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How Cooking Can Actually Be Bad for You

How Cooking Can Actually Be Bad for You

“Particulate matter” (PM2.5) is a term that many of us have heard in regard to the smog and air pollution in Beijing. But the cooking you do in your own home can produce concentrations of PM2.5 that are four times greater than major haze events in Beijing.

Yes, it’s a bit disquieting to know that making your healthy stir-fry could be generating dangerous air pollution in your own kitchen.

Cooking is, after all, an “act of controlled combustion,” the New York Times’ Well blog points out. When you grill, fry or toast food on a gas or electric grill, you are actually producing not only particulate matter but also nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and “volatile organic compounds” including acrolein, which was used in grenades in World War I.

We’re potentially endangering our own indoor air quality when cooking. 55 of 70 percent of homes with a gas stove emit enough nitrogen dioxide to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of clean air while a quarter have air quality that is “worse than the worst recorded smog (nitrogen dioxide) event in London.”

The long-term effects of indoor air pollution cannot be overlooked. Jennifer M. Logue, an air quality engineer at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that the health impact of indoor pollutants is “on a par with that of car accidents, and greater than that of traditional concerns like secondhand smoke or radon.” The dangers come not only from the release of particulate matter but from the use of products like air fresheners, incense and candles used to hide odors. When ozone reacts with the chemicals in many such scenting agents, the result is formaldehyde.

Indoor air pollution, often due to cooking or heating with open fires or on traditional stoves, is also a serious public health issue around the world. As the World Health Organization notes, research links indoor air pollution to acute lower respiratory infections in children under five and also to chronic pulmonary disease and (when coal is used) lung cancer in adults.

How Can We Clean Up the Air Inside Our Own Homes?

Energy-efficient appliances (ranked with the “Energy Star” rating, for instance) do not indicate the impact of an appliance on our health. But changes in cooking practices — something as obvious as opening a window when using the stove can help – and revisingin the design of kitchens can make a difference.

Engineers from the Lawrence Lab also think we need to change building codes so that all kitchens have venting range hoods above stoves. Of course, people still need to use them but what if, with better awareness of the dangers of air pollution inside the house, range hoods could be made to turn on automatically when high enough levels of pollutants were detected?

In the U.S., the levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in many California homes are high enough that, if they had been detected outdoors, the E.P.A. would be “cracking down,” says scientist Brett Singer. Since these high levels occur in people’s private homes, “there’s no regulation requiring anyone to fix it.”

Until there is, and until the dangers of indoor air pollution are more widely acknowledged, it’s  best to turn on the kitchen fan and open the windows — and you might also consider making some raw dishes. Food doesn’t have to be cooked (and certainly not “cooked to death”) to taste good.


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10:21AM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

Very interesting.

6:34AM PDT on Aug 9, 2013


10:57PM PDT on Aug 6, 2013

Use cooking tools or device for its intended purposes "ONLY", some folks love's to experiment. If you are cooking for a family occasion supper or a nibble for the youngsters, honing safe cooking conducts will help keep you and your family safe.

4:07PM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

When your living need to pay attention to what your doing. Some how people forget this part.

3:45PM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

Some kind of food really need to be cooked to taste good. Most of them, in fact. at least to my taste. I can give some examples, though i Know maybe most don't know them. Mandioca and Pequi...Nobocy can eat them raw at all. I like some food totally raw, like tomatoes, carrots, and repolho ( forgot how to say it in English). I love raw onions. But come on...raw potatoes? Raw pumpkins? No way. Other food that doesn't need to be cooked are the leaves. like lettuce. But most are impossible to eat if not well cooked. Have you ever tried raw corn? Raw Inhame? Jiló? Beans? Rice? I have to say most food require cooking. The author made a mistake. Raw must be kidding. In my kitchen the stove is under the window and next to the door. We don't close them. We have fresh air all the time. Now I am trying to remember any other food that we can eat raw... Oh avocado, yes. Bananas...All fruit as a matter of fact. Yes, we don't need to cook fruit never. Bit what about soy?

8:46AM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

I knew cooking was 'bad for you'...:)

8:39AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

Thanks for sharing...

6:38PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

I will definitely stop cooking from now on! LOL Sure, lets all open the windows when cooking and make the AC work harder and run our electric bill up. We could go outside and use the grill but then we pollute the air outside and contribute to ozone. Should we all just stop eating? ;)

2:14PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

People used open fire for cooking for thousands of years. My grandmother had a stove top operating on coal (and it was also her house heating). Before starting fire, you need to open the chimney, otherwise you get sick. That's what they had, chimneys. According to the physics law, hot air rich with smog goes up. Range hoods might help, but why not to build, well, just chimneys? We are too afraid to let the environment into our houses, obsessed about air conditioning and electric appliances.

11:01AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

What's the world coming too!

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