Aluminum foil is a staple in many homes for cooking. It has lots of uses in the kitchen and can keep food from drying out and make clean-up a snap.
“Aluminum foil can be used to keep food moist, cook it evenly, and make clean-up easier.”
Aluminum foil is a great convenience, but it comes with a price! Aluminum is well-established as a neurotoxin and studies show there is probably a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease. There is also mounting evidence that chronic exposure to aluminum contributes to other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia. Plus, aluminum is known to accumulate in brain, liver, kidneys and bones! The effects of aluminum are not limited to neurological conditions.
Dangers of Aluminum
We have suspected that there is a link between aluminum (Al) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) since the 1960’s when scientists found elevated amounts of aluminum in the brains of people who had died of the disease. There seems to be mounting evidence that there is indeed some connection between aluminum and neurodegenerative diseases like AD.
We only absorb between 0.06% and 0.4% of ingested aluminum, and a very small percentage of that goes to our brains. Is that enough to cause AD? A study done by the University of British Columbia in 2011 demonstrated a link between Al and AD, even in small doses:
“very small amounts of Al are needed to produce neurotoxicity and this criterion is satisfied through dietary Al intake…Immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to Al, which may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to AD.” (1)
The link between aluminum and AD has been debated for a long time, but a 2016 study refueled the debate about AD due to aluminum because of it’s size and scope. The analysis included 8 cohort and case control studies, with a total of 10567 individuals. Here were the findings:
“Results showed that individuals chronically exposed to Al were 71% more likely to develop AD.” (2)
The concerns about aluminum aren’t just limited to AD. Elevated amounts of aluminum have been found in the brains of patients who have passed away from Parkinson’s Disease as well. (3)
Aluminum accumulates in bone, brain, liver, and kidney, with BONE as the major site for aluminum deposition in humans. Surprised? I was too! Aluminum-induced bone disease is a known condition and can progress to stress fractures of various bones. Aluminum may also contribute to osteoporosis. (4)
Since aluminum accumulates in the kidneys, people who are pre-term infants, and children and adults with kidney disease are particularly vulnerable to aluminum toxicity since their kidneys can’t filter out aluminum that they are exposed to. They may develop bone and brain diseases as a result of excess aluminum in their systems. (5)
There is also some evidence that aluminum exposure may cause breast cancer. (6)
In my opinion, there is certainly enough research to conclude that we should try to consume as little aluminum as possible. Even the World Health Organization advises that everyone only intake 40mg/kg daily.
Sources of Aluminum Exposure
Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, so it is no surprise that it is found in many things! Aluminum can be present in many foods that we eat including baking soda, self-rising flour, food colorings, baby formula, and other processed foods. It is found in over-the-counter antacids like Maalox and Mylanta, buffered aspirin and vaccines. It is in deodorants containing antiperspirants and some astringents and cosmetics. It is also frequently present in our drinking water in trace amounts. It is even in the air we breathe. In all of these forms, our bodies absorb some of the aluminum. It is impossible to avoid altogether, but limiting exposure is important!
Heated Aluminum Foil Leachs Aluminum Into Food
One of the ways we can choose to avoid aluminum exposure is through avoiding cooking with aluminum foil. Wrapping a cold sandwich or leftovers in aluminum foil releases minimal aluminum, but when aluminum foil is heated (like in the oven or BBQ grill), the aluminum foil is degraded and aluminum leaches out of the foil and into the food. When we eat the food, our bodies readily absorb the aluminum.
Here are the results of one study:
“Aluminum foil used in cooking provides an easy channel for the metal to enter the human body…The results clearly indicate that the use of aluminum foil for cooking contributes significantly to the daily intake of aluminum through the cooked foods. The amount of leaching was found to be high in acidic solutions, and even higher with the addition of spices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the obtained values considered to be unacceptable. Finally, excessive consumption of aluminum from leaching aluminum foil has an extreme health risk effects.” (7)
Ways to Reduce Aluminum Exposure
Cast iron pans are a great way to avoid aluminum foil and aluminum pans. In fact, I wrote a whole post about why I love cast iron pans if you would like to learn more! They are also surprisingly affordable! (where to buy cast iron pans) Instead of wrapping veggies in aluminum foil when I cook them on the BBQ grill, I sautee them in a cast iron pan right on the grill. Cast iron pans are also a good way to avoid cooking in aluminum pans, another source of aluminum exposure.
Parchment paper is safe to use up to 350 degrees, so instead of lining a pan with foil, I use parchment paper. This works great if I am worried about drippings from meat sticking to the pan.
Instead of buying deodorant that contains aluminum as an antiperspirant, buy deodorant with out an antiperspirant, or make your own!