Look around any kitchen, do you see any items that are aluminum based? The chances are that you do. If it’s not the foil, then it’s the pots and pans that we use to cook. Aluminum is a widely used raw material for a majority of kitchen appliances and has been part of the cooking history for a long time.
However, continued scientific research is shedding some light on the little-known dangers of using aluminum utensils, including foil, to cook. While there is a convenience of price and durability that comes with the use of such appliances, there also seems to be a looming health problem that is attached to this convenience.
What exactly is the danger of using aluminum utensils to cook and just how bad is it? More importantly, what can we do to right the years of wrongs that we have been subjecting to our bodies?
What Is Aluminum?
Before we delve into the dangers of cooking with aluminum foil and how aluminum leaches into your food, let us take time to understand what exactly aluminum is. Aluminum is a naturally occurring earth metal and is one of the most abundant ones. It can be found typically in fruits, water, or even the soil.
When it comes to the human body, it is considered a non-essential element. That means we don’t need it in our body. There has thus far been no scientific evidence of the importance of the metal in any physiological process in the body.
Uses of Aluminum
Since this is such an abundant metal, humans have found numerous ways to put it to use. The metal is used in the manufacturing industry to make utensils, furniture, and medicines. As it is lightweight and easily moldable, it is being used for the manufacture of soda cans, beer kegs, airplane parts and kitchen foil. However, to make it efficient, it has to be used in alloy form.
When it comes to medicines, aluminum is used in antacids and coagulants. It was previously used during dialysis, but there have been scientific studies that have questioned its safety for use in such a context.
Modes of Aluminum Exposure
Seeing that this is a common and abundant metal, we are bound to interact with it in various ways. Depending on your occupation, your environmental disposition, and your preferred foods your levels of exposure to aluminum will differ from those of the next person.
We are typically exposed to trace amounts of the metal on a day to day basis thanks to the foods we eat. The risk of exposure, especially when it comes to ingested aluminum, is made higher with the continued inclusion of the metal in cookware and the continued use of aluminum foil when cooking that causes the leaching of the metal into the food we eventually eat.
The leaching process, therefore, takes the ingested aluminum content much higher than the WHO recommended 40 mg per kg body weight per day. There are, however, some factors that accelerate the leaching of the metal into foods as we cook.
A research article published in the international journal of electrochemistry science in 2012 titled, Risk Assessment of Using Aluminum Foil in Food Preparation, reported that the level of leaching was dependent on the temperature at which the food is prepared and the pH of the food solution. Basically, the higher the temperature, the more the leaching. Acidic foods, as well as food solutions cooked with spices and salts, were also found to encourage leaching of aluminum into the food.
How Harmful Is Aluminum To Your Health?
There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not continued ingestion of aluminum has actual detrimental health effects on humans. There are split opinions on the matter even within the scientific fields.
Many studies have tried to prove the neurotoxic effects of the continued use of aluminum utensils for cooking. Such studies have found accumulated aluminum deposits in the brain of patients who have Alzheimer’s.
The introduction of the metal directly to the bloodstream of dialysis patients was found to result in its accumulation in the brain tissue. Such patients were found to develop neurological problems such as memory loss, and dementia in extreme cases.
Its accumulation in the bone tissue has been found to interfere with proper bone formation especially in children. Aluminum has a high affinity for phosphates and thus will bind efficiently to them. Phosphorus, and subsequently phosphates, are an integral part of a healthy bone formation. When they are bound to aluminum, they are unable to play their role in this vital physiological process.
Studies that have declared aluminum utensils safe for use when cooking argue that the body absorbs minimal amounts of the metal as a result of ingesting. That which is absorbed is effectively passed out in the form of feces or urine.
These studies argue that although accumulated aluminum has been found in patients suffering from many bone disorders, Alzheimer’s, and dialysis encephalopathy, there is little concrete evidence to declare the metal as a primary causative agent of these diseases.
The degree to which one’s health is affected by ingesting foods with high levels of aluminum is dependent on some factors outside the presence of the metal. The health of an individual is one key factor. People predisposed to kidney complications may tend to suffer greater aluminum toxicity than others as it affects the body’s ability to get rid of the metal effectively.
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How Can We Right The Wrongs?
Regardless of whether you believe that cooking with aluminum utensils is terrible for your health or not, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry. That been said, there are some ways in which we can avoid the unnecessary exposure to the metal especially when it comes to the food we eat.
Switching out the aluminum-based utensils for stainless steel, cast iron or even glass ones is one way to do this. Instead of using foil to wrap foods meant for baking, consider using banana leaves instead. Lastly, consider the addition of detox foods such as cilantro, garlic, lemon water, and green tea in your meals.
So know you know both sides of the aluminum health risk story. Now you decide, is it fact or fiction? We would be happy to hear from you! So, let us know which way you think would be the best to right the aluminum wrongs.