Why It's Important to Turn the Range Hood On Every Time
Or open the window. Even when you're boiling water. We're serious!
If you heard that chemicals give off dangerous fumes, you probably wouldn't be surprised. But it might be surprising to learn that cooking, or even turning on a stove or stovetop can give off fumes and particles that can be harmful too (5). Think about it, have you ever noticed all the smoke floating away from your cooking pan when you're stir-frying or just plain frying? Or maybe you've smelled something funny when you turn on the burner? Well, in that cloud of smoke are a whole heap of yucky chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM) (5).
Give me the rundown on VOCs
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs refer to a group of chemicals that are airborne and that you can breathe in (2). Particulate matter (PM), well, is exactly what it sounds like! They are ultrafine particles that you can't see with the naked eye. But because these particles are so small, they are easy to inhale into your lungs and cause inflammation (5). As you can probably guess, the risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, how long and how often a person breathes it in (2). Breathing in low levels of VOCs and PM for long periods of time may increase some people's risk of health problems (2). Several studies suggest that exposure to VOCs and PM can worsen symptoms for people with asthma or who are particularly sensitive to chemicals (2).
Short-term exposure to VOCs and PM (we're talking hours to days), can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches, nausea, or worsening of asthma symptoms (2). Long-term repeated exposure, like for years or over a lifetime, can cause cancer, liver and kidney damage and damage to the nervous system (2). If you're pregnant, or thinking of having a child, here's some news you may want to pay attention to. VOC and PM exposure is not directly harmful to pregnant women, but it is harmful to the baby. Breathing in high concentrations of VOCs can lower birth weight and negatively affect a child's physical development (3). There is also preliminary research that shows that pregnant women who breathe in high concentrations of VOCs during pregnancy can also decrease the immunity of their children (4). Talk about bad news bears!
What can I do to reduce my exposure?
There are a couple things that you can do to reduce the amount of VOCs and PMs you're exposed to - change how you cook and what oil you use, and improve your home's ventilation and filtration capacity and capability. What does this mean? Here's a run down for you:
- The most concerning type of cooking that produces the most VOCs are things that are cooked at a high temperature or in a lot of oil (1). For example, this includes frying or pan frying things, especially meat (1). A good gauge is the more smoke something gives off during the cooking process, the more VOCs and PM there likely are in the air that you're going to be breathing in (1).
- If you're using oil right now with a low smoke point (a quick Google search will let you know the smoking point of your oil), switch to one with a higher smoking point. Good oils to use are avocado, peanut, or canola oil and ghee (clarified butter).
- If you've got one, turn on your range hood before you even turn on your stove (2). Even when you are just boiling water, just the ignition of a gas stove can raise VOCs above a healthy level. The hood will suck away the VOCs and PM from the air above your stove and hopefully leave nothing but yummy food for you and your family.
- If you don't have a range hood, purchase a window exhaust fan (it can be either a dual one or just one that pushes air out) or invest in an air filter. It not only helps with the VOCs but will also help with cleaning your air of other things you don't want to be breathing in.
- If you're in a bind and need a penny pinching solution, we've got one for you too! Open your window, place a fan right by it, and you're good to go!