• Posted by CERC India
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The dangers of aluminium foil

Baking and grilling using foil is convenient but poses health risks


Aluminium is found in small amounts in the air, water and in food. The metal is used during the water purification process and hence is likely to be present in water. It naturally occurs in fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, grains and dairy products.

Some of the aluminium we ingest comes from food additives, such as preservatives, colouring agents and thickeners. Aluminium is also ingested through medications like antacids.

People use aluminium foil for food storage, to cover baking surfaces and to wrap foods, such as meats, to prevent them from losing moisture while cooking. Foil is also used to wrap and protect more delicate foods, like vegetables, when grilling them or to line grill trays. Cooking with aluminium foil is fast and convenient and makes cleaning easy. But, it isn’t without health risks.

Studies show that aluminium foil, cooking utensils and containers can leach aluminium into food. Hence cooking with aluminium foil may increase the amount of the metal you ingest. 

Leaching into food

When food wrapped in aluminium foil is heated some of the aluminium leaches into the food. The higher the temperature the more the leaching. Leaching is more in an acidic medium, say when lemon or tomato is used in the preparation. Use of salt and spices also increase leaching.

Restaurants use foil to pack takeaways to keep the food hot and hygienic. However, if the food is hot there is danger of leaching.

Only a small amount of the aluminium ingested is absorbed by the body. The rest is excreted. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) for aluminium from all sources is 1 mg/kg of body weight.

A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science showed conclusively that aluminium foil used in cooking provides an easy channel for the metal to enter the human body. According to the study authors, the migration of aluminium into food is above the permissible limit set by the WHO.

Health risks

High levels of aluminium have been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. It is believed that aluminum may contribute to the development of amyloid plaques (substances that accumulate outside nerve cells), one of the hallmark causes of Alzheimer’s disease. pi21

Studies have also found that high aluminum intake may be potentially harmful for patients with renal impairment and cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It may also increase risk of osteoporosis as it interferes with the absorption of fluoride and calcium.

Tips for consumers

It’s impossible to completely remove aluminium from your diet, but you can work to minimize it. Here are a few tips on avoiding the risks associated with aluminium leaching during cooking:

  • Use non-aluminum utensils to cook your food. Traditionally, aluminium kadais are used for deep frying. But because of the danger of leaching, it is better to use cast iron or stainless steel kadais.
  • Bake your food in heatproof glass or porcelain cookware.
  • Remove pre-made processed foods from their aluminium containers and heat in stainless steel or iron pans.
  • Only use aluminum foil to store cold food for short periods of time.
  • If you are using aluminum pans, treat new pans a few times in boiling water until the surface is matt. This oxidation process prevents aluminium leaching.
  • Avoid high-heat cooking. Cook your foods at lower temperatures when possible.
  • For grilling vegetables, use a stainless steel grilling basket or reusable skewers.
  • Use a glass pan when roasting vegetables in the oven. Use a stainless steel cookie sheet under baking potatoes as opposed to aluminium foil.
  • Try replacing foil with banana leaves when wrapping foods for baking.

In sum, while the body can effectively eliminate small amounts of aluminium that is ingested, there is concern about what a build-up of this toxic substance can do to body functions. That’s why it is better to avoid using aluminium foils to prevent such an occurrence.


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