Nickel in the Kitchen

When not at work, I primarily live in my kitchen and living room. Nickel is everywhere. Found in stainless steel to prevent corrosion and rust in common household items, like cookware and appliances. Visit any commercial kitchen or store selling cookware and you’ll be blinded by the amount of stainless steel shining back at you.

Continually exposing my body to nickel, both by contact and ingesting foods higher in nickel, ultimately resulted in my systemic nickel allergy. My entire body reacts internally and appears externally as severe eczema or atopic dermatitis.

Living low nickel by making conscious choices to reduce my exposure to nickel is my philosophy. I’m not a purist. There really isn’t any way to be nickel free, as our bodies still need some nickel to function properly. The key is to become aware of all the hidden places nickel exists in an effort to avoid it.

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We can adapt what we eat and how we cook our foods. Changing everything in our lives overnight is not realistic or feasible. Remodeling our homes to be entirely nickel free is cost prohibitive in my world. 

I’ve lived in eight different homes since my diagnosis with a systemic nickel allergy in 2009. Kitchen size and layout has become a priority in my home. By spending more time cooking low nickel meals and hosting family and friends instead of eating out, my kitchen has evolved into a gathering place. Last year, I purchased a home that’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived in. Our home was fully and professionally renovated. In all its beauty, the upgrades included brand new stainless steel appliances plus brushed nickel door knobs and handles.

My huge fridge is stocked with plenty of food. I always try to use a towel when opening my stainless steel fridge or an oven mitt when opening the oven to reduce my contact with the nickel. My dishwasher efficiently removes the mess of gourmet meals I regularly eat. I store nickel friendly lotion on the bathroom counter to minimize opening bathroom drawers. It seems so miniscule, these tiny contacts happen dozens of times every day. Each of them, introducing more nickel contact each time. Finding replacements for the custom cabinetry is costly and time consuming. Eliminating nickel entirely, even with my level of awareness and resources is still challenging or impossible.

You’d have to be a magician to hide all of the nickel found in the kitchen. Cookware is expensive and it takes time to build a kitchen full of useful cooking tools. Nickel from the stainless steel pans can leach into the food you cook, especially when heated and doubly so when acidic foods like lemons and tomatoes are introduced. I suggest avoiding using stainless steel pots and pans. Fantastic nickel free alternatives include ceramic, cast iron and glass options. Considering it takes time to upgrade your cookware, perhaps start with one or two pans to see the huge difference it makes when beginning to cook low nickel.

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Before you switch out the cookware you use, ask yourself which method of cooking do you prefer?  I primarily cook on the stovetop or in the oven. During the summer, we’ll often use our grill or Crockpot. Recently we purchased an Instant pot with a ceramic insert which has become a favorite tool that enables quickly cooking homemade meals when we don’t feel like cooking dinner at the end of the day. Identify what cooking tools you already use the most when figuring out which pieces of cookware to upgrade.

On the stove, I use a tramontina 12 inch porcelain enamel, that has an aluminum base and ceramic coated barrier. As long as the ceramic finish remains scratch free, the ceramic prevents toxic metals from leaching into my food. Originally I purchased a ceramic aeternum pan set, but I wouldn’t recommend them as it’s easy to scratch the ceramic. I also love to use my Lodge cast iron skillets and my Lodge dutch oven, both of which can begin on the stovetop and later be placed in the oven depending on what you’re preparing. A hidden benefit of cooking with cast iron includes the fact it adds iron to your meal, which reduces your body’s absorption of nickel. You can also use Vision glassware, which has regained popularity over the past several years as a form of “vintage cooking.”
When I bake, I use cast iron or Pyrex glass as alternatives to stainless steel pans. There are fantastic cast iron cookbooks that will train you on how to condition your cast iron and cook anything from a casserole to an apple pie. Until I saw someone’s two layer cake picture on Instagram, I didn’t realize you can even make fluffy cakes in them! From time to time, I’ll still use my stainless steel baking sheets or muffin pans. To create a barrier between the pan and my food, I’ll use parchment paper or cupcake paper liners. I’ve never tried silicone products in the oven, but there are many who use silicone baking liners or pans instead of stainless steel pans.

An American tradition, grilling adds unique flavors to your meats and vegetables. Many grills are stainless steel. If this is the case, you might be able to replace the actual grill grate with your grill’s manufacturer. Or you can use a Lodge cast iron grill plate on top. If your grill’s original grill plate doesn’t bother you, why change it? I use my original stainless steel grill grate alone and with cast iron cookware on top.

Once you finished cooking your delicious meal, remember to use ceramic plates and nickel free utensil. My eyes and lips react the worst when I eat foods higher in nickel. It’s not a coincidence that the eczema around my lips improved dramatically when I stopped using certain utensils that contained nickel. Technically I still use stainless steel utensils but today my silverware is stainless steel 18/0, which means 18% chromium, 0% nickel. The most common stainless steel silverware is 18/10 and the 10 is 10% nickel. I also have plastic and wooden utensil sets I keep in my lunchbox and car when I travel.

I’m not aware of a blender that doesn’t use some sort of metal blade. I don’t believe my blender causes me any issues. There’s a possibility when I make a fruit smoothie some acidic fruits could cause the nickel to release from the blade, but I only blend the smoothie for a short period of time. It’s more likely a lemon custard or lemon curd blended for an extended period of time, such as 10-20 minutes to heat the egg and lemon, would be more problematic than when I make a smoothie. I love  using my mini Ninja blender to blend mixed drinks or cauliflower rice.


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Lastly, all the wonderful cooking gadgets. I have plenty of plastic scrapers, spatulas and wooden spoons to facilitate cooking on the stove or when mixing a cake. My tongs and whisks have silicone coated handles and tips. A wooden pie roller flattens my dough. My measuring cups and spoons are plastic, these days even cookie cutters are primarily plastic. I even found a plastic peeler, which peels the skin off any piece of fruit, but can’t compete with my stainless steel peeler when I’m peeling a large butternut squash.

There are stainless steel gadgets I still use when substitute options don’t really exist. For instance my spiralizer, apple slicer and knives are all stainless steel. In a pinch when I travel, I bring my stainless steel electric skillet, which I can tolerate sparingly. It doesn’t do my skin any favors when I use it long term, but again it allows me to control what I eat.

Balancing the amount of effort tirelessly using low nickel appliances has meant sometimes I’ll use stainless steel options. Previously I paid $3.00 for a loaf of white bread at a fancy grocery store I’d have to travel out of my way to purchase. Unless I froze half of the loaf, often the bread would go moldy before I finished it. Instead my spouse found a brand new Cuisinart Bread Maker for $15.00 at a local thrift store. Now we make our own 1 ½ pound loaf of white bread weekly at a fraction of the cost. I control all of the ingredients which include butter, water, honey, white bread flour, dehydrated milk and yeast. Despite the bread maker being stainless steel it doesn’t seem to bother me. Perhaps some of that is the reduction in my stress trying to find low nickel bread at the store! I still toast my homemade white bread in my oster toaster. If you find a nickel free toaster, please let me know where you found it.

As an avid tea drinker, I switched out my stainless steel teapot for a glass teapot. Many coffee machines contain nickel than can leach into your coffee. I had luck using a Hamilton coffee maker. All of my to-go mugs are plastic. The majority of to-go mugs are metal as it retains heat better than plastic. Beware of any hidden nickel in your coffee machine or your to-go mugs.

Focusing on low nickel cookware solutions, I’d love to hear what you prefer using or any tips you have to reducing your nickel in your kitchen, in the comment section below!