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How Cookware Affects Nutrients in Your Food — and Your Health

Your choice of pots can affect the nutrient value of food by adding nutrients to the foods, lowering the natural loss of nutrients during cooking, and actively increasing the loss of nutrients during cooking.

In addition, some pots make the food’s natural flavors and aromas more intense, which, in turn, can make the food more — or less — appetizing. Read on to find out how your pot can change your food. And vice versa.

  • Aluminum: Aluminum is lightweight and conducts heat well. That's good. But the metal makes some aroma chemicals smellier (particularly those in the cruciferous vegetables — cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and so on) and flakes off, turning white foods (such as cauliflower or potatoes) yellow or brownish. Despite what you may have heard, cooking with aluminum pots does not increase your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Copper: Naked copper is a potentially poisonous metal. That’s why copper pots are lined with tin or stainless steel. Whenever you cook with copper, periodically check the lining of the pot. If it’s damaged have the pot relined or throw it out.

  • Ceramics: Terra cotta roasting and baking pans allow excess steam to escape while holding in just enough moisture to make bread s moist and chicken tender. Decorated ceramic vessels are another matter. The glaze makes the pot much less porous, so that meat or poultry cooked in a covered painted ceramic pan steams instead of roasts.

    More importantly, some pigments used to paint or glaze the pots contain lead. If the pots are fired in an oven that isn’t hot enough or if they aren’t fired for a long enough period of time, lead will leach from ceramics when in contact with acidic foods, such as fruit juices or foods marinated in wine or vinegar.

  • Enamelware: Enameled pots are made of metal covered with porcelain. Enamelware heats more slowly and less evenly than plain metal. A good-quality enameled surface resists discoloration and does not react with food. If the surface chips and you can see the metal underneath, discard the pot lest metals flake into your food.

  • Glass: Glass is a neutral material that does not react with food.

  • Iron: Iron conducts heat well and stays hot longer than other pots, and it releases iron ions into food, which may improve the nutritional value of dinner. However, more iron is not necessarily better. It encourages oxidation (bad for your body) and can contribute to excess iron storage in some people.

  • Nonstick: Nonstick surfaces are made of plastic (polytetrafluoroethylene to be exact) plus hardeners. As long as the surface is unscratched and intact, the nonstick surface does not react with food.

    Nonstick pots are a dieter’s delight. They enable you to cook without added fat, but they scratch easily. Scratched nonstick pots and pans are not a health hazard. If you swallow tiny pieces of the nonstick coating, they pass through your body undigested.

    However, when nonstick surfaces get very hot, and your cooking area is not properly ventilated, you may experience polymer fume fever — flu-like symptoms with no known long-term effect. To prevent this, keep the stove flame moderate and the windows open.

  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel is an alloy, a substance composed of two or more metals. Its virtues are hardness and durability; its drawback is poor heat conduction. In addition, the alloy includes nickel, a metal to which many people are sensitive.

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