Teflon, a Sticky Issue

August 1, 2008

By johnmac

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Several of my clients have recently asked me if Teflon cookware is a healthy choice. My answer is “I avoid it”. Although Teflon was discovered by DuPont almost 80 years ago, its safety has recently become a rather sticky subject. Initial studies showed that one of the chemicals used to make Teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), caused cancer, liver damage, growth defects, immune system damage and even death in lab animals. Although these studies were not conducted on humans, an advisory board of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unanimously recommended that PFOA be labelled as a “likely carcinogen” (cancer-causing substance) in humans.

The initial findings of a more recent study conducted on 69,000 people living near a DuPont manufacturing plant in the United States, suggest that exposure to PFOA may harm the immune system, liver and thyroid and cause higher cholesterol in children. The initial findings also stated that higher levels of PFOA in humans are related to lower levels of a protein that helps the body fight pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.

A startling fact about PFOA is that there are concentrations of it in the blood of the general population (apparently Australians have the highest levels). Although the body can break down PFOA, it takes a very long time to do this (up to 10 years) and we will be continually exposed to it on a daily basis unless we make different choices. Be aware that in addition to being used in the Teflon manufacturing process, PFOA is also used in various water, oil and stain resistant materials, such as carpet, fabrics, paper, food packaging and food container materials. There are no safety standards for it, but the EPA is working with manufacturers on a voluntary code to phase out the use of PFOA by 2015. I recently read that earlier this year, California put a bill through its legislature to ban fast food packaging manufactured with the use of PFOA. Let’s hope it gets passed and that other governments follow.

When a non-stick pan is heated, a number of toxins are released. There is actually a warning issued with some of these pans informing consumers not to keep a bird in the kitchen when using the cookware as the fumes released during the heating/cooking process can kill the bird. Humans can also suffer from exposure to these fumes, causing what has been referred to as the “Teflon Flu”. Symptoms of the “Teflon Flu” include headache, chills, backache and fever. DuPont claims that these fumes only occur when Teflon cookware is overheated, which it says shouldn’t happen during normal cooking; however, the Environmental Working Group has demonstrated otherwise. They measured the release of toxic fumes when the pan was used for what they considered to be common use, such as browning and frying meat or frying bacon to a crisp. In fact, it has been shown that toxic fumes are released during the common practice of preheating a pan on a stove-top element turned to a high setting.

This is one of those issues where I choose to error on the side of caution. My suggestion would be to retire your non-stick cookware and invest in healthier alternatives for your body and the envirnoment, such as high quality stainless steel, ceramic, clay and good old-fashion cast-iron.

And now for some seasonal good news! August is local raspberry and blueberry picking time. Yum! When fully ripe, these berries are bursting with flavour and nutrition. They’re packed with phytochemicals – substances with strong antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and immune system boosting properties. Numerous research studies have confirmed that diets rich in phytochemicals such as those found in raspberries and blueberries, have significant, positive effects on many areas of health including:

reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol
improving the health of the gastrointestinal tract, which is key to overall good health
contributing to eye health, vision and protection against macular degeneration
cancer prevention (especially colon cancer)
reducing the risk of diseases associated with aging, including those that affect mental health (e.g. Alzhiemer’s, dementia)
To find local pick-your-own berry farms, go to:


If you’re feeling industrious, it’s easy to freeze these delicious, ripe, fresh-picked berries so that you can enjoy them for months to come. Gently wash the berries and pat them dry with paper towel. Then spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer and once the berries are fully frozen, you can put them into a heavy freezer bag for long term freezing. They will keep nicely for up to one year and are a delicious addition to yogurt, smoothies, baking, sauces, and much more! Use your imagination!







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