Given the amount of time I spend in the kitchen preparing meals for my family, you might be surprised to learn that I do not own any cast iron pans. What’s more, I don’t intend to purchase or use cast iron pans anytime in the future.
While this may seem like heresy particularly since cast iron skillets are almost universally considered to be a healthy and durable choice for preparation of homecooked meals, I have good reasons for my head scratching decision.
Excess Iron is a Health Hazard
My primary reason for opting out of cast iron revolves around the health problems caused by excess iron in the diet.
Women do not typically need to worry about this problem as long as they are still menstruating as losing blood each month is a protective factor against this condition. Growing children also are not particularly susceptible as growth obviously requires more blood and more iron.
However, for adult men (even fully grown young men) and menopausal women, cast iron can definitely pose a problem as the iron that naturally gets into food from utilization of this type of cookware can result in iron rising to toxic levels which is associated with a host of serious health conditions. Iron is one of the few minerals we cannot eliminate except through blood loss, therefore supplements should never contain iron and cooking with cast iron is a questionable choice for this segment of the population.
Most people view iron as a nutrient, and indeed it is. It is also a powerful agent of oxidation in the body, which means it increases the chances of cancer and can severely damage the heart, arteries, and other organs when intake is excessive. In addition, persons with an inherited condition called haemochromatosis, or iron overload disease, can be especially harmed from iron intake. If you have any family members with this condition (about 1 million Americans), you should be especially careful with sources of iron in your diet.
Iron Overload Symptoms
Unfortunately, the symptoms of iron overload are similar to those of other conditions, therefore it may be wise to request a transferrin saturation test at your next check up to eliminate iron as a potential source of your health woes if you suffer from any of the following and are an adult male or menopausal female:
- Joint or muscle weakness
- Mysterious stomach or other gastrointestinal pain/nausea
- Weight loss that cannot be explained
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Shortness of breath
- Early menopause
- Loss of sex drive
- Loss of body hair
Later stage symptoms include:
- Greying or bronzing of the skin
- Blood sugar issues
- Irregular heartbeat
- Liver problems
If you’ve been cooking with cast iron for a long time and are an adult male or menopausal female, it might be wise to donate blood on occasion to reduce iron stores and switch to another type of nontoxic cookware such as enamel, glass, or titanium.
Anemia Problems Are Usually an Imbalanced Gut – Not Inadequate Iron Intake
Believe it or not, there is plenty of iron in the diet of the typical American. There is almost certainly adequate iron intake for a person eating a diet based on traditional foods and even in the diets of vegetarians.
Therefore, if you are anemic and feel the need to use cast iron to increase your iron levels, you may wish to consider an imbalanced gut as a more likely source of the problem as common gut pathogens consume iron and are a frequent cause of anemia. These pathogens include Actinomyces spp., Mycobacterium spp., pathogenic strains of E. coli, Corynebacterium spp., and many others.
Increasing iron intake with cast iron only makes these iron loving pathogens grow stronger and does little to remedy anemia. Therefore, rebalancing the gut with beneficial bacterial strains through diet and lifestyle changes rather than use of cast iron or iron supplements is the best approach to solving this problem.
Sources: Excess Iron: A Health Risk?