Think Twice Before Cooking With Aluminum Foil

Published On 04/20/2016 Published On 04/20/2016
Salmon grilled in aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is ubiquitous, cheap, and convenient to cook with, but you may be leaching toxins into your food if you use it in the oven or on the grill. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Another day, another common household item that science says is poisoning you, right? Well, unfortunately for those who enjoy a nice baked potato, there may be something to this one.

Photo travel VlaD/Shutterstock

Isn't aluminum natural?

It is! It's the third-most-common element found in the Earth's crust, and everyone is basically exposed to it all the time through food and water. In fact, you've got some in your system right now

The problem is that it's a well-known neurotoxin, one that may be associated with Alzheimer's disease, and can hang out in your brain, parathyroid, and bones -- though it's important to note that no one has shown aluminum to be a direct cause of Alzheimer's. In any case, researchers say the connection shouldn't be ignored, because there may be a real link here, and why hoard aluminum if you don't have to? 

Also, aluminum toxicity has been studied time and time again in laboratory animals as well as from human patient data. The nervous system, which of course includes the ever-important brain, seems to be sensitive to excess aluminum. There have also been studies that explore the brain's uptake of aluminum as it relates to other neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, and while no concrete link or connection has been made, it certainly bears further research. 

The good news is that healthy individuals can easily process small amounts -- what you take in usually goes right out via pee and poop. In people with kidney disease, though, it's a different story. Those folks have a harder time clearing their bodies of the element, and it can accumulate in areas that can cause serious problems, such as the brain or in the bones.

Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock

Why does cooking with aluminum foil cause problems?

When food is wrapped in aluminum foil and heated during the cooking process (such as on the grill or in the oven), the aluminum in the foil basically breaks down and winds up in your food. In some cases, the researchers found that the amount of leached aluminum in the food reached levels well above the World Health Organization's recommended safe limits: 1mg of aluminum per kilogram of body weight.

Temperature, acidity, and cooking time also affect aluminum levels in fairly intuitive ways: cooking at a higher temperature, cooking with more acidic food, and cooking for longer all mean increases in aluminum levels. That's a huge bummer if you love a quick lemon-roasted chicken, grilled pineapple, and on and on and on. 

Don't eat the aluminum foil

In other words, do you really want to risk chewing up and swallowing a bunch of excess aluminum if you don't have to? Probably not. While you really can't avoid coming into contact with aluminum as you go about your daily life, since you have to come into contact with drinking water and the Earth's crust, not cooking with aluminum foil is probably one of the easiest changes you can make to whittle down your exposure, especially if it's done on the regular. There are all sorts of glass, ceramic, cast iron, and other aluminum-free cooking dishes available -- and if doing dishes is a complete impossibility, parchment paper usually works in a pinch. 

What's more, you don't have to throw out your current roll of aluminum foil. Just wrap your food up after you cook it. 
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Monica Beyer is a health writer who loves metal, but not the kind you eat. Follow her: @monicabeyer.



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