In recent years, there has been a lot of controversy over the health concerns of cooking with aluminum products. It seems that every household is stocked with aluminum pans and aluminum foil to help with the convenience of cooking and preserving our foods, but how safe is it for us to be using aluminum foil and aluminum products every day?
Aluminum is one of the most abundant metals in the Earth’s crust. It is often found in small amounts in air and water and it is even naturally occurring in most mainstream foods like meats, fish, grains, and dairy products, but is even found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables.
A controversial statement that is often associated with aluminum exposure is that aluminum can be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and the development of dementia. According to both the Alzheimers Associations and the Alzheimers Society Canada, there is no concrete evidence that everyday exposure to aluminum, including cooking with aluminum, is linked to the development of dementia (Dowden, 2020). However, in a 2014 study by Keele University, researchers found evidence of an individual who was exposed to aluminum at work and died of Alzheimer’s disease. High levels of aluminum were seen in the brain.
These findings are believed to be the first record of a direct link between Alzheimer’s disease and elevated brain aluminum following occupational exposure to aluminum (Keele University, 2014). This study has caught the eyes of many health professionals who have continued to back up the claim that our everyday exposure to aluminum may not be safe. Most of our aluminum intake comes from food, but our aluminum intake levels are elevated dramatically through aluminum foil, cooking utensils, and containers that can leach aluminum into our foods (West, 2017).
Aluminum is a known neurotoxin, therefore elevated levels of aluminum are being linked to Alzheimer’s disease. We need to start doing as much as possible to minimize our intake of aluminum through our diets. Even with some foods containing naturally occurring aluminum in them, we can become even more exposed to aluminum from cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce in aluminum pots. We aren’t exposed to high levels of aluminum just from one instance of cooking, but a continuous consumption of acidic foods cooked in aluminum pots can build aluminum levels in the body over time.
One food with an abundant amount of aluminum is cheese. Cheese can have more than 50 times the level of aluminum compared to acidic foods cooked in aluminum pans (Aniys, 2014). The dairy industry adds aluminum into cheese to give it a softer texture and to provide more precise cutting. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that cheese in a serving of frozen pizza had up to 14 mg of sodium aluminum phosphate. The same amount of cheese in a ready to eat restaurant pizza provided .03-.09 mg of aluminum (Saiyed and Yokel, 2005). The study also found acidic sodium aluminum phosphate in many food products like pancakes and waffles that contained baking powder, as well as other frozen products that tested up to 180 mg of aluminum per serving (Saiyed and Yokel, 2005). This far surpasses the typical aluminum intake of 3-12 mg a day that is deemed as safe by many dietary aluminum studies conducted in many countries.
Even with the unknown health concerns of aluminum products, why not just cut it out entirely? By cutting out aluminum products from our kitchen, we release the risk for the potential health concerns it poses…and we can be more on track in living not only a healthy, but more sustainable and environmentally friendly life.
Aluminum-based products are very unsustainable and leave our Earth riddled with waste and harm. Aluminum leaves a large carbon footprint due to its extraction and production process, and it not only has potential harm to our health but also to aquatic sea life, as well as the potential for causing fish-killing algae blooms (Rastoi, 2010). Aluminum may be everywhere but there is a lot we can do to minimize our overall intake of aluminum each day. It starts with buying fresh organic produce and cutting out all aluminum products from our kitchens.
So what can we use in place of aluminum products?
Glass food storage containers
Silicone stretch lids and mats
Reusable cloth wax wrap
Unbleached and certified compostable parchment paper
Stainless steel instead of aluminum
Written by Sean Connelly, Ramapo College Intern to Karen Ranzi, M.A.