Ask Clean Plates: Is Aluminum Cookware Safe?
March 31, 2021
By Gretchen Lidicker
If you’re visiting this site, chances are you spend some time thinking about what you eat. But healthier eating doesn’t begin and end with what we put into our grocery carts. How we cook our food also matters. And that includes the cookware we use. In particular, some health experts have expressed concern about aluminum cookware.
What to Know About Aluminum
We know that aluminum isn’t something we should ingest in high amounts. Aluminum is a well-known neurotoxin. According to a scientific paper on Heavy Metals and Alzheimer’s Disease, it “inhibits more than 200 biologically important functions and causes various adverse effects in plants, animals, and humans.” There’s also evidence that aluminum accumulates in the body, especially the bones, and can disrupt the gut microbiome and lead to cognitive impairment in animals. It may even contribute to dementia.
The good news is that your body is designed to handle a certain amount of chemicals and toxic exposure each day. Just like with most other chemicals, our bodies remove aluminum through urine and sweat. “Over the years, rumors have swirled about high levels of aluminum,” Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., A.T.C., a registered dietitian who specializes in culinary nutrition, told the FoodNetwork. “The truth is aluminum is all around us (even in the water supply), and regular contact does not appear to cause problems.”
Other experts are less sure. “I generally think our modern life overloads us with aluminum, so I try to minimize it wherever possible,” says integrative psychiatrist Dr. Ellen Vora. For her that includes medications, cosmetics, and aluminum cookware.
What to Know About Aluminum Cookware
It’s pretty well accepted that aluminum can leach out of your cookware and into your food. This happens at a higher rate if you’re cooking with acidic ingredients or if you’re using certain types of aluminum cookware that erode more easily than others.
In general, the aluminum cookware you’ll find in the United States, leaches less easily due to a protective coating. But, how much “less” exactly? One source showed that tomato sauce cooked in an aluminum pot for two hours and then stored in the same pot overnight was found to contain only .0024 milligrams of aluminum per cup. For reference, the suggested weekly intake is one milligram of aluminum per kilogram of body weight. Said differently, a 150 lb. a person could safely consume 68 milligrams per week.
Other sources of exposure are much more of a cause for concern than cookware. Medications like antacids and anti-ulceratives contain the highest levels of aluminum. Processed foods often use additives containing aluminum, like sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate. And, in the kitchen, aluminum leaching from aluminum foil is much higher than what you see with aluminum cookware.
So, Is Aluminum Cookware Safe?
The short answer, for most people, is yes. At the end of the day, if you’re worried about aluminum, avoiding aluminum cookware is one way (of many) to reduce your exposure. But there are plenty of other ways that don’t involve throwing out your pots and pans.