Suitability of Utensils for Cooking and storage of Food & Drinking items

Now a days, due to our hectic worklife, fast-paced lifestyles and paucity of time, it is our constant endeavour to save as much time and effort as possible for all cooking and storage purposes through the use of modern cheaper utensils which expedite the process, are easy to clean and maintain, travel with, and resistant to breakage. However, many of these cooking utensils and storage vessels can have adverse and serious health side-effects in the long term.

We are usually very particular about what we cook and the kind of ingredients that go into it, however, we often tend to ignore what metals and chemicals are used in the process of making the utensils we cook or store food in.

It is very important to know that the below mentioned cooking utensils and storage vessels should be avoided, whose toxic ingredients can seep or melt into the food and drinking items and adversely effect the hormonal balance of the body, as well as cause life threatening diseases, thereby, posing a serious risk to your family’s health in the near and long term:

1. Non-Stick Cookware:

Non-stick pots and pans have become quote popular because of their affordability, light-weight nature and their ease of cooking in. People also opt for non-stick cookware as they require less oil or fat to cook with. However, non-stick cookware is coated with poly tetra fluoro ethylene, or Teflon – a chemical made up of carbon and fluorine atoms, which, when heated at high temperatures (260 degrees) can enter into the food, causing harm to the body. In case you do use non-stick cookware, avoid cooking on high heat, or pre-heating the pan, as this causes the pan to heat up faster. Also use only wooden or silicone spatula as metal spoons can scrape the surface of the cookware, causing the Teflon coating to come off. But its just safer to avoid any usage of non-stick cookware altogether, as their associated potential health risks far outweigh any advantages.

2. Aluminium:

Aluminium is used extensively because of its easy availability and cheaper cost. However, aluminium vessels, especially if old and scratched, can cause the metal to leach into food. Studies suggest that moderate volumes are enough to cause toxicity or health problems, and it is best to avoid it. The longer the food is kept or cooked in the aluminium utensil, the more Aluminium enters into the food. This is also the case while cooking acidic food such as tomatoes and vinegar. Also, avoid usage of aluminium foils to keep food warm.

3. Plastic:

As per a recent study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International, an average person eats about 5 grams of plastic every week (the equivalent of eating a credit card). The scientists reported that drinking a lot of bottled water drastically increased the particles consumed. The bottled water contains 22 times more microplastic than tap water on average. A person who only drank bottled water would consume 130,000 particles per year from that source alone, the researchers said, compared with 4,000 from tap water. Ingesting microplastic can have serious side effects, as they could release toxic substances such as bisphenol-A (known as BPA) and phthalates, which are potential carcinogens. Some pieces are small enough to penetrate human tissues, where they could trigger immune reactions and disrupt the hormonal balance as well.

Let us also look at the cookware utensils and storage vessels that are usually safe to use under normal circumstances:

1. Cast iron pot:

The cast iron kadhai in your grandmother’s kitchen may be your best bet when it comes to cooking food. Though not a cure for anaemia, cooking in iron utensils can help up the iron quotient in your food. Further, cast iron pots have a longer shelf life, and you can use it without worrying about the pot getting scratched or flaking off. The amount of iron that is transferred to your body, however, depends on the cooking time and your body’s ability to absorb iron. Over time, cast iron pots also can get covered with a layer of oil, this lowers the amount of iron that is passed on to food.

2. Stainless steel:

Easy to maintain, durable and easy to clean, stainless steel pots and pans are also safe options to cook food in. Stainless steel is an alloy of different metals such as iron, carbon, nickel and chromium, which when combined in the correct proportions, make the metal stronger and more durable. You need to, however, be careful about the amount of nickel and chromium in the composition as stainless steel cookware is sometimes polished with the metals to add shine, and the high amounts can leach into the food. While selecting stainless steel cookware, opt for those with a 304 grade. This means that it is comprised of not more than 0.8 per cent carbon and at least 50 per cent iron. You can also choose an 18/10 composition, with 18 per cent referring to chromium and 10 per cent to nickel. It is also best to replace any pan which has deep scratches in it as this can cause the metals to leach into your food.

3. Glass:

People often avoid using glass cookware because of the fear of it breaking. However, it is, in fact, safe to use as it’s non-reactive nature. The fact that it does not absorb any nutrients from food, also makes it ideal for cooking in. However, it is difficult to use glass cookware while cooking Indian food as you cannot place it over the stove. But they are excellent for storing food and drinking items.

4. Copper:

According to Ayurveda, it is healthy to store water overnight in a copper vessel and drink from it in the morning. Copper is also a good metal to cook food in, as it has the quality to retain heat for a longer period. A team of researchers from the University of Southampton, England, has also found out that using copper pots reduces the risk of contamination from deadly bacteria such as E.Coli. This is because, on copper, the bacteria survive only for four hours. However, it is best to avoid cooking acidic food in copper as the chances of the metal leaching into food could be higher, which, can cause copper toxicity if ingested in high volumes.

5. Clay pot:

Ayurveda also recommends the use of clay – a material that has been traditionally used since the olden days for cooking and storing water. Being naturally alkaline, clay interacts with the acidity in food, neutralising it and balancing the pH levels, thereby making food healthier. The porous nature of clay also ensures that moisture and heat circulate through the food, which helps to retain nutrients and reduces the need to use more oil and fat while cooking. Clay is also inherently high on nutrition, as it contains calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and sulphur. However, while selecting clay pots, make sure that you choose unglazed, decoration-free cookware, otherwise, they may contain lead, mercury and other harmful substances. Also, while cooking in a clay pot, always place the clay pot on a wooden or heat resistant surface and avoid sudden extreme temperatures as this may cause the clay pot to crack.

Last but not the least, whenever in doubt, trust your grandparents wisdom and kitchen utensils, be it cast iron pots or glass jars and bottles. Yes, they may be a little costlier, more time consuming to use, difficult to clean and maintain, and prone to breakage, but in many cases, they are also the secret of their enviable good health and longevity. And the resulting health benefits to your family are definitely worth the extra time, money, & effort.

Sources:

  1. Article dated 24th Sep, 2019 on yahoo.com. Click here
  2. Article dated 5th Jun, 2019 on theguardian.com. Click here
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