Aluminum is in lots of things: corn, teas, herbs, medications, deodorants, even your drinking water. It’s also in your cooking utensils — pots, pans and ladles. In fact, it’s the third most common element in the world and the number one most abundant metal in Earth’s crust. Basically, aluminum is everywhere, which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s safe to ingest a certain level of it (about 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight).
But ingesting too much aluminum may be harmful, as aluminum has been hotly debated as a potential neurotoxin for years. Aluminum buildup has been found in the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. And in 2003, the World Health Organization performed a survey of six epidemiological studies of aluminum in drinking water. Three of the studies found high levels of aluminum consumption were a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and three of the studies found no correlation at all.
On its website, the Aluminum Association does its part to dispel “myths” about aluminum: “Aluminum is not linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the cause (or causes) of which is unknown." And the Alzheimer's Association says, "Studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat."
Other studies have suggested that high aluminium intake may be harmful to patients with bone diseases or kidney issues, and it can reduce the growth rate of brain cells.
Recent research suggests cooking with aluminum foil may be bad for our health, because cooking aluminum at high temperatures makes it more likely to leach into food, especially when we add acidic liquids like lemon or tomato juice. The high heat and the increased acidity "sparks a particularly aggressive process that dissolves layers of aluminium into food" at higher levels than the WHO recommends, according to The Conversation. This news may disappoint some home cooks who appreciate the convenience of disposable tin foil pans and the ease of wrapping fish, veggies and lemon into a tidy foil packet and popping it in the oven.
It's important to note this leaching doesn't happen with metal cookware that may contain aluminum. Pots and pans tend to be oxidized with a layer that prevents aluminum from getting into your food at unsafe levels.
Should you be concerned?
Amy Borenstein, a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health recommends that consumers try to limit their aluminum consumption, but points out there are more proven ways to prevent Alzheimer's, such as social engagement, level of intellectual stimulation and lowering your risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
Either way, we know that cooking in ceramic or glass as opposed to tin foil
is definitely better for the environment — and if it turns out 20 years down
the road that it’s better for you, too? Well that’s just a bonus.