Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust. Despite the fact that its toxicity has been scientifically proven, the health authorities warn that its consumption is safe if it remains within the established parameters. This is stated, for example, by the Catalan Food Safety Agency of the Generalitat de Catalunya, which indicates that "geochemical control maintains its bioavailability within harmless parameters". This body also ensures that "the highest concentrations (between 5 and 10 mg/kg) are found in bread and farinaceous products, some vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, chard, radish, lettuce and sweet corn), organ meats, shellfish and, especially, coconut, spices, tea and tisanes, according to data from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)”.
For its part, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) evaluated aluminum in the years 1988 and 2006. On the latter date, it was concluded that the tolerable weekly intake is 1 mg/kg of weight per week. This means, according to the EFSA, that "a part of the European population could exceed this safety value", although this body cannot determine, with the data available to it, which are the specific sources that increase the aluminum content. in food.
Aluminum consumption has also been linked to the incidence of Alzheimer's disease, although at the moment, although there are indications, there is still no conclusive evidence. According to a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry based on autopsy data from a woman who died of a rapid variant of Alzheimer's at the age of 58, high concentrations of aluminum were found in all affected brain regions. for the disease.
But according to a review of research on exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer's disease, published in the Revista Española de Salud Pública, "the reviewed epidemiological studies do not allow definitive conclusions to be drawn regarding the involvement of aluminum in the development of Alzheimer's disease." ”, and concludes: “Despite the fact that an important number of studies have found an association between exposure and mental damage, the existing evidence does not allow us to definitively establish the causal relationship with Alzheimer's disease”.
The question is how to make sure that we are not consuming high amounts of aluminum through food, which could be happening without realizing it. "In principle, migration is not generally worrisome," says food technologist and dietician-nutritionist José María Puya, who insists that "aluminum is safe as long as the maximum permitted amounts dictated by the European Authority of Food Safety”, which are those less than 1 mg of aluminum weekly per kilo of weight.
The expert points out, however, that there are certain risks that should be taken into account if we want to guarantee safe consumption of this metal, starting with the use of aluminum foil left and right in the kitchen. These are some of the foods with which we should be especially careful if they come into contact with this commonly used paper in most homes.
“When acidic foods come in contact with aluminum foil, it could transfer to them,” Puya explains. This means that, in the event that we cook papillotes, it is best to do so with just a drizzle of olive oil and spices, and avoid adding vinegar or citrus fruits, which can cause migration of aluminum particles. In this sense, the food technologist Guillermo Delgado recalls, for his part, that "it has been shown that with high temperatures migration is greater, so it is best to always use a silicone case to cook papillotes".
However, there are organizations, among which is the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU), which ensure that "aluminum foil does not release a dangerous amount of metal, not even in contact with acidic foods", although it remembers that " In general, the migration rate is low in raw or frozen foods, but the risk is increased in processed foods, such as fatty sauces, and in products that are pasteurized or sterilized within the packaging itself." It also indicates that "contrary to what is thought, microwaves do not increase the process to a greater extent than other types of heating, because the key is always the temperature."
Delgado points out that although "there is no need to alarm the population, since with the diet we eat the body is prepared to eliminate small amounts of aluminum", it is best not to wrap marinades in aluminum foil and choose other types of methods of conservation. "When we marinate a food we use salt and juices such as lemon, which provide an acid PH and a greater migration of particles is produced," says the expert. For his part, Puya recalls that "as a method of preserving food, my favorite are glass containers because of their sustainability factor, their resistance to heat and because they do not leave bad odors."
If marinades are on the list of foods with which we must be especially scrupulous when wrapping or cooking them with aluminum foil, it is because they combine an acidic element with a salty one. Even Albal, a company specializing in the marketing of aluminum foil since 1965, remembers it: “Acid and salty foods are a special case when aluminum foil is used. If these come in contact with the aluminum foil, the foil can visibly discolor and the aluminum can flake off. As a result, you may spend a little more than usual in food. Although it is found naturally in many foods, an excessive amount can be harmful to health. In this sense, from Albal they point out that "all other foods can be wrapped and cooked in aluminum foil quite safely, since they will not release harmful levels of aluminum from the foil."
Delgado urges all those people with bone disorders, kidney problems, and children to be especially cautious when it comes to avoiding marinades, salty foods, and acids cooked or wrapped in aluminum foil, since, "although it is true that it would have to be in high concentrations , it has been observed that the consumption of aluminum could delay the growth of the bones", although he insists that "there is no need to be alarmed, simply minimize this type of cooking".
Despite everything, there are those who remain reluctant to use aluminum foil in the kitchen, taking into account the warnings from the authorities and its link with different pathologies. This is the case of the company Residus Cirera, a specialist in new ways of waste management, environmental advice and implementation of circular economy strategies. From Cirera they warn that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the United States Department of Health indicates that "we are all exposed to low levels of aluminum in food, water, air, soil... A high exposure can cause toxicity problems and, consequently, our health.” Therefore, "if we are already exposed to levels of aluminum, why are we going to add one more risk?", they affirm from the company.
From Residus Cirera they also remember the enormous environmental repercussion that aluminum extraction entails. “In the manufacture of aluminum, large amounts of tar vapors, sulfur dioxide (causing acid rain), and fluoramine (acid gas that is very harmful to health because it causes alterations in the bones, kidneys, and kidneys) are emitted into the atmosphere. and the hair). And the energy cost is very high; the manufacturing process needs a lot of energy consumption. With all this information, it is worth looking for alternatives to aluminum foil”, they say.