On day 116 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I explored using an iron skillet as a self-care activity. Cast-iron cookware is fantastic – once you learn all the quirks that come with caring for them, that is. The trick is that cast-iron must be properly seasoned before use, otherwise food will stick to it and you’ll be cursing rust spots later.
Here are several potential benefits to using an iron skillet:
Cast-iron is solid (and extremely heavy), so it won’t bend or warp. For that reason, skillets last for years and years and years, which also means they don’t often end up in landfills like many other throw-away pots and pans. And because of its durability, it also cooks more evenly than its alternatives.
It increases the iron content of food
Foods cooked in an iron skillet contain higher levels of iron than foods cooked in other types of cookware. This has led many health professionals to believe that there may be additional nutritional benefits. In fact, many of the physicians I’ve worked over the years who have even written orders to use cast-iron when preparing foods for nursing home residents who have low iron levels.
When it comes to actual bioavailability, though, the jury is still out, since our bodies cannot use all of the iron that leaches into food from a cooking vessel. Several studies have looked at cast-iron as a potential treatment of iron-deficiency anemia, but most of the results haven’t shown significant improvements. Even so, there have been a few studies that show promising results in certain populations; and while the impact may not be significant enough to treat or correct a medical condition like anemia, it doesn’t mean there aren’t still health benefits.
Iron cookware can be used on the stove-top, in the oven, or even over a campfire. The culinary possibilities are endless: sautéing, baking, broiling, simmering, steaming, you name it. This alone makes it easy to see why many cooks consider this cookware to be essential.
So, what are the drawbacks?
For one, cast-iron is heavy. Many times, I’ve nearly dropped a pan after picking it up, forgetting that it can be unwieldy. Likewise, unlike many modern pots and pans on the market today that have plastic handles, cast-iron cookware is a solid piece of metal, which means a pot-holder is a must if you want to avoid getting a nasty burn. A third drawback is that cast iron can be challenging to clean. Using soap removes the coating that forms during the seasoning process, which leaves it open to rust. Rinsing with water (and sometime scrubbing with a little salt) is all that’s needed to clean it, but I often forget, and have to re-season.
All in all, cast-iron* is the gold standard when it comes to cooking equipment. And with many questions still looming about the safety of modern coatings, cast-iron is a much simpler, tried-and-true option.
Self-care is personal, and even the selection of cookware and cooking methods can play a role in our overall health.
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