May 20

Are Aluminum Pots, Bottles, and Foil Safe?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Over the last decades, the toxicity of aluminum for humans has been heavily discussed and is still not completely clarified.” Those occupationally exposed to aluminum in, like, smelter plants suffer from oxidative stress (free radicals) that can damage their DNA. But what about just using aluminum cookware? Articles like this, suggesting an “unrecognized public health risk,” were limited to the developing world, where “cookware is made in informal shops by casting liquid aluminum melted from a collection of scrap metal,” including the likes of lead batteries, which is how you can get so much lead leaching into people’s food.

But then this study was published, suggesting the aluminum itself may be harmful. Most of our aluminum exposure comes from processed junk that contains aluminum-containing food additives, including those within some processed cheeses, baking powders, cake mixes, frozen dough, and pancake mixes. But approximately 20 percent of the daily intake of aluminum may come from aluminum cooking utensils, such as pans, pots, kettles, and trays. To see if this may be causing a problem, they took blood from consumers who used aluminum cookware versus those who did not, and found that not only were the aluminum users walking around with twice the level of aluminum in their blood, but they had more free radical damage of their body fats and proteins. And the total antioxidant capacity of their bloodstream was compromised; so, no surprise, they suffered significantly more DNA damage. And indeed, those with the highest levels of aluminum in their blood tended to suffer significantly more damage to their DNA. No surprise, since aluminum is considered to be a pro-oxidant agent.

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These folks weren’t just casually using aluminum pots, though, but specifically using them daily to cook and store acidic foods, like yogurt and tomato sauce, which can leach out more aluminum. But even just a week using like camping dishes, which tend to be aluminum since it’s so light, if you were incorporating something acidic, like marinating a fresh catch in lemon juice, could greatly exceed the tolerable weekly intake guidelines, especially for children. Once in a while is not going to make much of a difference, but this suggests that you may not want to be cooking in aluminum day-in and day-out.

What about aluminum drinking bottles? They’re nice and light, but children drinking two cups of tea, or juice, a day from them could exceed the tolerable aluminum exposure limit. So, out of an abundance of caution, safety authorities, like the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, “recommend that consumers avoid the use of aluminum pots or dishes for acidic or salted foodstuffs such as apple sauce, rhubarb, tomato puree, or salt herring” to avoid any “unnecessary ingestion” of aluminum.

What about aluminum foil? “It’s a common culinary practice to wrap food in aluminum foil and bake it.” The concern is that this could potentially present “a hazardous source of aluminum in the human diet.” When put to the test, yes, there was leakage from the foil to the food, but the amount was so small that it would be more of an issue for small children, or those suffering from diminished kidney function.

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What about just wrapping a food in foil to store it in the fridge? Only marginal increases in aluminum are seen— unless the food is in contact with both the foil and, at the same time, certain other types of metal, for example stainless steel, which is largely iron. And so that sets up a battery, and can lead to tremendous food aluminum concentrations. For example, here are the aluminum levels in a ham before and after a day covered in foil. But take that same ham and that same day of foil on top of a steel tray or serving plate, and the aluminum levels in the ham shoot up.

And finally, you know how there’s sometimes a glossy side of aluminum foil and then a dull side? Which would be worse? Fish fillets were baked and grilled both ways, wrapped in the glossy side versus wrapped in the dull side and…no significant difference was found.

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