Aluminum is the most common metal in the Earth's crust, and is found in air, water, and food. It's also a critical ingredient in much of our modern world, especially in the kitchen. As such, every now and again, rumors circulate about the dangers of cooking with aluminum foil. What does medicine and science know about this? What should the conscientious consumer who wants to be healthy know?
The Risk From Contamination Is Minimal
Aluminum cookware has been in use for more than 100 years, and those who use aluminum forks or skillets do consume more of the metal than those who use steel, iron, or ceramic utensils and flatware. The small increase in aluminum consumption by using aluminum cookware, however, is not considered harmful. For the most part, aluminum doesn't get absorbed from the gut the way that iron, calcium, and other nutrients do. According to the Centers for Disease Control, which undertook a study of the toxicity of aluminum, it passes through the body -- quite literally -- very quickly. The small amount of aluminum that is absorbed is also eliminated rapidly.
To get a sense of perspective, think about how many people are prescribed antacids by their doctors. Tens of thousands of people take medicine with nearly 100 times the amount of aluminum most people eat just by chance. They are doing so for the sake of their health, and they're living better because of it. What does all that mean for cooking with aluminum foil? Since your body mostly ignores aluminum, even if a bit of the metal makes its way from foil to food, this amount isn't harmful.
Avoid This When Cooking With Aluminum Foil
If you wish to cook with aluminum foil and want to minimize the amount that rubs off onto food, it's best to stay away from cooking acidic foods, like tomatoes, or using vinegar in your recipes, as the acidity tends to rub off an increased amount of aluminum. If you do cook spicy or acidic foods in foil, you may notice a white substance that wasn't there before you heated it; that's aluminum salt. It's created when the heated aluminum reacts with the acid in the food. Aluminum salt is an antacid similar to the one intentionally consumed by people to treat heartburn. It may be discarded to improve appearance, but it's not harmful.
For most people, health is achieved by means of a good diet, regular exercise, and a lifelong investment in health. In terms of how aluminum relates to human health, it is everywhere, and has been since long before the dawn of civilization. Our bodies are accustomed to encountering it and ignoring it, so the small amount you ingest every day from using aluminum cookware or foil passes rapidly through you. But if you have any other concerns about this or other dietary issues, discuss them with your health care provider.