: It can be tricky to clean.

5. Glassware

Pros: Glassware is inexpensive and is low on the leach-poisons-into-my-food scale.

Cons: It’s not as versatile as other types of cookware and is mainly used for baking. Lead crystal glassware, as the name suggests, contains lead.

6. Stainless steel

Pros: Good affordable option.

Cons: Be careful how you clean it, as frequent use of abrasive materials can scratch the surface and lead to the release of small amounts of chromium and nickel. People with nickel allergies should avoid cooking with stainless steel cookware.


  1. Granum B, Haug L (2013) Pre-natal exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances may be associated with altered vaccine antibody levels and immune-related health outcomes in early childhood. Journal of Immunotoxicology 2013 10:4 , 373-379
  2. Uhl SA, James-Todd T, Bell ML. (2013) Association of Osteoarthritis with Perfluorooctanoate and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate in NHANES 2003–2008. Environmental Health Perspectives; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1205673
  3. Forbes NA and Jones D (1997). PTFE toxicity in birds. Vet Rec 140(19): 512.
  4. Evert, A (2013) Cooking utensils and nutrition. Accessed online July 2015 at