Cookware Materials – Retaining Nutrients Through Equipment Choice

Choosing cookware materials is about the pots and pans and what they are made of. Not only is the method of cooking food important to retain nutrients, but the type of cookware materials that food is prepared in is also important since some types of materials can react with foods and cause a loss in nutritional value of the food being prepared. The materials can leach the materials in the cookware into the food that is being cooked.

What are the choices in cooking equipment for cooking foods to retain nutrients? These would be aluminum, cast iron, ceramics, cooper, non-stick, and stainless steel cookware. In particular how do the various types of cookware materials handle nutrients?


Although aluminum is an inexpensive, light weight, good heat conductor, food molecules can easily penetrate the surface of the cookware especially foods that are acidic, alkaline and sulfur rich foods.

In addition, aluminum cookware can contribute roughly 2.5 milligrams of aluminum to the average American diet daily which is much less than other agents that are ingested from other sources.

Cast Iron

This type of cookware is a poor conductor of heat, needs to be oiled regularly to avoid corrosion, and can leach iron into the food that is being cooked. This can be good for children, adolescents and women that are at the age of menstruation, but can be bad for older adults who don’t need any additional iron in their diet.


Ceramic cookware is a poor conductor of heat and doesn’t distribute heat evenly especially when used on top of the stove. This type of cookware works better in the oven or as a crockpot due to the slower diffusion of heat, and this type of cookware does retain heat well keeping foods hot. However, foods should not be stored in ceramics since they can leach lead into the food which can cause brain damage, nerve damage, and an impaired immune system. This applies mainly to ceramics that are purchased from foreign countries which often do not fire their ceramics thoroughly.


Copper is considered the best conductor of heat and cooks food quickly and evenly. Copper however is highly reactive especially with food and leaches copper into foods. Copper is an essential mineral, but can be toxic at high levels. Copper cookware should be coated with stainless steel to make it safe for use in cooking.


Non-stick cookware has the advantage of needing a very minimal amount of fat to keep food from sticking to the pan, and although the pans are coated with materials that can chip and leach the coating into foods, these coatings have been controversial due to containing PTFE and PFOA which present problems at higher temperatures. With newer coating that are based on materials other than PTFE and PFOA now being used temperatures that can be reached are higher, which can allow foods to cook quicker.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat but is the least chemically reactive of metals. Unless clad with other metals sandwiched between the steel, this cookware can cook unevenly, but when clad is considered some of the best cookware around.

For more detailed information on the properties of different cookware materials read the article on choosing cookware in the cooking basics section

For other information on nutrition and nutrients some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

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