Caring For Your Cookware: Part 1

Amanda Balbi, AS Culinary Arts, BS Culinary Nutrition, Dietetic Intern at Meredith College

Metals like iron, chromium, and copper are essential micronutrients in the human diet. If there is an imbalance of the metals in your body, this post may be a helpful guide to eliminating or adding extra sources of specific metals to your food. Many different types of cookware can leach these dietary essential metals into the food prepared, contributing an additional source of iron, copper, chromium, nickel, or aluminum into the diet. It is important to note that some of the metals noted are needed in the diet, but excessive amounts can be harmful. Other categories of pans can produce harmful fumes if they are used incorrectly. Below is a guide which provides information on the types of metals and toxins that can be leached into food and how to best extend the lifespan of these pans and use them most safely.


Beware: Leaching Metals and Toxins

Cookware is typically made from metal or glass. Depending on the type of pan you purchase, its’ coating, application, and how you care for your pans, your cookware could be leaching metals and toxins into your foods.

 Caring For Your Cookware:

Cast Iron:

A cast iron pan can be helpful in the case of iron deficiency anemia, which is more common in women than in men. However, in iron sufficient individuals, excessive amounts of iron can build up in the body, causing iron overload. Be aware that acidic items that are cooked for a long period of time may take on a metallic taste. Seasoning a cast iron skillet involves wiping the pan with oil and a clean paper towel after each use. When a pan is properly seasoned, it should not impart a metallic taste on the food. A pan that is poorly seasoned or unseasoned could emit as much as 10 times the amount of metallic particles when compared to a well-seasoned pan.


Teflon (Polytetrafluoroethylene):

Polytetrafluoroethylene is a coating commonly applied to pans to create a non-stick surface, with the intention to reduce the need for extra oils and fats during the cooking process. These pans should only be used on a low to medium heat. The pan and the temperature recommendation works best with delicate products such as fish, eggs, or pancakes. Polytetrafluoroethylene- coated pans are considered safe to use as long as they are used at an appropriate temperature. If used at temperatures that are too high, the coating may begin to deteriorate. At excessively high temperatures, the coating may begin to decompose and produce toxic fumes, which can cause result in flu-like symptoms.


Stainless Steel:

A 2015 study showed that new stainless steel cookware leaches a significant amount of chromium and nickel into foods within the first six uses. An older stainless steel pot or pan leaches less metal into the food prepared in the pan. The grade of stainless steel, cookware usage, and cooking time contribute to the amount of chromium and nickel introduced to the food. As cooking times increased, so did the amount of nickel and chromium in the food product. While the amounts of nickel and chromium varied slightly among differing grades of stainless steel, all of the grades still produced significant amounts of nickel and chromium into the food prepared in those pans during the first six uses. The amount of nickel added during the cooking process is below the daily upper limit, which means that the quantities added are not near the quantity which would make them toxic to humans. The amount of chromium emitted during cooking is also well below the level known to cause contact dermatitis. Although, if an individual has a nickel or chromium skin allergy, it may be best to avoid cooking with stainless steel, the study suggests.  (Kamerud, Hobbie, Anderson, 2015)



 Copper is another essential element to humans. Copper pans are great because they heat and cook food evenly. Food is more susceptible to copper- contamination if the pan is older and has broken down over time. If they are unlined, however, copper can leach into the food being prepared. Be aware that copper cookware is often lined with tin, stainless steel, or nickel coatings to eliminate the direct contact of food and copper, but these materials can also leach into the food. (Verissimo, Oliveira, Gomes, 2005)


Anodized aluminum:

 Aluminum is highly reactive with specifically acidic or alkaline foods. Anodized aluminum pans have gone through a process where the metal is hardened to make it non-reactive, or the aluminum is coated in another metal that is non-reactive to produce a product that will not leach metallic particles into acidic or alkaline food.


Carbon steel:

Carbon steel cookware is composed of carbon and iron, so it has similar properties to a cast iron pan. Carbon steel is reactive with particularly acidic or alkaline foods. Therefore, it is important that individuals do not cook acidic foods, like tomato sauce in these types of pans for an extended period of time. The pans also tend to leach some iron into the food cooked in the pan, similar to a cast iron pan. The more the pan is used, the greater the risk that the finish will wear off.

In conclusion, some metals are needed in the diet, but only in trace amounts. If your health care provider indicates an imbalance of these metals, it may be helpful to consider the non-food sources, as well as the food sources, to rebalance your body. As a general rule, if cooking with particularly acidic or alkaline foods, it may be better to use enamel or ceramic cookware, specifically if the food will summer for a few hours.




Kamerud, Kristin L., Kevin A. Hobbie, and Kim A. Anderson.  (2013). Stainless Steel Leaches Nickel and Chromium into Foods During Cooking. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 61.39, 9495–9501.

Verissimo MIS, Oliveira JABP, Gomes MTSR. (2005). The evaluation of copper contamination of food cooked in copper pans using a piezoelectric quartz crystal resonator. Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 111-112, 587-591.

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