Is your cookware killing you?

Ben Dearman, KDR Fitness

Those of you who know my current story know that I am going through chemotherapy right now for Hodgkins Lymphoma.  I have roughly 4 weeks left in my treatments.  So excited.

People that have dealt with Cancer say that someone going through Cancer experiences three perspectives:

Who you were pre.

Who you are going through treatment.

Who you become after.

As a health professional (and as someone who is considered at the top of the health and fitness game) my situation caught me off guard to say the least.  As I consider who I will be a few months from now I have started too look more closely at my lifestyle to see where I could make some better and healthier choices.

One of those areas is our cookware.

What’s the healthiest option for cookware you ask?  Well….there are two options with some caveats.

Best option – cast iron.

2nd best option – ceramic.

Why not the other options?

I did a lot of research in writing this article and found a great web page that summarizes everything up nicely – click here to check it out.

But, if you’re short on time and just want the facts then keep reading.

What did my research find?  All cookware is inherently unhealthy.  Listen people, when you combine high acid foods (like tomatoes) with high heat over hours and hours of use – nothing good is going to come out of it.  Unfortunately all cookware has been linked to pretty serious health concerns with Alzheimers and Cancer topping the list.

The bottom line is the cookware you use will cause chemicals to be leached into your foods.  Accept it and move on.

Being healthy is about managing risk – remember that.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is AWESOME to cook with and is generally a favorite among professional chefs that have the luxury of either:

A.  Not cooking for a lot of people.  Cleaning cast iron is a pain in the ass, so cooking multiple things that require new pans is kind of out.

B.  Money to burn, cast iron is expensive and when you’re talking about a professional chef and pots/pans you are generally talking about A LOT of the same size pots and pans.

Cast iron is expensive and when you consider that most kitchens will need a large saute pan, a small saute pan as well as a small and large pot…the cost to outfit your kitchen with cast iron cookware can be high.

Cast iron will, however, last a lifetime!  Depending on use, cookware can start to show wear and tear in as little as a few months. Using metal on metal, leaving food in the pan over night, cheap cookware, high heat and high acidity can all shorten the life of your cookware.

The other problem with cast iron is that you can’t use it on glass stove tops or electric coils.  It’s pretty much a fire kind of thing, either in a fire pit or on a gas range.

With all of those minuses, cast iron has been at the top of the “Healthy cookware” list for decades.

Caveats to cast iron – expensive, cleaning the pan is a chore, can only be used on certain heating platforms.


If you’re like us and don’t have a gas grill, ceramic is the way to go.  It has been linked with the fewest health hazards of any cooking material other then cast iron.  However, you want to buy your ceramic pans from an American Company.


Health concerns about using ceramic stem from components used in making, glazing or decorating the cookware, such as lead or cadmium. In the U.S. both of these highly toxic substances have been phased out, or at least limited in cookware manufacturing.


Ceramic is absolutely not as sturdy as cast iron and we have seen some ceramic pots and pans break down pretty quickly. Generally we replace our ceramic pots and pans once a year…we are hard on our cookware.

Caveats to ceramic – not as healthy as cast iron, much more forgiving in terms of what heat sources you can use, probably won’t last as long as cast iron, cheaper to purchase.

What do I really need in my kitchen?

Did you know I went to cooking school?  It’s true – Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY.  I grew up in the restaurant biz and thought I wanted to be a chef.

It was a short lived thought…

But it did teach me a lot about cooking!

Here’s what you absolutely positively need for cookware:

One big ass pan for sautéing foods (most healthy cooking is saute based.).  This depends on how big your cooking surface is. Generally a 10″ is a pretty good choice for this.  Think a big saute pan.

FYI – the difference between a saute pan and a sauce pan is not worth arguing over.  One has sloped sides, the other doesn’t.  Get the slope sides one.

One big ass pot.  Again, depends on how much cooking surface you have.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.5 quart pot with a lid that ideally is also oven proof (meaning it can be used at temps above at least 400 degrees).

Some glass baking dishes.  I am not a fan for using glass on the range top.  I think it’s too fragile, doesn’t handle heat well and generally is a pain to cook with.

A veggie steamer that can fit into your pot.

A few cheap wooden spoons and plastic spatulas.  Never metal on metal!  Unless you’re grilling outside or over an open flame.

Nice things to have if you are cooking for more then yourself or want some more variety:

A smaller saute pan – about the size/diameter of one of your hands, i.e. 7″ and smaller.

A smaller, oven friendly (I think all cookware should be able to go into the oven) pot, more in the neighborhood of a 1.25 quart or even 16 ounce.  This is basically for heating up liquids for tea, soups, etc.

That about sums it up!  Here are some basic cooking tips I wanted to pass along:

  1.  Don’t let food sit in your cookware over night, especially salty/acidic food.  It will ruin the pan quicker.
  2. Never metal on metal!  Plastic or wood in all of your cook ware.
  3. A damp paper towel should be all you need to clean your cookware, most times dish soap is not needed.
  4. Keep them out of your dish washer.  Stop being so lazy, if you don’t let food sit it should be easy to clean your cookware.  Non-stick remember?
  5. Low heat is better then high heat when cooking.  High heat does produce more contaminants.  Also, I always tell Logan – the hotter the heat source, the quicker it cooks and the more time you have to spend standing over it to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  6. Cast iron cookware first.
  7. Ceramic cookware second.
  8. Don’t buy sets unless you can find a great deal!  As s previous chef, I could fill up a whole residential kitchen with just the pots and pans I used to use.  Bundled cookware (a 14 piece set for instance) tends to have a bunch of stuff you won’t use and will just take up room in your kitchen.
  9. Spend your money on knives and pots and pans.  A good 10″ chef’s knife as well as a good pairing knife are really all you need.  Over a $100 for one knife is not unrealistic.
  10. The sharper the knife – the less you will cry.  Both when you cut your self as well as when you’re cutting onions, shallots, etc.
  11. Don’t buy oven mitts. Use towels.
  12. But never a wet towel.  Water conducts heat.
  13. Lids are lids, don’t sweat the lids.
  14. Don’t stand in front of the oven door when you open it – unless you like to be blasted by 400 degree heat.
  15. Make sure your pot handles are never pointed toward the oven handle.  Pot handles should always be pointed to the sides of the oven.
  16. Higher the heat, the faster your food will burn.
  17. Have all of your prep done BEFORE you start cooking.  There is nothing worse then having to cut something up to add to a recipe that is already cooking.
  18. Salt and pepper along every step of the way.  Every time you add a new food to the pot/pan, taste and S+P.
  19. 200 degrees is a perfect holding temp.  If you are cooking multiple things/want to make sure you can eat everything HOT, turn your oven onto 200ish and store all the food in there.
  20. Don’t cook in aluminum foil…especially high heat and acidic (sense a trend here?).  Apparently that’s not good for you.

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