The Makings of a Healthful Kitchen (Part 3)

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As I write this, it’s a beautiful spring day — finally! How many of you have been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC? If you haven’t been, check it out on Friday nights at 9 PM.

Jamie Oliver has really been on a mission to help transform the rather unhealthful eating habits of Americans, starting with schools in Huntington, West Virginia, a city that tops the nation’s charts for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. He has his work cut out for him, but I’m definitely cheering him on!

Anyhow, last week, I wrote about various types of cookware that are available, but I didn’t quite finish. I do believe that having the right tools can make cooking a whole lot easier and more enjoyable. But I admit that it can be intimidating. There’s so much to choose from, and if you’ve ever received a cooking catalogue in the mail or walked through a store like Williams-Sonoma wondering what all the gadgets are for (and examining the price tags!), it’s easy to feel a little lost. But chin up — anyone can cook, and you really don’t need a lot of fancy cookware to do so.

Pots and Pans (continued)

  • Stainless steel. Stainless steel cookware is probably the most common type that people have in their kitchens. Stainless steel is made up mostly of iron, carbon, and chromium, and it resists corrosion. It’s also relatively inexpensive, very durable, and easy to clean (and you can usually put it in the dishwasher). The downside is that it’s not a great heat conductor, so you should choose cookware that is clad in aluminum or copper. Otherwise, you might end up with food that is cooked unevenly. Of course, the better quality the stainless steel, the higher the price. Then again, if you view your purchase of cookware as an investment, you may decide to take the plunge, since it should last you a lifetime. Did you know you can recycle stainless steel cookware, too?
  • Nonstick It’s hard to beat cooking in a nonstick pan. You don’t have to add much (if any) oil or butter, and cleanup is a snap. I use a nonstick pan for making scrambled eggs and pancakes, for example, and I marvel at how well they turn out. In 2006, nonstick pans were top sellers and accounted for 90% of all the aluminum cookware that was sold.

    But in recent years, nonstick pans have come under fire due to safety concerns. Nonstick coating such as Teflon contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used to help the nonstick coating bond to the cookware. PFOA is used in the package coating of some brands of microwave popcorn, fast-food bags, and some clothing. This chemical has been shown to cause cancer, a suppressed immune system, and low birth weight in lab animals. And 9 out of 10 Americans have PFOA in their bloodstream.

    There isn’t a clear link between PFOA and health problems in people, but there’s been enough concern to prompt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ask companies that make nonstick cookware to voluntarily eliminate PFOA by 2015. Should you get rid of your nonstick cookware? Probably not, as long as you use it safely and wisely. That means not heating the pan to any higher than 500°, cooking on low to medium heat (heating the pan at too high a temperature can cause the nonstick coating to break down and release toxic fumes), and not leaving foods cooking for too long in any nonstick pot or pan. Also, don’t use nonstick pots or pans to broil or sear meat, use utensils made for nonstick cookware, and discard any nonstick pots or pans that have nicks or scratches on them.

What About GreenPan?
You may have seen a nonstick pan called the GreenPan in stores and on home shopping channels. GreenPan uses Thermolon, a mineral-based coating, instead of PFOA. This coating is very heat-resistant and won’t release harmful fumes.

Bottom Line
All cookware has its pros and cons. To help you decide what to buy (or what to add to your existing collection), keeping in mind the following:

  • Buy the highest quality you can afford. The cookware will last longer and your foods will cook better!
  • Stainless steel cookware is a sure bet.
  • Make sure you have a cast iron skillet.
  • Consider buying a cookware set; it will be less expensive than buying your pans piece by piece. But keep in mind what you really need, as well.

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