Ahimsa stainless steel dinnerwear in rainbow

Back to School Lesson: The Science of Stainless Steel

By Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 7 min

All About the Science of Stainless Steel

I’ve always been a knowledge seeker. It’s the fancier term for a nerd. I can’t help it. I love to learn. It’s probably why I chose a profession that requires lifelong learning. As a medical student, resident, and now attending physician, I’ve found a great appreciation for and thirst for education as it is truly the foundation of medicine. 

So, when I set out on my journey to start a colorful, stainless steel line of children’s dinnerware, I started like I always have - voraciously read and learn about the science of stainless steel. If you are a fellow knowledge seeker (yes, fellow nerd), come to learn about it with me - in fact, it’s cooler than you think. My second love? Teaching.

About Ahimsa

Founded by a pediatrician and mom of three

Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

We are guided by a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of environmental and medical experts, guiding us in creating the safest products, following the latest science and promoting policy to protect human health and our planet

Want to know more? Check out our story and our products

What is stainless steel?

Stainless steel is an alloy (a mixture of metals) of mostly iron with some chromium and nickel. We often describe our Ahimsa steel as grade 304 18/8. This means it is high-grade steel with 18% chromium and 8% nickel - it is these two materials in those percentages that significantly increase corrosion resistance (otherwise known as rust).

Why is steel better for the planet than plastic?

Last month, a fantastic NPR podcast highlighted the problem with plastic which I will summarize here: “According to a 2017 research article, more than 40% of all plastic made is packaging, which is used only once or twice before being thrown away. According to a recent analysis examining global plastic waste generation between 2010 and 2016, the United States was responsible for more plastic trash than any country in the world. That’s millions and millions of tons of plastic waste. Per capita, that boils down to nearly 300 pounds of plastic trash per person(!) per year. It’s estimated that only about 9% of plastic waste generated in the U.S. is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators, and, unfortunately, marine environments such as rivers and oceans. And there, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it will remain for hundreds of years.”

On the contrary, stainless steel is literally a champion of recycling. It is one of the world’s most recycled materials - more than paper or glass, with around 90% of end-of-life stainless steel being collected and recycled into new stainless steel – without losing quality. 60% of all new stainless steel comes from recycled material. It is infinitely recyclable

Why did the American Academy of Pediatrics choose stainless steel as one of the only two materials recommended in their policy statement?

I asked this question to the lead author of the policy statement, Dr. Leonardo Trasande. He explained that glass and stainless steel are materials that have been well studied and have been shown to be safe over many years. Newer materials like silicone haven’t been studied long enough, and other materials like melamine have shown a clear association with child health interference. 

I looked into the properties of steel before launching a company and found many reasons that steel is used in two settings I am used to - the kitchen and the hospital. Our pots and pans, as well as indwelling medical implants and surgical tools, are made of stainless steel.

Stainless Steel Mealtime Essentials

So, what are the properties that make it so great for these important settings?

  • It’s chemically inert: It doesn’t interact with its surroundings, meaning it won’t migrate its elements into your body or your food. It also preserves a purity in cooking - it won’t discolor food or impart metallic flavors into that meal you spent so much time preparing. It also won’t hold on to the tastes or smell of food or soaps after cleaning. 
  • It’s durable and lasts: If something is going to be indwelling in your body to play a role in your health, it better last! If you look around your kitchen, you may note that your steel pots and pans are older than your children - and still in great shape. It can be dropped, exposed to heat, and thoroughly disinfected and sterilized safely without breakage, degradation, or corrosion - allowing it to last for years. Because stainless steel is passive (self-healing/renewing) and tenacious (very resistant to scratching/abrasion), it leads to savings on maintenance and longer service life.
  • It’s easy to keep bacteria away: In hospitals and commercial kitchens, infection control is a top priority. Bacteria are commonly on surfaces, and some can survive for several weeks - contributing to the spread through day-to-day contact. So the smooth, non-porous, non-absorbent surface of stainless steel can be easily cleaned to prevent bacterial growth - specifically Staph Aureus, a big player in hospital-acquired infections and food-borne infections.

So there you have it - steel is preferred by the environmental, medical, and culinary worlds. I was just a pediatrician mom cooking my children’s meals when I had the “aha moment”! My worlds converged to bring the idea of AHIMSA® to my mind. Now I simply cannot help notice the amount of stainless steel in hospitals and kitchens - it’s always been here. It’s just time we bring it to our family dining table.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

More Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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