Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stone Age Diet Deserves Iron Age Pan

I'm trying to be really good about putting only the best food in my body right now (oh, I had to turn away and actually NOT LOOK at those Lemon Bars that one of the moms brought for snack time yesterday. Lemon bars! I didn't eat one). No sugar, no grains, just good quality veggies, meat, nuts, and a bit of fruits. The Paleo Challenge is going well, and other than the cold I had at the start, I feel strong and full of energy.

But regardless of the quality of our food, it also matters what we cook it in. Did you know that the off-gassing that occurs when you cook in Teflon and other non-stick coated pans can be fatal to pet birds? Talk about your canary in a coal mine! If it's fatal to birds, what is it doing to us? As it turns out, it's not good. The chemicals used in creating non-stick cookware can cause cancer, and birth defects. Companies like DuPont (maker of Teflon) have already paid millions of dollars in fines and lawsuits because of these issues.

The great thing is, there's an age-old alternative to non-stick pans. It's the good-ole' cowboy standby, the cast-iron skillet (or griddle, or Dutch oven). It takes awhile to get used to cooking on cast-iron. In my case, it was a few months, in hubby's case. Well, let's just say he's still in training and occasionally sticks the eggs to the pan. Once you get the hang of it though, cast iron is a near perfect cooking medium. Here's a few benefits:

1. Cast Iron heats completely evenly across the pan. No hot spots or cool spots.This makes it great for things like pancakes.

2. Cast Iron lasts forever. You could inherit a rusty old cast iron pan from your great-great grandmother, and as long as it doesn't have any cracks or nicks in it, you can scrub it out, re-season it (more on that later) and use it for dinner.

3. They're non-stick when well seasoned and they actually get better with age. The longer you use them and the better they're seasoned, the easier they are to cook with.

4. You don't have to worry about scratching them. You can use whatever utensils you want.

5. You can actually increase your blood iron levels by cooking in cast iron. If you tend toward anemia like I do, this is a huge health benefit.
Researchers found that cooking in an iron skillet increases the iron content of many foods. Acidic foods that have higher moisture content, such as applesauce and spaghetti sauce, absorb the most iron. In fact, for 100 grams of each (about 3.5oz.), the applesauce increased in iron content from 0.35mg to 7.3mg, and the spaghetti sauce jumped from 0.6mg to 5.7mg of iron.
6. You can stick them right from your stovetop to your oven. I do this when I cook a good steak: get my cast-iron pan heated way up, throw the steak on and sear it on each side for about 90 seconds, then put the whole skillet into the oven and bake it for about 5 minutes. It stays nice and tender and juicy on the inside with that seared tasty outside. Yum!

7. It makes a really good weapon in a pinch. I would totally clock an intruder over the head with my cast iron if I had to. Just saying.

How to do it? There are instructions for seasoning your cast iron pan (as well as re-vitalizing old yard-sale or handed-down rusty skillets) on this website. I've found that when I'm done cooking, I just scrub it out with a plastic scrubbie and hot water (I don't even use soap), then put it back on the hot burner until all the water has evaporated. A quick rub-down with some oil (coconut oil works great) and it's ready to use the next time.

The Ironmom Extra Mile:   More great tips on using cast iron here at

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