Why Not All Stainless Steel Cookware is Created Equal

When it comes to low tox cookware, I could talk for hours! One of my favourite options that I recommend to people as a good reliable choice is stainless steel cookware. I tend to use stainless steel for any cooking under 2 hours – mainly roasts, sauté and steaming. Now, despite stainless steel cookware is hard wearing, long lasting, relatively low tox, and sustainable, some scientists suggest there are very low levels of various metals released from stainless steel over time, into the food. It’s one of the reasons I made the decision to reserve stainless for short cooks/roasts rather than for slow cooking. One of the main culprits of these metals that could potentially be problematic for some people, being nickel. Nickel is still present in most stainless steel cookware. So why is this an issue? For many, it isn’t a cause for hysteria. But for others, nickel can cause a whole host of tricky health issues.

Who should be worried about nickel?

Over the years of running my Go Low Tox course, I have had quite a few students who have identified their cheaper nickel-containing jewellery was causing them to have contact dermatitis. Some students also alerted me to finding they had to steer clear of nickel in cookware. It stands to reason than that they look at their cookware, as studies back up that nickel can slowly leach into food with each spark of the stove top and trigger further inflammation and allergies. For the rest of us, nickel can still be toxic when it accumulates in the body due to years of exposure, even if you’re not technically reacting to it. So the message here, is moderation and conscious reduction of usage, rather than ‘freak out avoidance’ if you’re otherwise healthy, happy and not experiencing any issues. By that I mean Use a metal spatula to flip your omelette, pack a stainless lunchbox or straw, but for cooking, if budget permits, spread usage between long-cook being in enamel / ceramic ware and shorter cooks in nickel free stainless.

What are the symptoms of nickel toxicity?

The biochemicals reactions relating to nickel toxicity are multifaceted. A study by Michigan State University has found that nickel can cause essential metal imbalances, severely disrupt enzyme regulation and contribute to a high amount of oxidative stress in the body.  Once nickel enters the body, it impacts a number of organs, including the kidneys, lungs, and liver. The symptoms of toxicity, include:

  • Abdominal pain/cramping
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic cough
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Decreased lung function
  • Depression
  • Dizziness and/or vertigo
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headache
  • Heart attack
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hemorrhages
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain and tremors
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Rashes or contact dermatitis
  • Tightness in the chest/ shortness of breath
  • Visual disturbances
  • Vomiting

It’s not all bad!

The good news is that you can detoxify from nickel much like you would with other heavy metals, however, you should not do this without the support of a professional! Proper clinical testing and treatment plans should always be carried out before trying to rid yourself of nickel. If you try and do a DIY detox you might find yourself in a worse-off place as underperforming detoxification pathways and genetic mutations may react with what you’re doing. So please… heed this advice.

How to buy nickel-free stainless steel

So, now you know that nickel is not our friend. Here’s how to seek out the best options:

  • Go for quality: The better the quality the tougher the pan, so always think ‘investment and long-term’ when it comes to cookware. This means paying a little bit more once rather than buying the same crappy pan over and over. It’s a concept we can grapple with but after a few years of using a pan that’s virtually the same as when you bought it, you’ll appreciate it!
  • Do your research: If in doubt shoot through an email or phone the supplier directly. It’s the best way to get a concise and conclusive answer as to the level of nickel in your cookware. Ideally, you’ll want your cookware to be entirely nickel-free.
  • Choose trusted brands: My favourite brand for avoiding nickel when it comes to saucepans is SOLIDTEKNICS. Brilliant, reliable and high quality. You’re buying ONCE and handing down through the generations – no more cheap stuff every few years.

**A little note – If you’ve done Go Low Tox course, or considering it in the future, Mark Henry from SOLID TEKNICS is one of our experts on cookware. We have a fantastic and in-depth chat about what to go for when making a purchase across all manner of cookware options.

‘But yikes – the price tag on a nickel free saucepan/pot!’

Yep, I hear you. But know that these pans are an investment for life – not just the 4-5 months that most cheap pans survive.

The best way to approach buying quality nickel-free pans (in my experience) is to pick the one pan you use most and choose to replace that first. This might mean gradually putting away $10 here and there until you have enough to make the switch. Until then, focus on reducing your toxic load in other areas and not stressing about the things you cannot change. When it comes to going low tox it’s a real process. I’m still making changes six years on!

If you do have the financial means to make the switch today, research what feels comfortable for you and choose 2 quality pieces to start with – 1 medium frying pan and 1 medium to large saucepan in a great, sturdy brand, vs a whole set of cheap stainless or aluminum. Once you’re happy with the style and design you can kit out your kitchen!

While I’ve got you here,

SOLIDTEKNICS has just launched their kickstarter campaign to release a new design ‘Noni Skillet lid and pan’. By pledging to one of the tiers, you’ll receive incredible discounts on their pots and pans and don’t miss our Facebook / Newsletter giveaway. I just didn’t want to point you to expensive cookware saying that it’s ‘something free’ without giving you the low down on why that might be important to people potentially troubled by nickel in the first place.  

I’d love to know if you’ve tried nickel-free cookware or have a nickel-sensitivity story to share.

Low Tox. Happy us. Happy planet

Comments 16

  1. Hi Alexx- what type of saucepan would you use to make bone broth on the stove? 13-15 hours cooking time? Many thanks for any help.

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  2. I just got my first Solidtekniks Pan for Christmas yippee!! The label suggests seasoning in seed oils… what did you use? (I’ve conditioned myself to avoid those!) Maybe beef tallow off the top of my bone broth?

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      Hi Kate – I know it feels counter intuitive but they really are best for seasoning. Don’t worry you’re not eating them. Think of it as a tool in the shed for when it’s needed. I use rice bran oil to season x

  3. Hi Alexx, I’m keep to invest in something for slow cooking in the oven or stove top to make broth or do you recommend an actual ceramic slow cooker? I have an Instant Pot but just read not to cook in stainless steel for longer than 2 hrs so there goes that function of my IP. Now to find a safe slow cooker here in the US.

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      Hey Kylie, yes a ceramic slow cooker is awesome and they’re fairly cheap to buy. Slow cookers are energy efficient and ceramic ones last a lifetime!

      1. How about the newer ceramic coated slow cookers, my heavier ceramic on has died and the options for these are limited. They seem to be the ones that seem more like metal with a ceramic coating. I’m nervous about buying one of these?

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          Hi Deborah, best to email the company and ask for exactly what their coating is made from and if they have any safety reports that show an absence of heavy metals. See what comes back and then make your decision. If they don’t disclose, I’d buy a traditional ceramic slow cooker like CuisinArt.x

  4. Hi Alexx, great post, thank you! Do you have a brand of safe bakeware that you can recommend please? I am looking to replace my muffin and loaf tins and am not sure which to go for!

  5. Hi Alex,
    Searching for low tox options for air fryers and slow cookers…. I’d love some brand and model suggestions!

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      Hi Brooke, the most important thing to ensure is that the interior coating is PFOA/PTFE free for both, and look at stainless steel for airfryer and ceramic/enamel coatings for slow cookers. The Low Tox Club is the perfect place to ask questions like this and see what fellow community members are using and loving if you’d like to join us there https://www.lowtoxlife.com/the-low-tox-club/

  6. I’d love to know if something like an aluminium sandwich press is toxic? Breville have the toast & melt one and I’m trying to find info online and thought you’d be a great source of knowledge…

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