Monday, March 19, 2012
Cast-iron versus nonstick
There are now more reasons, my friends, to cast out your nonstick cookware and begin using my favorite kitchen colleague: cast-iron! I know. Giving up expensive wedding gifts and throwing away the Cuisinart nonstick set purchased with blood money won’t be easy. But after the following information, in good conscience you may not even be able to give it away. So fair warning, you can stop here. Sorry, sorry, sorry. On the bright side cast-iron is such a fabulous way to cook. And it may support more healthy living than we imagined.
Baked squash ready for the oven in my large 12 inch cast-iron skillet
A few years ago I was surprised to learn that pet birds die when exposed to the fumes produced by heating nonstick cookware. Did you know that? Birds are easily poisoned by PFOA and PFOS – the compound that is vaporized when the cookware is heated. The poor canary in the coal mine only this time it’s in the kitchen? Lucky thing humans aren’t quite that sensitive. I occasionally wondered about the surface that wore off into the food we ate and if it was good or bad for us. No matter how careful I was someone was always throwing away a groady old pan and buying me a new frying pan for Christmas.
Apparently, the compounds which go into making plastics are hard to get out of the system once they’re in, and the medical community is finding more concrete data about the effect on humans.
JAMA published an article (this link is slow to load) in January reporting research on PFOA and PFOS and a related compound PFHxS (I have no idea and am only parroting) – they are used to make nonstick surfaces in cookware and fabric, like in the trade names Teflon and Scotchguard) Following a group of Faroese children from birth to age 7, researchers at Harvard Public School of Health found that the more exposure children had to these compounds “the less robust their response to vaccines.” ( I know. Some of you don’t believe in vaccines, but this is about immunity not vaccines.) Children with an “inadequate response to vaccinations was particularly common;” they were not showing sufficient levels of protective antibodies. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard and his colleagues who led the study called the results shocking. (They noted that the blood levels of the pollutant in the participants were, on average, lower than those found in American children.)
The findings are leading them to raise questions about whether the immune deficiencies point to more vulnerability to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. Science News Magazine reports that Toxicologist Margie Peden-Adams of U of Nevada calls the study impressive and “Those of us in the field will be excited to see it.” (My emphasis. Exciting? Understandable irony when your passion is poison.)
Simmering mixed lentils with dried apricots and cranberries using Dutch oven on stove top.
I’m not saying that cooking with cast iron is the answer to all our ills. Maybe you or your child’s margins are adequate to handle more pollutants from the environment, no problem, I can’t say. Personally, we’ve seen more allergy, ear infections, strep, and other immune issues in our family than we’d want. It can’t hurt to gradually move from using nonstick pans and aluminum to glass, stainless steel, enamelware and cast-iron. Maybe it’s a little piece of the puzzle? If there is a connection between PFOAs and immune deficiency, it’s easy to project that the manufacturing industry will vigorously protest and deny any links to ill health.