Is Cooking with Aluminum Foil Bad for Your Health?
Over the years, rumors have swirled about high levels of aluminum leading to health risks. Let's separate the myths from the facts.
Lining sheet pans, making packets for the grill and storing food in the fridge are just a few of the ways you can use aluminum foil in your kitchen. But can cooking with foil have dangerous consequences?
Myth or Fact?
Over the years, rumors have swirled about high levels of aluminum leading to health risks, including Alzheimer’s disease and kidney disease. The truth is, aluminum is all around us. It is naturally found in water, air and soil, and it is used in additives and preservatives. You can even be exposed to aluminum in some cosmetics, antiperspirants, antacids and aspirin. Regular contact does not appear to cause problems.
When it comes to aluminum foil, small amounts of aluminum leach into food that’s cooked using aluminum foil or aluminum cookware. Thankfully, the body has numerous mechanisms in place to help rid the body of excess amounts of this metal.
There is such a thing as aluminum toxicity, which happens over time and could eventually be dangerous to your brain, bones, muscles and other tissues. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), high levels of aluminum in the environment can be caused by the mining and processing of aluminum ores or the production of aluminum metal, alloys and compounds. In addition, small amounts of aluminum are released into the environment from coal-fired power plants and incinerators.
In the Kitchen
Is there a concern for the home cook? According to the CDC, it doesn’t appear so. The CDC says that “a very small amount of the aluminum in food or water will enter your body through the digestive tract.” However, most aluminum in food, water and medicines leaves your body quickly in your feces. Small amounts of aluminum can also enter your bloodstream but will leave your body quickly through the urine.
Research shows that cooking aluminum at high temperatures and the use of acidic foods, salt and spices did perpetuate a greater amount of leaching of the mineral. Although it’s unlikely the aluminum leached will cause harm, you can always use parchment paper instead of aluminum foil for high-temperature cooking (above 400 degrees Fahrenheit) and store acidic leftovers in glass containers instead of wrapped in foil.
What About Aluminum Pans?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people thought that using aluminum in pots and pans could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. “However, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s.”
In addition, according to the CDC, aluminum pots and pans aren’t considered to be harmful. However, if you frequently cook acidic food in aluminum pots, you may be exposed to higher levels of aluminum compared to someone who uses pots made out of other materials, such as stainless steel or glass.
Using aluminum in the kitchen does appear to be safe. If you’re worried about storing acidic food in aluminum foil and cooking with aluminum foil at high temperatures, use the recommendations listed above.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.