Most of us cook with aluminum foil, however, because of dangers associated with leaching from aluminum foil, that may no longer be a safe option. Research into the dangers of cooking with aluminum foil has found that some of the toxic metal can contaminate food. This is especially true when foil is used to cook or heat spicy and acidic food. Increased levels of aluminum in the body have been linked to osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Aluminum is used in many cooking processes, not just wrapping fish or meat in foil and putting in the oven or on the barbecue. Many cheap pots and pans are made using aluminum. Also, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), aluminum is used in the production of processed foods which are stored in aluminum containers that are then heated in an oven.1 Aluminum is also used in producing certain medications, antacids, some cosmetics, and deodorants.
Although the body can effectively eliminate small amounts of aluminum that is ingested, many people are worried about what a buildup of this toxic substance can do to body functions.
For example, the ATSDR acknowledges that “eating large amounts of processed food that contain aluminum or cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots exposes a person to higher levels of aluminum than a person who consumes unprocessed foods and uses pots made from other materials.”1
In this article, you will find out the harm that aluminum can do to your body and why you should avoid cooking with it. You will also learn about the true dangers of cooking with aluminum foil.
Dangers of Cooking with Aluminum Foil
The dangers of cooking with aluminum foil occur when it is heated to high temperatures. The heating process causes aluminum leaching which contaminates food. There are a number of factors that cause leaching of aluminum into food.
A study published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science found that leaching from aluminum foil can result in unacceptably high levels of aluminum contamination in food. The study showed that the aluminum concentration was connected with the type of meat, the type of cooking involved, cooking temperature, and the addition of fruits and vegetables.2
For example, red meats that were cooked for 40 minutes at 400°F (205°C) were found to have up nearly 380% more aluminum contamination than before cooking. Poultry, especially the breast meat, showed levels of just over 200% more aluminum than was present before cooking.
Researchers also found that acidic food increased the dangers of cooking with aluminum cookware. So, more aluminum leaching occurred when the foods contained lemon juice or tomato juice (for example, in a marinade).
The author of the study and Head of the Chemistry Division at Ain Shams University, Ghada Bassioni said that aluminum foil used in cooking allows the metal to enter the body. She concluded by saying that “aluminum foil is not suitable for cooking, especially with acidic food.”2
Similar leaching from aluminum pots and pans has also been reported. Two of the researchers who took part in the study just mentioned found that food cooked in aluminum pots and pans contained high amounts of the toxic metal. They reported that salt and citric acid increased the aluminum leaching.3
Dangers of Aluminum in the Body
Aluminum is a naturally occurring metal in the earth and we are all exposed to small amounts of it from the air, food, water, and soil. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the acceptable dose of aluminum per day should not exceed 1 mg per kg of body weight.2 Many sources show that on average we consume about 9 mg aluminum per day in food.4
However, should we be concerned about the danger of aluminum contamination in the body?
According to professor Bassioni, cooking with aluminum foil can cause levels of aluminum in food that are unacceptable according to the values outlined by the WHO.2
The ATSDR says that aluminum toxicity can affect health. They have linked exposure to aluminum to decreased functions of the central nervous system, Alzheimer’s disease, and bone diseases.4
Let’s look at what scientific studies have shown regarding the toxic effect of aluminum on the body and mind.
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Aluminum negatively affects brain function
Many scientists have found that increased levels of aluminum can negatively affect brain function. They have said that over-exposure to aluminum can cause memory impairment, learning difficulties, central nervous system disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease looked at the aluminum-Alzheimer link. They found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have elevated levels of aluminum in brain cells. The journal reports that aluminum can enter the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal tract and that aluminum can enter the brain through the blood. This can cause severe health problems in people, especially infants, the elderly, and people with kidney disease.5
Another study published in the journal Neurotoxicology found that exposure to aluminum does affect brain function and causes “behavioral, neuropathological, and neurochemical changes.” They recommend that “avoidance of aluminum exposure, when practical, seems prudent.”6
Aluminum linked to osteoporosis
Increased levels of aluminum are also linked to brittle bones and osteoporosis. Calcium is needed for strong bones and is an important mineral, especially as we get older. However, it seems from studies that aluminum interferes with how calcium is absorbed by the body.
The Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that the aluminum present in antacids interfered with the metabolism of calcium and fluoride intake – both of which are important in preventing osteoporosis. This resulted in a calcium deficiency in the body. The researchers found that aluminum causes calcium loss and prevent the absorption of fluoride and contributes to bone loss.7
Another study from Norway found that in areas where there are high levels of aluminum, lead, and cadmium in drinking water, more people suffered from hip fractures because of brittle bones.8
Should you be worried?
Despite the reported health risks regarding the dangers of consuming food and drink that contains high levels of aluminum, some websites try to dismiss the allegations. They point to the fact that more research has to be done and that the ingested amounts of aluminum are relatively small.
However, as professor Bassioni pointed out, cooking with aluminum foil is on the rise. Aluminum is found in processed foods, used for heating processed foods, antacids, and is used in purifying drinking water. The body can of course successfully excrete a small amount of aluminum effectively to prevent a harmful buildup in the body.
However, with the rise in the use of aluminum in food and drink preparation – is it not wise to limit unnecessary exposure to this toxic metal?
Many people are now doing that because there are many acceptable alternatives to using aluminum foil in cooking.
Alternatives to Aluminum Foil in Cooking
It is very simple to avoid the dangers of aluminum foil in cooking. Aluminum foil became popular because it is a cheap and easy way to protect food during the cooking process. Here are a few tips on avoiding the risks associated with aluminum leaching during cooking:
- Bake your food in heatproof glass or porcelain cookware.
- Remove pre-made processed foods from their aluminum containers and heat in stainless steel or iron pans.
- Only use aluminum foil to store cold food for short periods of time.
- Change from using aluminum pans to using high-quality stainless steel pans. However, if this is not possible, professor Bassioni suggests boiling new aluminum pans a few times in boiling water until the surface is matt. This oxidation process prevents aluminum leaching.
- ATSDR. Aluminum.
- J. Electrochem. Sci., 7 (2012) 4498 – 4509.
- J. Electrochem. Sci., 6 (2011) 222 – 230.
- ATSDR. ToxFAQ for aluminum.
- Int J Alzheimers Dis. 2011; 2011: 276393.
- Neurotoxicology. 2000 Oct;21(5):813-28.
- J Am Coll Nutr. 1985;4(1):121-8.
- Biol Trace Elem Res. 2014 Jan;157(1):14-23