Should you stop cooking in aluminum foil? I did.
I’m a physician and I care about health and food safety. Frankly it never occurred to me to question the wisdom of cooking in aluminum foil until I posted a recipe for taco zucchini boats grilled in foil and a reader posted, “THERE’S NOTHING HEALTHY ABOUT COOKING IN FOIL.”
I might have said it in a nicer way to get my point across. 😬 Don’t worry I won’t be shouting comments at you if you decide to continue cooking in aluminum foil.
At the time I wasn’t feeling the blog love but I did start to wonder about the safety of cooking in aluminum foil, especially with high heat, so I turned to the research. The commenter wasn’t too far off base and I’m grateful now for her shout out.
Aluminum, AL, is found naturally in soil and water and therefore by extension it is present in the fruits, vegetables, meats and fish that we consume every day. This research published in Journal of Food Science and Nutrition studied the levels of AL in foods. On an average day when we don’t eat processed or preserved foods we will consume and excrete aluminum with no apparent health risks. Unfortunately we are exposed to a greater amount of AL in processed foods, preservatives, drugs like antacids and buffered aspirin, cosmetics like some antiperspirants, aluminum cans, cooking pans and aluminum foil.
In reference to cooking in foil the evidence was clear that heat releases a much larger amount of aluminum than simple storage in aluminum, especially when combined with acid. The research can be found here. The worst combination was fish, which naturally contains higher levels of aluminum, and acidic fruits like lime and lemon. I was guilty of throwing fish and lime on the BBQ in foil on a regular basis. I’m no longer promoting recipes in foil packets. I will be testing alternatives and revising my old recipes.
Why should you care about the amount of aluminum you consume and what’s a safe level?
At high levels, AL is a neurotoxin, meaning it is bad for your brain. There is some evidence to suggest that it increases the incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, although the research is not conclusive, there does appear to be an association. No one really knows how much is too much for healthy humans because we each absorb and excrete aluminum differently.
The CDC, Public Health Statement on AL can be found here. This is their strongest statement about the risks of AL in everyday life, not considering occupational and toxic waste situations.
Oral exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful. Some studies show that people exposed to high levels of aluminum may develop Alzheimer’s disease, but other studies have not found this to be true. We do not know for certain that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease.
Some people who have kidney disease store a lot of aluminum in their bodies. The kidney disease causes less aluminum to be removed from the body in the urine. Sometimes, these people developed bone or brain diseases that doctors think were caused by the excess aluminum.
Although aluminum-containing over the counter oral products are considered safe in healthy individuals at recommended doses, some adverse effects have been observed following long-term use in some individuals.
Do we really need foil in cooking? What about alternatives?
I confess, I used foil mostly because of laziness, but there are alternatives and I’m up for the challenge.
Easy clean up?
Try generously oiling baking sheets and pans. Line baking sheets with paper or silicone mats. (Avoiding, non-stick pans is a topic for another day.) Use a grilling basket and burn off the food remnants. Scrub harder?
Foil pouches steam food and helps to keep the moisture in meats and vegetables?
Try your recipes in a Dutch oven or bake in parchment paper instead.
Makes “one pot” meals?
Try sheet pan, grilling baskets, or skillet meals instead. Use a cast iron Dutch oven on the outdoor grill. Say tuned for some new recipes for Dutch oven meals.
Alternatives to aluminum Foil with affiliate links to Amazon.
Why take the risk of cooking in aluminum foil?
Don’t we get enough toxins in our food and water without increasing the risk ten fold by super heating foil next to our food? It was easy for me to give up cooking and storing in plastics for many reasons, so giving up foil feels like a next step to me.
The bottom line is that we don’t know how much aluminum is safe to consume so I’m changing my behavior to reduce my exposure. I rarely eat processed foods by choice, I buy beverages in glass containers, and I stopped cooking in aluminum. I haven’t given up antiperspirant yet but it is under consideration. 🤔
As always, you have to decide what’s best for you, your family and your community including your readers.
Please comment. How are you reducing your families exposure to toxins? Will you change anything based on this research?
Thank you for calling me out when you think I’m wrong or have concerns about food safety. I’m listening and appreciate your insights.