Monday, March 30, 2009

It's easy to avoid non-stick cookware and bakeware

Healthy pots: cast iron, stainless steel, enameled cast iron, stainless-lined copper.
Long before I ever researched non-stick coatings they made me uncomfortable. It always seemed that no mater how careful you were, that smooth black surface always ended up scratched and you know that all those black bits got scraped right into you food.

The abbreviation for the non-stick coating chemical is PTFE, and it’s found in most non-stick coated cookware and bakeware. It is also found in fast food packaging and microwave popcorn bags. As it turns out eating the stuff isn’t the only worry. Inhaling the fumes it gives off when heated too high (680 degrees F) is toxic too. Whatever your exposure, once you ingest this chemical it’s with you for life and accumulates in your body over time. The chemical has been linked to thyroid damage and an independent panel advising the US Environmental Protection Agency calls it a “likely human carcinogen.”

For me it’s easy to avoid non-stick cookware. Good old cast iron hardly needs any oil to keep things from sticking and enameled cast iron is even better. Stainless steel-lined copper and regular stainless steel pans both work beautifully.

When it comes to baking though, you need to go on a determined search to find alternatives.

In my hunt for uncoated muffin tins I came across some brands made of aluminum. But that’s not a preferred option either. Food cooked in aluminum absorbs aluminum and while some intake of the element is considered safe, we all ingest aluminum in other ways. Adding to this with the use of aluminum cookware and bakeware might put you over the safe limit.

Fortunately there is no shortage of healthy alternatives for cooking and baking:

To limit the contact your food has with non-stick coatings and aluminum (including foil) line cookie sheets and baking pans with parchment paper. It reduces the need for greasing pans and keeps things from burning. Plus cookies and scones slide off easily and cakes lift out with little effort.

The Pampered Chef sells unbleached parchment paper which is more eco-friendly than the regular bleached variety you find in the grocery store.

Choose stoneware for your baking pans. The Pampered Chef offers cookie sheets, square and rectangular pans, pizza stones, bread pans, cake and pie pans, even muffin pans. Their products aren’t cheap but they do come with a three-year guarantee.

Candy-coloured silicon bakeware is considered a safe alternative. But I will add that there seems to be little independent research available and user comments on various websites talk a lot about a nasty plastic smell coming from the oven and funny tasting muffins and cakes. I had the same experience a few years ago and never used them again. Silicone itself is inert - it’s non-reactive, and withstands very high heat. All I can say is that it appears there could be quite a range of quality among brands.

Choose cast iron bakeware (you can tone your arms while you bake) or look for stainless steel baking pans. Both options can be found online. Using cast iron cookware and bakeware is especially healthy, since it provides a source of dietary iron.

And one more thing, swap out your non-stick pans with one of the alternatives listed above.

A version of this article was previously published in KV Style (

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How beautiful are beauty products?

Have you ever tried to read the ingredients list on the back of a jar of face cream or a bottle of shampoo? Even if I had a biochemistry degree I’m not sure I’d be able to decipher what ingredients are harmful and which are helpful.

If you had to narrow it down there are about 17 extremely toxic chemicals found in common personal care products. Of these a few are always on my radar: parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate & propylene glycol. These and their jar mates are known to cause asthma, skin irritation, liver and kidney damage. They are known hormone disruptors, carcinogens and neurotoxins. They seep in through our skin and we inhale them (nail polish is at the top of every toxic cosmetic list I have ever seen).

I worry less about all of this since I stumbled upon a couple of great websites that help guide me to products that my family and I are comfortable using.

Guide to Less Toxic Products (, is run buy the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. They offer a “Best” and “Good” rating system for a great variety of personal care products. They also explain what is so worrisome about the most dangerous chemicals commonly found in personal care products.

Skin Deep is a cosmetic safety database that is maintained by the Environmental Working Group out of the U.S. ( This database rates the toxicity of thousands of cosmetics using an easy-to-follow, colour-coded system: green, yellow and red. You can search on cosmetics you already have (to decide if you need to toss them) and use it to help decide what products fit within your comfort zone.

Fortunately more and more cosmetics companies are making their products (or at least some of their products) safer. Avalon Organics, Burt’s Bees and Kiss My Face are a few brands to look for in local stores. Superstore carries a selection of these in their natural food section and Healthy Start carries many of the same products.

Green Beaver is a line of healthy, Canadian-made personal care products. You can find these at The Feel Good Store on Germain Street.

If you’re looking for something higher end, New Brunswick-based Olivier in the City Market sells natural soaps, shampoos, face and body creams, scrubs and deodorant. Their products are made with pure, natural ingredients.

Arbonne is another high-end skincare line that uses natural ingredients and is committed to making their products as safe as possible. Tracey Bujold ( sells the products locally through in-home sales and they are also available at the new Salon Soleil.

Whether it’s toothpaste, shampoo, face cream or lipstick, making healthy choices for you and your family can be complicated. But it’s important. (Ignorance really isn’t bliss.) If you take a bit of time to read labels and tap into helpful resources you’ll feel better about everything that’s in your bathroom cupboard.

This article was previously published in KV Style (