Aluminum foil has been a household staple for decades—since the 1910s in fact. We grill with it, wrap our candy bars in it, cover leftovers with it, nestle our burritos within it. The fact of the matter is, most households find aluminum foil an indispensable staple of the modern kitchen. However, is all our aluminum use really safe?
Why worry about aluminum in the first place? High levels of aluminum have been detected in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. It may also slow the growth rate of brain cells, and there is evidence that the aluminum in some deodorants may encourage breast cancer.
There is evidence enough to be concerned about aluminum, which is why more and more people have been switching to aluminum-free deodorants to keep their personal care routines less toxic. But, it is interesting to note how many households have switched away from aluminum deodorants, yet still continue to purchase and use aluminum foil.
We know aluminum in deodorant is bad for us, but how much aluminum do we actually absorb when we, say, cook a baked potato in foil on the grill? Is it dangerous to cook with aluminum? On the one hand, the metals we cook in definitely leach into our foods. In fact, cooking in a cast iron pan is often suggested for those who are iron deficient. In a similar way, cooking with aluminum increases aluminum levels within the body. In fact, one study found that the amount of aluminum that leaches from foil into food during the cooking process is well above the permissible limit set by the World Health Organization.
In fact, aluminum leaching doesn’t increase with cooking warm or hot foods alone. Acidic foods like lemons and tomatoes can powerfully increase leaching, as they aggressively dissolve more aluminum into your food. If you must use aluminum, it may be best for refrigerating or freezing cold foods, if you use it at all.
Of course, aluminum foil isn’t the only kitchen culprit. Many pots and pans are made of or lined with aluminum. I know that I have a rice cooker with an aluminum pot (hey, it was free and in perfect condition from the town dump). If you are concerned about aluminum, switch your daily pans to healthier options like cast iron, ceramic enamel or stainless steel. And definitely ditch the foil.
Don’t know how to live a foil-free life? There are plenty of alternatives, like parchment paper, cheesecloth, wax paper and reusable food wraps like Bee’s Wrap. Try storing veggies in fresh water in the fridge, steaming foods in damp organic cheesecloth or leaves (like banana leaves or corn husk), and using containers with reusable glass or BPA-free plastic lids. Where there is a will, there is a way. With a little creativity, you can live the foil-free life if you try.