Is Your Cookware Putting You at Risk for Alzheimer’s? An expert explains. : ScienceAlert

“Are non-stick pans toxic?” “Can aluminum cookware cause dementia?” “Are my scratched pans still safe?”

That’s just a sampling of some worrying headlines about the safety of our pots and pans lately.

These stories often appear in the media, and it’s easy to see why. We use our cookware every day. We want it to be safe. So are these concerns legitimate?

Good news for those who care: the main chemical used to make nonstick cookware has been eliminated. And aluminum is not linked to dementia.

If you’re shopping for new cookware, you’ll find that there are now many choices of materials, such as cast iron, stainless steel, copper, nonstick, and ceramic. In general, they are all safe.

Choosing which one is best depends on the type of cook you are, not the health risks of the material.

Nonstick cookware: forever chemical levels are safe

Non-stick pans are very popular because food is less likely to stick to their coating. This means you need less oil. They’re also easier to clean than, say, cast iron pans.

Most nonstick cookware is coated with Teflon, the brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE), although some are now made with a titanium-ceramic coating.

If you’ve researched the health risks of cookware, nonstick cookware often comes out on top of the list. This is due to concerns about the use of “eternal chemicals” such as PFTE.

Forever Chemicals is the common phrase for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a family of synthetic chemicals based on carbon-fluorine bonds.

These chemicals became notorious after the 2019 film Dark Waters, which tells the story of an American town contaminated with the forever chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

The concern many have about nonstick cookware is because prior to 2013, PFOA was used to make Teflon. But a decade has passed and that is no longer the case. Even when PFOA was used in cookware, it posed little risk, and neither did Teflon.

Forever chemicals have been around since the 1940s, used in Teflon as well as food packaging, waterproof fabrics and fire-fighting foams. There are very real concerns about firefighting foams, which have caused widespread environmental pollution, particularly at military bases and firefighting training facilities in Australia.

Affected people have launched legal action over the contamination, concerned about possible links to cancer, liver damage and low immunity in children.

So why are timeless chemicals like PFTE safe in our cookware?

Two reasons: stability and concentration.

Teflon is stable in cookware, even when heated to temperatures commonly used in cooking. It starts to deteriorate if heated above 260 °C (500 °F), when it can give off polymer fumes, but most people don’t fry dinner at 260 °C.

Furthermore, the concentration levels of these chemicals in your kitchen and in the environment are much lower than those that cause health effects. Heavily contaminated places are a far cry from your well-made pots and pans.

If your nonstick pan is scratched, it might be a good idea to replace it, but you won’t get a harmful dose of PFAS at dinner.

Aluminum pans: can they cause dementia?

There is no strong evidence to support the fear that aluminum exposure causes any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

So where did the idea come from?

In 1965, scientists discovered that feeding rabbits very high levels of aluminum produced changes in the rabbits’ brains similar to Alzheimer’s disease. This was later proven to be incorrect.

There have also been reports that the brains of some people with dementia have high levels of metals such as aluminum. But nobody found a link.

This is probably where this myth came from. Even though there’s no credible evidence for this, it has led some people to avoid aluminum cookware — and even drink cans.

It’s a shame, as aluminum pans heat up very quickly and are light and cheap. There have been issues with common aluminum reacting to acidic and alkaline foods or warping with heat. You can largely avoid them—and do away with any residual health concerns—by choosing anodized aluminum cookware.

Are copper cookware safe?

Copper is notoriously beautiful. There’s something about seeing polished copper pans gleaming on the shelf.

But it’s not all about aesthetics – copper is an excellent conductor of heat and tends to heat the pot or pan evenly. This is useful for delicate dishes that require good temperature control. That’s why you’ll often see copper pans used by professional chefs.

And your health? If you eat foods with high levels of copper, you may experience nausea, vomiting and even liver damage. But this will not happen with your pots or pans – you will get trace elements at best. (You also need small amounts of copper as an essential nutrient.)

And most copper cookware has a non-reactive coating, like stainless steel or pewter, preventing trace amounts of copper from getting into your food.

What about cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic cookware?

Cast iron, stainless steel, and ceramic cookware are all good choices, as they are generally durable, non-reactive, and easy to clean.

Disadvantages? Cast iron is heavy and may not heat evenly. Some ceramics can be damaged quite easily, although more modern varieties are very resistant.

In cheap stainless steel cookware, nickel and other metals can leak out of the pan and into your meal, but this is very unlikely unless the manufacturer is cutting corners and using poor quality stainless steel.

In general, all three are good choices if they’re from reputable manufacturers.

So why do we care about chemicals and metals in our cookware?

We are often bad at assessing risks. The more we hear about an alleged risk, the more dangerous we think it is – even when the actual risk is low. Fear of Chemicals Chemophobia is common, but many of these fears are unnecessary. The pain reliever you took for your hangover was chemical, just like the gas in your car.

In short, your cookware is safe. Enjoy your dinner. The conversation

Oliver AH Jones, Professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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