Here is a little of what I've learned - the good, the bad, and the ugly. (In reverse order.)
Teflon®: Teflon® is a brand name for a (so-called) heat resistant plastic. It was discovered by accident by a Dupont chemist in 1938. When these pans are heated high enough, a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is released. PFOA have been proven fatal to pet birds - the literal canary in the coal mine! Animal studies have linked PFOA to cancer, immune system damage, and birth defects. It has also been acknowledged that in humans there is a flu like condition called polymerfume fever, mostly noted in the manufacturers labs.
The process of creating Teflon® and similar non-stick products also leaches the PFOA fumes into the air. Is in the blood of 95 percent of Americans, including pregnant women. It has also been found in the blood of marine organisms and Arctic polar bears. Thankfully, the EPA regulated in 2006 that teflon manufactuers reduce environmental emissions of PFOA by 95% by this year (2015.) Unfortunately, this has no bearing on the fumes released into your home as you use the products.
Aluminum: Old pans or hand-me-downs are most likely non-anodized, which means that food comes into direct contact with the metal. Aluminum toxicity is linked to neuro-degenerative disease, cancer, anemia, and a host of other serious health issues. All newer aluminum has been anodized - making it less reactive. However, this can be problematic as well, as they are often coated with non-stick chemicals (see above) and can leech aluminum after extended use.
THE BAD (Well, potentially bad)
Copper: Copper is probably the most beautiful option for cookware. However, it's important to make sure the pans are of high quality and properly lined. Large amounts of copper from unlined cookware can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports "Some copper and brass pans are coated with another metal to prevent food from coming into contact with copper. Over time, these coatings can break down and allow copper to dissolve in food. Older copper cookware may have tin or nickel coatings and should not be used for cooking."
Ceramics: Buy American and commercial. Again, the NIH reports "Some ceramic cookware should not be used to hold food. This in includes items bought in another country or considered to be a craft, antique, or collectible. These pieces may not meet FDA specifications. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but lower levels may also be dangerous."
THE GOOD (Lots of options here, folks.)
Stainless Steel: An inexpensive, easy to clean option. Personally, I've found mine to be more "non-stick" than non-stick! People with nickel allergies should avoid using these, as they could release small amounts of nickel if scratched.
Glass: All glass (with the exception of lead crystal) is inert, nontoxic, and safe. Treat this dishware respectfully, as stress (like taking from freezer to oven, adding liquid to a hot pan,etc) can damage or break them.
Ceramic: Another product to be gentle with, but great to use. Finished with enamel making them completely safe and inert. Watch for old and imported products as they may contain lead.
Stoneware: A great alternative to aluminum for baking. They can be tricky to clean as the stone absorbs flavors but they cook nicely and evenly.
Titanium: This premium cookware distributes heat evenly and won't warp or bend. It is completely inert - made from the same material as in medical applications like hip replacements. Although these are the most expensive option they will last for generations. Young Living carries a nice selection of this type.**
Cast iron: There is a reason your great-grandmother used them. Amazing to cook with and extremely durable with even heating and good heat retention. These pans are seasoned with oil and wiped clean - improving the flavor of food each time they are used. A handful of drawbacks: some people may not appreciate the weight. They are very heavy, which may not be a good combination for glass cooktops. They could create an "off" flavor for tomato products because of the pH. Those pans which have not built up a patina of seasoning my leach a small amount of iron. This is actually good health-wise for the majority of people, but those who suffer from haemochromatosis or similar conditions should avoid.
A Final Note:
To get the best out of your pots and pans, avoid using metal or hard plastic utensils. These utensils can scratch surfaces and cause pots and pans to wear out faster. Use wood, bamboo or silicone instead.
Is this an issue which is important to you? Have you already started the changeover in your kitchen or are you planning to start soon? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments!
** Our office and several of our employees are Young Living independent distributors.