The Healthy Home : Let’s Get Cooking (part 3) - The Making of a Meal - Death by Charring, A Sticky Situation

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Death by Charring

The way you cook your food involves more than just the potential loss of minerals. Some people may like the charbroiled taste, but there’s no question that overheating food—no matter what it is—may result in toxic compounds.

Simple Solution:

Maintain a good distance—at least ten feet in front or five feet to the side—between yourself and the microwave when it’s on.

In this case, it’s not how long you cook your food; rather, it’s the temperature you use that can transform healthy nutrients into indigestible chemicals that may threaten your health.

The most obvious example is the all-American backyard barbecue, with steaks, burgers, and hot dogs sizzling on a flaming grill. Cooking meats at high temperatures creates chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and exposing meats to direct flames produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which are linked to increased risk of cancer, particularly GI cancers.

Meats are not the only problem. Compounds called acrylamides are present in dangerous amounts in carbohydrate-rich foods that have been overcooked by frying, grilling, or roasting. Found most often in foods such as potato chips and fries, acrylamide is also produced while making toast from some breads.

However, the connection between acrylamides and cancer and other degenerative diseases is less clear than it is for compounds produced by overcooked meats.
The solution is to keep your cooking temperatures as low as reasonable, aiming for foods that are golden rather than brown or black. Even better, include in your diet as many raw foods—such as fruits and vegetables—as you possibly can.

Finally, monosaturated fats such as canola, flaxseed, olive, and sunflower oils are better for cooking than polyunsaturated fats, but as soon as you see smoke coming off the oil, you know the temperature is too high. It’s not only a fire hazard, but it’s also giving your food a bad taste and producing mass of free radicals that will attack your circulatory system.

A Sticky Situation

If you often get dish duty at home, you know the frustration of washing a pot that has remnants of whatever you just cooked cemented to the bottom. You soak and scrub, and scrub and soak. And if you were unfortunate enough to scorch your dinner in that pot, you have an even bigger chore ahead of you.

The stuff that lines a nonstick pan and helps your scrambled eggs slide onto the plate is also poisoning your family.

For that reason, many home cooks have turned to nonstick cookware. After all, you use little to no oil and, like magic, the food comes right off the pan’s dark interior. Dish duty suddenly looks a whole lot easier.

But the stuff that lines a nonstick pan and helps your scrambled eggs slide onto the plate is also poisoning your family.

Most nonstick cookware is coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a polymer that a DuPont scientist discovered in 1938 and is considered one of the most slippery materials in the world. PTFE, trademarked by DuPont as Teflon®, can be found today in numerous consumer products, from paint to stain-resistant carpet to electric razors.

At high temperatures, Teflon is known to release potentially hazardous fumes and particles into the air. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonstick pan at just 680°F on a regular electric stove released at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and a chemical that is known to be lethal to humans.

Even at lower temperatures—464°F—the EWG found that toxic particles were released.

These temperatures might sound impossibly high, but the EWG observed that pans can reach 680°F or higher in just a couple of minutes of preheating on a high setting. It’s mind-boggling that cookware—with the sole purpose of being placed on a heat source—is lined with something that under high heat emits toxic fumes.
The dangers of nonstick cookware at high temperatures have surprised many unfortunate pet owners who have lost their canaries, macaws, finches, and other pet birds to “Teflon toxicity.” Birds that have been poisoned with fumes from overheated PTFE often suffocate after their lungs hemorrhage and fill with fluid.

For this reason, even DuPont recommends that birds be removed from the kitchen before cooking with nonstick pans. Due to their higher metabolism and more sensitive respiratory systems, birds were once used in coal mines as living carbon monoxide detectors. If a canary showed signs of distress, miners knew the air was unsafe and would evacuate. 
It’s time to ask ourselves if we can afford to ignore the metaphorical—and now quite literal—canary in the coal mine ... or kitchen, in this case.

Healthier Non-Stick Alternatives

Although you may not be able to trash an entire cookware set, you should discard your traditional nonstick pans as they become scratched or dented. But before you pick up that scouring pad and start scrubbing away again, you should know there are some good alternatives.

First, you can use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet instead. It takes some maintenance but provides great nonstick qualities.

There are also some excellent “green” nonstick pans currently on the market. Many use natural coatings—including ceramic and sand—to create a lasting nonstick surface that contains no PTFE or other harmful chemicals. Several of these new nonstick alternatives have been rated as high as or higher than their PTFE-lined counterparts for durability, nonstick surface quality, and the even the way in which they cook.

Simple Solution:

If you must use a PTFE-lined pan, keep your stove’s burner on medium or lower. Also, never preheat an empty pan.
For all of you late-night snackers and movie watchers, microwave popcorn bags are also coated on the inside with toxic nonstick chemicals to help the popcorn slide right out. If you can’t live without this salty snack, consider purchasing an air popper or old-fashioned popcorn popper.
It’s not much more work, and the popcorn tastes better.
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