Teflon is a synthetic material that has been used since the 40s. It’s chemically known as Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and because it’s strong and repels water it’s been a popular choice to line cookware with. While this makes it great for easy cleaning there’s been health concerns for many decades and only in 2015 was it reformulated to address some of these.
Find out why scratched Teflon pans should be binned and why non-stick cookware is harmful to health.
Almost 70% of people in the UK and USA have pans made from Teflon.
Manufacturers come up with a plethora of different names for their non-stick coating but that’s mostly all marketing and it’s the same substance. Non-stick pans can either be Teflon or ceramic and 99% of non-stick pans are Teflon.
The chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was used in non-stick Teflon pans up until 2015 and has been linked to many diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, liver tumours and reduced fertility. This chemical was found to build in peoples bodies so daily use was eventually seen as an unacceptable risk.
Teflon has been linked to giving people short term flu-like symptoms and headaches, known as polymer fume fever. This is due to the gases released when heating the pans. Manufacturers have said this isn’t possible due to the 375C temperatures the pans undergo when made, but many still report feeling unwell especially with new pans. These fumes are very dangerous to birds as they breathe rapidly.
Many people are still using non stick pans even after they become damaged and begin to flake off. You really don’t want to be eating plastic in your food as that has been linked to many health problems.
It might not be an immediate health risk swallowing a tiny amount of non-stick coating every day, but when it’s best to minimise your possible risks why wouldn’t you?
Teflon has now been reformulated since the 2015 restrictions but there are still concerns about the chemicals used. Seeing as it took over 40 years and manufacturers are not always transparent about what is in their coating the “safer” replacement could be just as harmful if not worse.
I do like to back up my points with scientific studies, but often it takes many years for a complete and acceptable study to make useful conclusions. With something like Teflon cookware, there are lots of vested interests so it could be a few more decades before valuable health information is known.
Just because something is “safe for sale” does not mean it’s safe or part of a healthy lifestyle. Many things like transfats, artificial colours and flavours can wreak peoples health but are still legal in many countries.
As there are so many safe alternatives its best to avoid Teflon non-stick pans until more conclusive long term research on the new coating is known.
Safe Non Toxic Cookware
There are many better healthy, non toxic and environmentally friendly alternatives to Teflon.
Cheap cooking pans are usually a false economy and it’s better to invest in as good quality tools as your budget allows and they can last you for decades.
Ceramic Coated Pans Vs Teflon
Ceramic coated pans are one of the best replacements to Teflon as they can be treated in the same way and are free of toxins.
Ceramic cookware is environmentally friendly and the technology has come along way in recent years to make thick non stick ceramic coatings that are strong, long lasting and durable. Always choose a brand that clearly states it’s toxic free and environmentally friendly.
Using oil on a ceramic pan will lessen its life, but as its non-stick there is no need to use any oil. Check out my recipe for lentil protein pancakes where I use a ceramic pan to make oil-free vegan gluten-free pancakes.
Cast Iron Vs Teflon
Cast iron pans are heavy and require a bit more maintenance at the start of their life but a well cared for cast iron pan can last you a lifetime.
Once seasoned cast iron pans are somewhat naturally non stick, although not on the same scale as Teflon. They are suitable for all hobs including induction.
A huge benefit of cast iron is that they will leach iron into your food and 4 out of 5 westerners could do with more iron in their diet. Of course, if you already have enough iron they might not be the choice for you as too much is bad.
Your arms will get a workout from heavy cast iron pans, just be careful not to drop them as they are brittle and could injure your feet.
Stainless Steel Vs Teflon
It may not be non-stick, but there are no health risks with good old stainless steel. No risk of anything leaching into the food and stainless steel cookware is long lasting. If you are following a whole food plant based diet and don’t cook with oil cleaning is quick and easy.
If baking in the oven glass is a great cookware material that has no health risks as it’s just pure liquid sand (silicon dioxide). The main downside is it’s fragile and not non stick, but if you cook without oil it’s easy enough to clean after a quick soak.
Other Cookware To Avoid
Aluminium is a very controversial substance. It was thought to cause Alzheimer’s in the 70s but lots of studies have not been able to correlate this. It could be safe but as people have so many sources of aluminium in their diet it may be best to avoid exposure where possible while the jury is still out.
Unlined Copper Pans
Most copper pans are lined but if you have unlined copper pans you should ditch them as the copper causes headaches and diarrhoea.
Conclusion: Is Non-stick Cookware Harmful to Health
There aren’t long term studies to conclude if Teflon is safe or not. The new formulation has only been in existence for a few years and there is very limited research.
They may be legal to sell but many legal things are harmful. With something that you use daily and there being so many safe natural alternatives, I advise avoiding Teflon to minimise your risk. So many harmful things are difficult to avoid, such as car fumes and poor water quality, but choosing natural cookware is something very easy to implement.