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There’s been a lot of buzz about aluminum foil and its use in the kitchen, with concerns around its potential to infuse “dangerous” metals into your food. But does foil really pose a potential danger to your health?
Before you banish aluminum foil from your kitchen, here’s what you need to know.
Aluminum is everywhere – not just in your foil
While many people point to aluminum foil as a household danger, this popular misconception overlooks a key detail. It isn’t necessarily aluminum foil that’s causing health problems. Rather, the issue may be aluminum in general.
As a 2017 article points out, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust. It actually occurs naturally in the environment, which means it’s present in food, dirt and drinking water. Aluminum is also used in food packaging, baking trays, cosmetic products and even drugs like antacids. It’s literally everywhere.
But is aluminum dangerous? Well, the potential dangers of aluminum have been studied for years. And there is some evidence that aluminum may possibly be linked to potential health dangers. Research has suggested there might be a connection between exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, as elevated aluminum levels have been seen in the brains of individuals with the condition. But research is still quite mixed, and the idea that aluminum might lead to certain cancers isn’t yet proven.
And there’s an important finding in this research on aluminum: Generally, aluminum only becomes dangerous at very high levels.
How much aluminum is too much?
While it’s smart to try to minimize how much aluminum you’re consuming, you really can’t avoid this metal. It’s almost impossible to eliminate from your diet and lifestyle completely.
So, it’s better to look at how much aluminum you might be taking in overall. And you can be exposed to (or consume) quite a lot of aluminum without worry.
According to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), levels of aluminum below 2 mg per 2.2 lbs of body weight per week aren’t likely to lead to health problems.
And, more importantly, even if you’re taking in aluminum from multiple sources, you likely aren’t getting enough to pose a health risk. Only about 0.1 percent of the aluminum that’s ingested is actually absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and becomes bioavailable.
How much aluminum does foil really contribute to food?
Some scientific studies have shown that the aluminum present in common kitchen items like cooking utensils, containers and foil can potentially leach the metal into your food. The key is understanding how much – or, really, how little – aluminum you’re getting when you use foil.
The amount of aluminum that makes its way into your food when you use aluminum foil can vary. Even the findings from research studies show varied results, with some suggesting foil can increase the aluminum content in food by anywhere from 89 to 378 percent.
But even those numbers shouldn’t be worrisome, as that aluminum only becomes problematic when it’s added to overall aluminum intake. There’s evidence from research assessments and the European Food Safety Authority that suggest overall aluminum consumption is lower than most people think – meaning even if you do happen to get a little of the metal from foil, it shouldn’t put you or your health at risk.
And, most importantly of all, more recent research suggests that there is no strong evidence to link the use of aluminum foil with an increased risk of any diseases.
In general, aluminum foil is safe to use
You should only be concerned about using foil if you’re getting too much aluminum across the board. And if you’re worried about your aluminum intake, talk with your doctor. They can perform blood tests and other diagnostic exams to pinpoint your true aluminum levels.
Still not convinced? You can always err on the side of safety for your own peace of mind. Research, including a 2001 review and a 2012 risk assessment, has pinpointed a few key factors that may increase the amount of aluminum that can leach into your food:
- Cooking at high temperatures
- Using foil when cooking highly acidic foods, like tomatoes or lemons
- Cooking with aluminum utensils and using aluminum dishes or bakeware
- Using foil in smaller amounts
Odds are you’re consuming considerably less aluminum than you think. And that means you’re likely safe to use foil in any capacity in your kitchen or on your grill. Ready to put it to use? Try these easy foil pack recipes: