Have you been told to stop cooking in your old aluminium pots as they can cause cancer? I was told so by a dear friend and though being a rational, scientifically literate Registered frigging Dietitian, I exchanged all of my families’ vintage(!) aluminum utensils for stainless steel ones…ALL of them!
That much we are scared of the word “Cancer”! That much even a remote thought of acquiring the disease can move us into taking actions!!
Remember the periodic table? Aluminum is the number 13 on it! It is also a mineral, the most abundant one found in earth’s crust. Thus no wonder it is present everywhere…from your cooking pots, to your baking powder and from your municipal water supply to your antiperspirants! Aluminum is omnipresent…
(Note: unlike its other element batch-mates like Sodium, Chloride, Iron, Silicon, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Sulfur etc; Aluminum has no biological function in human body what so ever! Thus it is essentially a non-essential mineral!)
So what is this deal with Cooking in Aluminum pots and cancer?
Aluminum pots and utensils have been used since the start of the 19th century and they have been popular amongst kitchenwares due to their heat conducting and non-sticking properties. They make lightweight, inexpensive and excellent material for cooking utensils…
But in the late 70s there were studies that shed the light on the fact that people with Alzheimer’s had increased concentration of Aluminum in their brains! Following that there were several studies investigating cancer incidences in Aluminum plant workers…and now more and more studies are coming out investigating the relationship between use of antiperspirants (that contains Aluminum) and breast cancer!
So…its true then right? Using Aluminum pots does cause cancer, right?
Truth is that during cooking, a certain amount of Aluminum is leached into food and the amount of leaching increases if the pan is pitted or old and worn. The longer the food is cooked or kept in the pot, more is the leaching…and same goes for the acidity of foods, more acidic is the food(vinegar, tomato sauce etc.), more aluminum is leached into it!
On an average aluminum pots add about 1–2mg of aluminum to our daily intake. We do get around 10mg of Aluminum daily from different sources (including cookwares). WHO estimated safe upper limit for aluminum consumption for adults is 50mg.
So as you can see…aluminum from cookwares makes up for a very small amount of our total aluminum intake. And if you compare it to some of the antacid tablets that contain ~100–200mg of Aluminum, the amount seems even more minuscule!
None the less, remember Aluminum is a non-essential element, and a metal that accumulates in the body and can cause toxicity. Thus avoiding an excess of aluminum is always the best strategy (a difficult task I would say as it is the 3rd most abundantly found element on earth after oxygen and silicon…its basically everywhere and in everything!)
Tips to limit aluminum dietary intake
- Pro Aluminum: If you prefer aluminum cookware for whatever reason, always choose anodized ones.
2. Anti Aluminum: Stainless steel, copper, cast iron and clay pots are some real good alternatives for cookware.
3. Acidic foods: Try not cook acidic foods in the aluminum pot as the acids leach more aluminum away and it also significantly alters the taste of the food!
4. Storage: Do not store or keep food in the aluminum pot; instead use stainless steel, glass or ceramic ones.
5. Aluminum foils: wrapping foods in aluminum foil and cooking it significantly increases the leaching of aluminum into the food, so avoid it as much as possible!
Well, coming back to my story now…was it necessary for me to sell all my mother’s aluminum utensils? Absolutely not! It was an ill-informed decision and something I wish I could undo (those were her favorite pots..🙁)
So, friends and fellows, you do not need to sell your aluminum pots either. Just be smart, follow the tips above and minimize the amount of leached aluminum into your food 🙂
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