On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

DEBUNKING A COOKWARE SALES PITCH

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Please tell me what you think of the following statements describing the benefits of waterless cookware. These were the selling points at a cookware party where the salesman made a presentation in the hopes of signing everyone up. The promotional claims were: 1. When cooking vegetables in water, all or most of the nutrients are depleted. 2. Pans made of aluminum or Teflon, or enamel-coated pans, have been proven to cause disease. 3. Cooking with oil can cause disease. How truthful was this salesman? -- S.C., Sun City, Ariz.

DEAR S.C.: These statements are examples of playing fast and loose with the facts in the hopes of getting customers to sign on for the product -- a technique that can give salespeople a bad name. Perhaps he was just repeating what he was told by his trainer, but whatever the source, those statements are definitely off the mark. There is probably nothing wrong with the cookware, but your purchase should be made with your eyes open. Let's look at the individual assertions:

1. When cooking with water, all or most of the nutrients are depleted.

False. While all forms of cooking will deplete some nutrients, the actual nutrient losses depend on many factors, including temperature, cooking time, type of food, size of the pieces and how much water is used (if any). The amount of loss will also vary with the type of nutrient. Water will deplete some of the water-soluble vitamins, but only if the cooking water is discarded. Heat, regardless of its source, can affect the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C and thiamin. The most stable of the nutrients are the minerals, and unless a large amount of water is used with food that has a small particle size, and the water is discarded, these nutrients will remain in the finished product. 

2. Cooking with pans made of aluminum or Teflon, or enamel-coated pans, has been proven to cause disease.

False. There is no evidence that Teflon or enamel-coated pans cause disease. But what about aluminum? It is true that there is a higher than normal amount of aluminum in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease, but there is no evidence that aluminum cookware is a part of the problem. A study published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants reported that even if you were to take an entire day's food supply, store it in aluminum containers and prepare it in aluminum cookware, the daily aluminum intake would be approximately 6 milligrams a day. Compare this with the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake of 7 mg of aluminum per kilogram body weight (established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives). This is the equivalent of 68 mg of aluminum per day for a 150-pound adult -- meaning that our hypothetical 6 mg per day is well within the acceptable limit.

3. Cooking with oil can cause disease.

False. But of all the statements, this one at least has a modicum of truth. Cooking with oils is not inherently dangerous, but elevated intakes of certain fats are associated with an increased risk of disease. I would stay away from any source of trans fat, and I would avoid mistreating cooking oils by overheating them or failing to store them properly. But assuming you have an otherwise healthful diet, fats are not to be feared. In fact, they lend wonderful tastes and textures to the foods we eat. And isn't enjoyment what eating is all about?

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.