True Cellular Formulas Team - November 21, 2023

Chromium and Nickel Risks in Stainless Steel

Safer Alternatives and Best Practices


Stainless steel is a staple in modern kitchens, renowned for its durability and sleek appearance. However, beneath its shiny surface lies a potential health concern: the presence of chromium and nickel. This article delves into the risks associated with these elements in stainless steel and offers safer alternatives and best practices for conscientious consumers.

Understanding Stainless Steel and Its Components

Stainless steel is more than just a shiny fixture in our kitchens; it's a complex alloy that plays a crucial role in modern culinary practices. At its core, stainless steel is an iron-based alloy, but its resistance to rust and tarnish comes from its additional components: primarily chromium and, in many cases, nickel. The presence of chromium, which usually comprises between 10-30% of the alloy, creates an invisible layer of chromium oxide on the surface, protecting the metal beneath from corrosion and damage.[1]

While this makes stainless steel ideal for cookware, utensils, and appliances, the inclusion of these metals raises concerns about their potential impact on our health. The leaching of these metals into foods, particularly when cooking acidic dishes or using abrasive cleaning methods, has been a topic of debate among health experts and consumers alike.[2] Understanding the composition of stainless steel is the first step in assessing these risks and making informed choices about the cookware we use.

Identifying the Risks of Chromium and Nickel Toxicity

The question of chromium and nickel toxicity in stainless steel cookware is not just a theoretical concern but a practical one. When stainless steel cookware is used to cook acidic foods, like tomato sauce, or is subjected to repeated scratching and heavy use, small amounts of chromium and nickel can leach into the food.[2] While the body needs trace amounts of chromium for its metabolic functions, excessive intake can pose health risks. Similarly, nickel, while also essential in small amounts, can cause allergic reactions in some individuals and has been linked to more severe health issues with prolonged exposure.

Scientific studies have shown varying results on the extent of metal leaching from stainless steel cookware, often depending on the quality of the material and the cooking conditions.[3] However, the consensus is that while the amount of metal leached is generally small, it can accumulate over time, particularly when used daily and especially in individuals with sensitivities or underlying health conditions. Understanding these risks is crucial for consumers, especially when it comes to preparing meals for families and loved ones.

Safer Alternatives to Standard Stainless Steel

While standard stainless steel cookware does pose some risk of metal leaching, not all stainless steel is created equal. For those concerned about the potential health impacts, 18/10 and 300 series stainless steel offer safer alternatives. These numbers aren't just random; they indicate the composition of the steel, with 18/10 stainless steel containing 18% chromium and 10% nickel. The 300 series, particularly the 304 and 316 types, are known for their higher chromium and lower nickel content, making them less likely to leach these metals.[4]

What makes these alternatives safer is their stability under heat and resistance to corrosion. The higher chromium content in these series forms a more robust protective layer, minimizing the amount of nickel and chromium that can seep into food. This makes them an excellent choice for those looking to reduce their exposure to these metals without sacrificing the benefits of stainless steel cookware.

Best Practices for Using Stainless Steel in the Kitchen

To minimize the risks associated with stainless steel cookware, there are several best practices you can follow. First and foremost, avoid cooking and storing acidic foods in stainless steel containers. Acidic foods, like tomatoes or citrus, can accelerate the leaching process.[2] Instead, opt for glass containers for storing such foods. Glass is inert and does not react with acids, making it a safe option for both storage and cooking.

Additionally, the choice of utensils can make a significant difference. Avoid using metal utensils that can scratch the surface of your stainless steel cookware. Scratches can compromise the protective layer of chromium oxide, increasing the risk of metal leaching. Instead, opt for wooden or silicone utensils, which are gentle on the surfaces and do not pose a risk of scratching. These small changes in your cooking and storage habits can significantly reduce the risk of metal exposure from stainless steel cookware.

Carbon Steel: A Noteworthy Mention

While the focus has been on stainless steel, it's worth briefly mentioning carbon steel as a noteworthy alternative. Carbon steel cookware is prized for its heat retention and durability, much like cast iron, but with a lighter weight. It contains more iron and less carbon, without the addition of chromium or nickel, making it a safer option for those concerned about metal leaching. Though it requires seasoning to maintain its non-stick properties and prevent rust, carbon steel is a robust option for those seeking a healthier alternative to traditional stainless steel cookware.


While stainless steel remains a popular and versatile material for cookware, it's important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with chromium and nickel leaching. By opting for safer alternatives like 18/10 or 300 series stainless steel, using glass for storage of acidic foods, and choosing wooden utensils, you can significantly reduce these risks. Remember, the key is not to eliminate stainless steel from your kitchen but to use it wisely and cautiously.

The conversation around the materials we use in our kitchens is an evolving one, and as consumers, staying informed helps us make choices that align with our health priorities. Whether it's opting for safer stainless steel alternatives or exploring other materials like carbon steel, the goal is to achieve a balance between safety, functionality, and culinary enjoyment.

  1. Eliaz, Noam. “Corrosion of Metallic Biomaterials: A Review.” Materials (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 12,3 407. 28 Jan. 2019, doi:10.3390/ma12030407
  2. Ali Sultan, Saif Ali et al. “Assessing Leaching of Potentially Hazardous Elements from Cookware during Cooking: A Serious Public Health Concern.” Toxics vol. 11,7 640. 24 Jul. 2023, doi:10.3390/toxics11070640
  3. Kamerud, Kristin L et al. “Stainless steel leaches nickel and chromium into foods during cooking.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 61,39 (2013): 9495-501. doi:10.1021/jf402400v

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