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Last updated on February 8th, 2019
Years ago when we learned how toxic non-stick cookware is, we immediately switched to a safer alternative – stainless steel cookware. We love our stainless steel cookware except that it does not work as well for things like frying eggs or making pancakes or making hash browns. At the time that we switched, I spent a fair amount of time to find a safe frying pan that would work well. I ended up using what was commonly used in Europe (and still is): cast iron frying pans. We have owned these cast iron pans by Lodge for many years now and we enjoy using them. I’d like to share with you what I learned about cast iron pots and pans.
What is wrong with non-stick cookware?
Non-stick cookware is coated with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The problem with PFOA coating is that while you cook, toxic fumes are released into your home and may cause people to feel flu-like symptoms. Babies, kids, and pets are the most vulnerable to the fumes. PFOA is a major environmental pollutant. Even if you have stopped using non-stick pans a while ago, most likely you have PFOA in your blood, which may lead to cancer, reduced infertility, and thyroid disorders, to name a few. We get exposed to PFOA as a result of their manufacture and the disposal of products that contain them. (To read more about them, visit here.)
Are cast iron pots and pans safe for cooking?
Cast iron is known to leach iron into food during the cooking process. Studies show that the amount of iron varies from 1.7 mg per 100 g to 26 mg per 100 g. Acidic foods, high moisture content, and the long duration of cooking increase the release of iron significantly.
Is iron toxic for us?
Iron is a necessary substance for our health. Cast iron pots and pans may be very helpful to help with iron deficiency when the diet is poor or when the iron is not absorbed well. For more information on how to increase your iron, visit here.
My mom grew up in Europe during World Word II and endured post-war hunger. Cast iron cookware was probably helpful to her survival. But despite using cast iron pans, she still had the iron deficiency, so it should not be considered one’s only source of iron.
Too much iron is toxic and may lead to an iron overload called Hemochromatosis that may even cause death if not treated. The symptoms of iron overload are similar to iron deficiency and include joint pain, fatigue, general weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain.
How much iron do we need?
The amount of iron we need daily depends on age, gender, and whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeds. The range is between 7 mg to 27 mg daily, with pregnant women needing the highest amount. For more details, visit here.
If you use cast iron pots and pans a lot for cooking, Dr. Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH (my favorite doctor!) recommends taking a serum ferritin test that is available for only $10-20 if your doctor won’t order it. She says that the official normal is 10-300 but the ideal range is probably about 40-70. I have recently taken the test and my result is 61, which tells me that the way I use cast iron is safe for me. However, I am concerned that if I use cast iron cookware for acidic foods with extended cooking time, I might push my iron over 70. For cooking acidic foods, I use an Xtrema ceramic pan that I recently purchased and reviewed.
Are cast iron skillets non-stick?
Cast iron pots and pans are not marketed as non-stick but they definitely have non-stick properties. In this short video, you can see that you can fry an egg in a cast iron pan without any problems. Make sure that the pan is heated well before you drop an egg on it. A few drops of water are a good way to determine if the pan is ready – they should dance across the surface as they boil off.
About the cast iron cookware I use
I use cast iron pans by Lodge. Lodge has a long history dating back to 1896. They are one of the rare companies that did not move their manufacturing to China. All their cast iron cookware is made in the USA. The cast iron pans come pre-seasoned with vegetable oil. The only disappointment I have with Lodge is that the vegetable oil they use is soybean, which means it is most likely genetically modified. The exposure to GMO is minuscule in this case. But it makes me sad that Lodge indirectly promotes the production of GMOs.
How I season my non-toxic cast iron pans
I learned that the best practice is to season cast iron pots and pans after every use. I wash it first (with only water or mild soap depending on what I cooked, I do not soak it because it will rust. I then heat it for a few minutes and then spread a small amount of vegetable oil on it. When the pan is heated, it absorbs oil better. I was also told by Lodge that well-seasoned cast iron pans leach less iron into food. I have not found any scientific studies to back this up though.
Where I bought Lodge cast iron pans
Amazon. These are the models we own. You can find many others.
Conclusion about cast iron pots and pans
I believe cast iron pots and pans are a great addition to your safe kitchen. However, the fact that cast iron leaches iron should be taken into consideration. Be aware of it as you cook. I recommend you determine your iron needs and use cast iron pans accordingly. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.
Have you heard about ceramic non-stick cookware but have no idea if it is safe? Head over here to learn more.
Check out easy ways to make your kitchen non-toxic!
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