Is It Safe to Cook with Aluminum Foil?

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Cooking and baking with aluminum foil is fast and convenient, and makes cleanup a cinch, but are there health risks?

Americans have been using aluminum foil for over 100 years, since it was first used to wrap Life Savers, candy bars, and gum. For many years up to today, we’ve mostly used it in our kitchens, to bake fish or roast vegetables on the barbecue, to line baking pans, and to trap steam when cooking.

And experts have expressed concern about just how much of it we’re using, with studies even warning that it could have some seriously harmful health effects. Do those warnings have any merit? For more facts about aluminum foil, here’s why it has a shiny and a dull side.

Potential dangers of aluminum foil

According to research, some of the foil used in cooking, baking, and grilling leaches into your food, which can pose health problems over time. Scientists have been looking at the potential threat that overexposure to aluminum may have on human health for years. For example, researchers have found high concentrations of aluminum in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also found that high aluminum intake may be linked to a reduction in the growth rate of human cells, and may be potentially harmful for patients with bone diseases or renal impairment.

It depends on the food and the temperature

Research has generally found that a couple of factors make aluminum more likely to leach into your food. One of these is the temperature: The higher the temperature you’re cooking at, the more conducive the environment is for aluminum to enter your food, an Electrochem. Sci. study found.

The acidity of the food is another major factor. According to Amber Adams, founder of Kitchens Ready, “If you’re cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or vinegar-based marinades, this can break down the foil and leach even more aluminum into your food.” Check out these 45 uses for aluminum foil you never knew about.

So, should you be concerned?

In all honesty, you’re probably safe, as long as you’re not over-using aluminum foil in your cooking. “For the majority of people, this shouldn’t be a problem, as the amount of aluminum that is pulled into the food during the cooking process is very immaterial,” says Adams. Just keep moderation in mind. “You wouldn’t want to cook these types of [acidic] foods on foil many days out of the week,” she adds. “If you’re cooking acidic foods on foil on occasion, this is not a problem.”

But you shouldn’t ignore the issue completely, Adams says. “If you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to limit cooking with foil as there has been a link shown between the disease and high amounts of aluminum in a person’s diet.” Watch out for the amount of salt and spice you add to the food as well; high amounts of those things can contribute to aluminum leaching as well. Check out these other cooking mistakes that ruin your food.

Aluminum foil alternatives

There are multiple ways to cut back on your use of aluminum foil since it certainly can’t hurt. Adams has a suggestion: “For me personally, I have switched almost exclusively to cooking on parchment paper as much as possible. We cook at home most days of the week, so I think it’s safer for our family. However, if I’m out of baking paper, I don’t worry about using foil on occasion.”

For grilling veggies, you can get a stainless steel grilling basket, or even reusable skewers. Use a glass pan when roasting veggies in the oven; use a stainless steel cookie sheet under baking potatoes as opposed to aluminum foil to catch the mess; and even try replacing foil with banana leaves when wrapping foods for baking! And one thing you should never do is wrap your leftovers in foil—here’s why.

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Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty, and scientific news. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected], and check out her website: livingbylex.com
Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine.