Throw out the plastic, aluminium and non-stick cookware from your kitchen. Here is why…
We started this series last fortnight examining the perils of using plastic in our kitchen. Aluminium is ubiquitous in many Indian kitchens. This is no surprise considering that it is the most abundant metal on Earth, and readily combines with many minerals to form alloys.
Despite this, aluminium has no known function in human biology. Being a metal that reacts readily with acidic mediums, aluminium becomes a metal of concern when used in cooking, especially in acid-rich South Indian cooking that uses tamarind and kokum. The consumption of acidic foods or liquids with aluminium significantly increases aluminium absorption in the body.
As aluminium competes with calcium for absorption, increased amounts of aluminium absorbed through the diet may lead to osteopenia in children. Aluminium is also being increasingly studied for its possible contribution to Alzheimer’s. There are also some studies which cite the injurious effect of small particles of aluminium in foods cooked with these utensils on the sensitive lining of the stomach.
This aluminium absorption comes not just from the cookware we use, but also through deodorant sprays, and even the antacids we consume. Given then, aluminium cookware should be avoided.Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in the kitchen
PTFE is a synthetic polymer that is extremely popular today, with the prevalence of non-stick cookware. PTFE is the coating that makes your cookware, “non stick”. PTFE was developed and patented in 1941, and was initially used to coat valves and seals in pipes that held dangerous reactive material like uranium hexafluoride. PTFE’s use soon crept into the kitchen, and the first non stick pan was introduced in 1954.
PTFE presents several well documented hazards in the kitchen. Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group estimate that a PTFE coated pan can exceed the safe use temperature in between 2 – 5 minutes on a conventional stove top. In three minutes, a PTFE coated pan can reach temperatures of 385 degrees centigrade. Studies from the leading manufacturer of PTFE show that PTFE releases toxic particulate gases at 240 deg centigrade. At 360, these pans release at least six toxic gases including two carcinogens, two global pollutants and Monoflouro acetic acid or MFA, a compound toxic to human beings even at very low doses.
Atleast six studies point to an increased rate of heart risk and strokes on exposure to PTFE. Another series of studies also show that exposure to any does of PTFE tends to suppress the immune system, besides being linked to multiple cancers.
From an environmental point of view also, the by products of thermal degradation of PTFE are extremely persistent in the environment. Besides thermal degradation, PTFE coated non-stick pans are also extremely sensitive to manual degradation just like plastic is. Great care needs to be taken when using PTFE coated pans to maintain a very low temperature and to ensure that the pan is cleaned gently without using harsh products or tough scrubbers. Given the extreme health hazards associated with non-stick cookware due to PTFE and the great amount of caution required during use, it is far better to completely eliminate non-stick utensils from the kitchen.
Readers may by now have a developed a sense of indignation as I have dismissed the use of three extremely common materials in the kitchen: plastic, aluminium and non-stick. In my next column, I will discuss easily available, traditional and low-cost alternatives to cookware that are eco-friendly and healthy.