A longtime friend of mine, who faithfully follows the Living-Wonderfully lifestyle, was a bit perturbed because I never talked about using aluminum foil or aluminum pots in my book. He wanted to know if using aluminum in food preparation is safe. I explained to him that I didn’t want to turn my book into an unreadable monstrosity due to its size, as such I promised this article, which will show in detail how aluminum ware can be safe in cooking under certain situations. Let me elucidate.
Where and how do we get aluminum into our bodies, and how does our system deal with it?
Keep in mind that most of us ingest or inhale aluminum on daily basis even without the usage of aluminum cooking vessels, aluminum foil, or even aluminum utensils. The fact is, this substance is present in a lot of the foods that we eat, and is especially prevalent in dairy products, radishes, Swiss chard, mushrooms, spinach, potatoes, tea, and even water.[i] [ii] [iii] Therefore, it is only natural to assume that we can handle aluminum quite effectively in quantities that come from food sources. Our incredible bodies possess mechanisms that allows us to reduce the absorption of aluminum. [iv] The reason I’m saying that is because a healthy person is able to excrete small amounts of aluminum out of their system through urine and feces.[v] [vi]
“The healthy human body has effective barriers (skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract) to reduce the systemic absorption of aluminum ingested from water, foods, drugs, and air. The small amount of aluminum (<1%) that is systemically absorbed is excreted principally in the urine and, to a lesser extent, in the feces.”
(Soni, White, Flamm & Burdock, 2001)[vii]
Although we are able to handle small, and in some cases, moderate amounts of aluminum, our surrounding environment which includes air, ingestion of some processed foods, or even medicine[viii] that contains aluminum may take us over the edge. For example, infant formula may be contaminated with aluminum. In a research entitled, “The aluminum content of infant formulas remains too high”, 30 of the most popular baby formulas were measured for aluminum, and all 30 were contaminated.[ix]
The conclusion of the study was equally as sobering.
“We demonstrated previously that there was still too much aluminum in infant formulas. We elucidated the reasons why infant exposure to aluminum is an unnecessary potential health risk to children and may actually contribute towards ill health as adults.”
(Chuchu, Patel, Sebastian, & Exley, 2013) [x]
Not only different brands of baby formulas contain aluminum, as well as the items described above, but you can find this stuff in large amounts in lot of foods, hygiene products, and medications you may utilize on daily basis without even knowing that you’re absorbing aluminum into your system.
“The most common foods that contain substantial amounts of aluminium-containing additives include some processed cheeses, baking powders, cake mixes, frozen doughs, pancake mixes, self-raising flours and pickled vegetables. The aluminium-containing non-prescription drugs include some antacids, buffered aspirins, antidiarrheal products, douches and haemorrhoidal medications.”
Why add aluminum to products and why is that a problem?
So, why do some companies add aluminum to foods such as pancake and cake mixes, or even baking powder? Well, it’s because addition of sodium aluminum phosphate helps baking powder perform better.[xii]
How about antiperspirants? Does aluminum play a big role in protecting us against sweat? According to National Cancer Institute, aluminum is used as an active ingredient.[xiii] It essentially plugs the pores where sweat would otherwise come out. [xiv] According to a study, there may be a possible connection to breast cancer, as antiperspirant that’s left on the skin near the breast tissue may cause estrogenic effects. [xv] [xvi] As studies consistently show, excessive estrogen exposure may initiate and even promote breast cancer.[xvii] [xviii] [xix]
“Clinical studies showing a disproportionately high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast together with reports of genomic instability in outer quadrants of the breast provide supporting evidence for a role for locally applied cosmetic chemicals in the development of breast cancer.”
(Darbre, 2005) [xx]
To add insult to injury, most of us use aluminum cookware, utensils, and aluminum foil in our everyday food preparation. Unfortunately, my wife and I did for years, especially in barbequing, as we didn’t know any better. Unfortunately we are not the only ones, as a lot of restaurants use aluminum pots, pans, and aluminum foil consistently, as aluminum disperses heat for even cooking. Unfortunately, that’s how we absorb additional amounts of aluminum into our system. Let me rephrase, we ingest large amounts of this stuff, and by my standards, almost in inconceivable quantities!
According to a study, the aluminum content of red meats cooked in aluminum foil was increased by a whopping 89-378%.[xxi] Poultry faired a little better, although the results were between 76% and 215%, which is also quite excessive. [xxii]
Could the use of aluminum be a risk factor for dementia?
Besides all the scary things that I mentioned earlier, studies consistently show that high concentrations of aluminum was found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. [xxiii] [xxiv] Alzheimer’s disease manifests itself by the loss of brain cells, as the patient loses memory and other brain functions overtime. Here is a conclusion of yet another study entitled, “Relation between aluminum concentrations in drinking water and Alzheimer’s disease: an 8-year follow-up study”.
“These findings support the hypothesis that aluminum in drinking water is a risk factor for AD”
(Rondeau, Commenges, Jacqmin-Gadda, & Dartigues, 2000)[xxv]
Although strong hypothesis exist, despite all of the evidence of consistent ingestion, inhalation, and exposure to aluminum in foodstuff or otherwise, I haven’t found a study that implicates the use of aluminum foil, pots and pans, as well as aluminum ware with Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer. The fact is, one may draw a simple logical conclusion in accordance to parallels that were drawn in myriad of research.
Perhaps one day, numerous studies, some of which I outlined, will be combined, and conclusion will be reached. For now, you have to make a decision if using aluminum foil, aluminum pots and pans, and aluminum utensils are safe for you and your family. Perhaps the following may help you in making this important decision that may last you a lifetime.
“The present study suggests that aluminum may be one of the factors associated with dementia and especially Alzheimer’s disease…”
(Rondeau, Commenges, Jacqmin-Gadda, & Dartigues, 2000)[xxvi]
Here’s a food for thought from a scientific article published in JAD or Journal for Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps it will be the last piece of evidence that you may require in order to quit aluminum foil cold turkey.
“Misconceptions about Aluminum bioavailability may have misled scientists regarding the significance of Aluminum in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. The hypothesis that Aluminum significantly contributes to Alzheimer’s disease is built upon very solid experimental evidence and should not be dismissed.”
Bioavailability = a rate at which a drug or a substance is absorbed and becomes available to organs
Pathogenesis= development of a disease
Can aluminum be still used in cooking?
Because aluminum is such an excellent conductor of heat, is there any way to use it in cooking?
Many aluminum pots and pans are anodized, coated with porcelain, or other substances, making them much safer. The problem arises when the protective coating is stripped out due to scrubbing, scuffing, or chipping. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate aluminum foil that was coated with any protective substances. Perhaps one day it may be out on the market, and we will revisit this subject.
My family does not and will not use aluminum in our cooking, as we ingest more than enough of this stuff from the air and other places as described above. We use cooking vessels made of porcelain, glass, cast iron, and stainless steel. Aluminum utensils are also a big NO in our kitchen or at the table.
[i] The EFSA Journall (2008). Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Food Contact Materials (AFC). European Food Safety Authority-The EFSA Journal. 754, 1-34
[ii] Centre for Food Safety. (2009, May). Aluminium in Food Risk Assessment Studies Report No. 35 Chemical Hazard Evaluation. Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
[iii] Greger, J. L. (2007). Dietary and Other Sources of Aluminium Intake. Novartis Foundation Symposia Ciba Foundation Symposium 169 – Aluminium in Biology and Medicine, 26-49. doi:10.1002/9780470514306.ch3
[iv] Soni, M. G., White, S. M., Flamm, W., & Burdock, G. A. (2001). Safety Evaluation of Dietary Aluminum. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 33(1), 66-79. doi:10.1006/rtph.2000.1441
[v] Greger, J., & Baier, M. (1983). Excretion and retention of low or moderate levels of aluminium by human subjects. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 21(4), 473-477. doi:10.1016/0278-6915(83)90105-9
[vi] Soni, M. G., White, S. M., Flamm, W., & Burdock, G. A. (2001). Safety Evaluation of Dietary Aluminum. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 33(1), 66-79. doi:10.1006/rtph.2000.1441
[ix] Chuchu, N., Patel, B., Sebastian, B., & Exley, C. (2013). The aluminium content of infant formulas remains too high. BMC Pediatrics, 13, 162. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-13-162
[xi] Lione, A. (1983). The prophylactic reduction of aluminium intake. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 21(1), 103-109. doi:10.1016/0278-6915(83)90277-6
[xii] Thomson, J. R. (2016, August 03). This Is What’s In Your Store-Bought Pancake Mix. Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/whats-in-your-pancake-mix_us_57a0cd35e4b08a8e8b5f9905
[xiii] NIH. (2016, August 9). Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet
[xvi] Darbre, P. (2005). Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, 99(9), 1912-1919. doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2005.06.001
[xvii] Russo, J., & Russo, I. H. (2006). The role of estrogen in the initiation of breast cancer. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 102(1-5), 89-96. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2006.09.004
[xviii] Yue, W., Wang, J.-P., Li, Y., Fan, P., Liu, G., Zhang, N., … Santen, R. (2010). Effects of estrogen on breast cancer development: role of estrogen receptor independent mechanisms. International Journal of Cancer. Journal International Du Cancer, 127(8), 1748–1757. http://doi.org/10.1002/ijc.25207
[xix] Travis, R. C., & Key, T. J. (2003). Oestrogen exposure and breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Research : BCR, 5(5), 239–247.
[xx] Darbre, P. (2005). Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, 99(9), 1912-1919. doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2005.06.001
[xxi] Turhan, S. (2006). Aluminium contents in baked meats wrapped in aluminium foil. Meat Science, 74(4), 644-647. doi:10.1016/j.meatsci.2006.03.031
[xxiii] Lione, A. (1983). The prophylactic reduction of aluminium intake. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 21(1), 103-109. doi:10.1016/0278-6915(83)90277-6
[xxiv] Trapp, GA, Miner, GD, Zimmerman, RL, Mastri, AR, Heston, LL. (1978, Dec). Aluminum levels in brain in Alzheimer’s disease. Biological Psychiatry. 13(6):709-18. PMID: 737258
[xxv] Rondeau, V., Commenges, D., Jacqmin-Gadda, H., & Dartigues, J.-F. (2000). Relation between aluminum concentrations in drinking water and Alzheimer’s disease: an 8-year follow-up study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 152(1), 59–66.
[xxvii] Tomljenovic, L. (2011). Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link?. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2010-101494