Healthy Home: Getting Rid of Non-Stick

When I was starting to wonder if I had PCOS, which was affecting my fertility, I read an article that talked about how we should not be using our non-stick pans to cook food.  I explored deeper and the suggestion was stainless steel or cast iron.  Non-stick is just so convenient, even though we've been using our cast iron for years.  I had to really dig deeper to find the "why" behind it, because I was not willing to just switch due to the "crazy health fanatics".  Well I was wrong.  So I want to share what I learned with you, just in case you also didn't realize how bad non-stick really are.  

PTFE (Teflon)

Teflon, also known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), actually breaks down with high heat and then release polymer fumes.   If you inhale these fumes it can lead to what is known as polymer fume fever, also called Teflon flu.


So the next thing to worry about with non-stick is what is called a PFOA.  A 1999 study found that 98% of people in the U.S. had PFOA in their blood, due to environmental exposure to the chemical.  Due to this and other studies, the EPA made a program to eliminate the use of PFOA's by 2015.  PFOA is a risk factor for health conditions like chronic kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disorders, testicular cancers, low birth weight, and infertility.‌  Most manufacturers of non-stick pans assumed that PFOA burns off during the process of manufacturing but traces of PFOA were still found in some of the coated cookware.  The Teflon company stopped using PFOAs in 2013, however if you have any cookware purchased before then (like I do) then it is still in there.  


PFAS, which PFOA is part of, are the large group of chemicals used.  PFAS are considered harmful, as the chemical does not fully degrade in the environment or within living tissues.  They are often referred to as "forever chemicals".  As of February 2022, the federal studies say there are over 12,000 chemicals that fall under the PFAS banner.  These chemicals are synthetic and do not apper naturally in any environment.  They were discovered in "1938 when a chemist working on refrigerants accidentally created the slippery, white substance that would later lead to the creation of the Teflon brand of nonstick pans" (USAToday).

PFAS are considered "bioaccumulative" which means they build up in living tissue, and "toxic" which obviously means harmful to living organisms.  What's crazy is, we know that, the federal government knows that, and yet there is currently no movement towards regulating or controlling the use of these 12,000 chemicals.  Non-stick pans may have gotten rid of PFOA and PFOS, which were two common PFAS, but they have just been replaced with one of the other thousand PFAS.  

What to Use Instead

This is coming from someone with hereditary hemochromatosis, which means my body collects iron and doesn't get rid of it as well as it should - but we switched to almost all cast iron.  Cast iron lasts literal lifetimes, you may have inherited your grandmas cast iron.  One draw back (again speaking as someone with hemochromatosis), they can leach some iron.  But for others who don't get enough iron in their diet, this might not be a bad thing! I did have to look it up, but my enameled-coated crock pot is PFAS free! This gives me a stock pot option for cooking other foods - although it's heavy. 

Another option is stainless steel.  I dislike it because food tends to get stuck on it.  I've heard that if you let the oil heat up enough before putting your food in there it's fine, but definitely has a learning curve that I have not yet figured out.  


If you all are interested I may do a future blog post on cooking with cast iron, since I love that I made the switch.  It's easy to use, makes tasty food, and I know I'm not poisoning my body or my family.  Let me know if you cook with it or if you are going to make the switch!