Just when you think you've gotten the hang of healthy eating and balanced nutrition, the internet comes up with something else you may or may not need to worry about. One question that seems to be on people's minds lately is whether or not it's safe to cook with aluminum foil. The short answer is that using aluminum foil in the kitchen is safe, but let's take a deeper look into why this is—and why anyone would worry in the first place.
Pictured recipe: Grilled Lemon-Pepper Salmon in Foil
First, it's important to know that aluminum isn't just found in foil. "Aluminum is found in lots of different things," says Shelly Wegman, M.S., RD, a registered dietitian with UNC REX Nutrition Services in Raleigh, North Carolina. "It's naturally found in water, air and soil, and it's used in additives and preservatives, plus in things like antacids and buffered aspirin." Most plant foods contain trace amounts of aluminum because of the soil they are grown in. Animal foods contain trace amounts of aluminum because, well, animals eat plants. And yes, small amounts of aluminum do leach into food that's cooked using aluminum foil or aluminum cookware, or that's packaged in aluminum cans.
"An average healthy person is at very minimal risk for aluminum toxicity, if any," Wegman says. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Most aluminum in food, water and medicines leaves your body quickly in the feces," while "much of the small amount of aluminum that does enter the bloodstream will quickly leave your body in the urine."
There's been some debate over whether or not aluminum foil might contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease , but according to the Alzheimer's Association, current research doesn't show that aluminum foil poses any threat.
While there really is no threat of consuming toxic levels of aluminum under ordinary circumstances, there are certain things you can do to minimize the amount of aluminum that leaches into your food from foil. "The recommendation is to avoid cooking things in or on aluminum foil at really high temperatures (400°F or above), and to avoid wrapping acidic foods in aluminum foil for long periods of time," Wegman says.
Again, it's highly unlikely that using aluminum foil at high temperatures or with acidic foods will cause any harm. But if you're worried, you can use parchment paper instead of using aluminum foil for high-temperature cooking, and store acidic leftovers (anything that contains lots of citrus, vinegar or tomato) in glass containers instead of wrapped in foil.
"I have never seen or heard of a case of aluminum toxicity," Wegman says. Your body does a fine job of getting rid of any aluminum you eat, drink or breathe in.