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3 Reasons to Cook with a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron isn't just for red meat -- you can cook potatoes, chicken, fish and veggies in it too!
Cast iron isn't just for red meat -- you can cook potatoes, chicken, fish and veggies in it too!
DCL

Think you know everything there is to know about healthy cooking? Think again.

Once the only option for cookware, cast iron pans were a staple in every kitchen. Though modern times brought new kinds of nonstick pans, it seems like cast iron is making a comeback. Why? One of the simplest ways to up your iron intake (a nutrient we could all use a boost in) is to cook with cast iron pots and pans that allow the nutrient to be absorbed by the food you're cooking. Not only that, but it's the perfect way to get crispy veggies without relying on an excess of oil! Read on to learn about the health benefits of cooking with cast iron, and why we say it's a go for your immune system and your wallet, too!

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If you feel tired frequently, you may have iron-deficiency anemia.
If you feel tired frequently, you may have iron-deficiency anemia.
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO) iron deficiency is the most common nutrient disorder in the world [Source: World Health Organization].

In the U.S. alone roughly 10 percent of young girls and women are iron deficient [Source: CDC]. This issue is particularly challenging for pregnant women, women in their child bearing years (due to menstruation), the elderly, and vegetarians and vegans.

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Not getting enough iron may cause unwanted side effects, and somtimes simply eating iron-rich foods isn't enough. There are two types of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme is found in meats, and is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than nonheme, which is found in plants. So even if you load up on spinach, a good source of of iron, your body may not absorb it in the amounts you need.

Luckily, cooking with a cast iron skillet fortifies your foods with iron and reduces your likelihood of developing anemia, a disorder associated with iron deficiency and symptoms of tiredness, fatigue, loss of concentration and poor work performance.

The recommended daily value of iron is 18 mg, or the equivalent of three ounces of chicken liver, one cup of black eye peas, and one-half cup of boiled spinach. Sounds delicious, right? Instead, try making tomato sauce in your cast iron skillet. A Brazilian study found that pans released more iron when cooking tomato sauce than other items. The vitamin C in the tomatoes may help your body soak up the nonheme iron from the pan, because the iron-vitamin C combination maximizes your body's ability to absorb both nutrients.

Another bonus: You don't need as much oil. Cast iron is a nonstick pan, so you don't need tons of olive oil to get crispy, perfectly cooked vegetables and meats.

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If you haven't cooked with cast iron before, try an inexpensive skillet or pan first to get used to the material before investing in a whole new set of cookware.
If you haven't cooked with cast iron before, try an inexpensive skillet or pan first to get used to the material before investing in a whole new set of cookware.
Rob Sylvan/iStock

Cast iron cookware is like the Forever 21 of kitchen utensils. Except, unlike clothing purchases from this store, cast iron lasts a lifetime.

You can find a cast iron skillet for as little as $10 and with the proper care and maintenance is will last you upwards of 20 years [Source: New York Times]. Of course, if you're looking to purchase an entire set of cookware, you may be spending a little more, but you get the general idea here.

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Cast iron is also the perfect piece of cookware for stove-to-oven cooking because it transfers nicely without needing to switch pots or pans. Some cooking experts even grill their meat with their cast iron skillet. To learn how, see these cast iron tips.

And did I mention that cast iron requires little to no cleaning? Before you even start cooking with your cast iron skillet, you must first season it. Seasoning involves rubbing cooking oil on the skillet and then baking it at 350° F for about an hour. Use a ball of paper towels to wipe it down when it comes out of the oven, and you should be ready to cook. An alternative method involves adding some salt and oil to the bottom of the pan, heating up the oil until it smokes, and then pouring out the salt-oil mixture and wiping the skillet down with paper towels.

To clean your cast iron, simply rinse with hot water as soon as possible after cooking. Don't use regular dish soap, because it's too harsh, and dry immediately to prevent rust.

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For all you Moms, if I didn't have you at "little to no cleaning," I've sold you now.

Many cooks don't realize that traditional nonstick pans are loaded with PFCs, or perfluorocarbons, which are chemicals linked to liver damage, cancer, developmental problems and early menopause [Source: EatingWell.com]. When we heat up nostick pots, these toxic chemicals are released into our food (and our children's food).

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These risks are eliminated when cooking with cast iron. And, if you season your pan properly, you'll still have the nonstick quality you need when cooking your favorite foods.

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Sources

  • Anderson, J., and C. Fitzgerald. "Iron: An Essential Nutrient." Iron: An Essential Nutrient. Colorado State University Office of Engagement, June 2010. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. .
  • "Anemia or Iron Deficiency." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 May 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. .
  • Bittman, Mark. "Ever So Humble, Cast Iron Outshines the Fancy Pans." Nytimes.com. New York Times, 7 Dec. 2005. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. .
  • Jennings, Kerri-Ann, M.S., R.D. "3 Health Reasons to Cook with Cast Iron (Page 3)." 3 Health Reasons to Cook with Cast Iron (Page 3). Eating Well, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. .
  • "Micronutrient Deficiencies." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. .

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