According to Health Canada, cooking a meal in an aluminum pan can add about 1 to 2 mg aluminum to your food. The World Health Organization estimates that people can safely consume about 50 mg a day without harm, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not set an upper intake limit.
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In the 1970s, a Canadian researcher published a study stating that he had found high levels of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Since then, the research has gone back and forth on the possible connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's. Some studies seem to suggest a link between the disease and high levels of aluminum in groundwater, while others show none. So far, there is no clearly proven connection between the two, but many people still prefer to avoid aluminum cookware and cans.
The most common health issue due to aluminum overexposure has more to do with inhaled aluminum dust than aluminum dissolved in food. People who work for a long period of time in an environment contaminated with aluminum dust may develop a cough or abnormal chest X-rays. People with kidney problems may have difficulty removing excess aluminum from their bodies, so it builds up over time, which can lead to bone and brain disorders. Aluminum, however, has not been proven to cause cancer.
To minimize the amount of aluminum that dissolves into your food from cookware, avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes and rhubarb in aluminum pans. Don't store leftovers in aluminum, because the longer the food sits, the more aluminum it can absorb from the pan. Since more aluminum will dissolve out of old, pitted and worn pans, throw away your aging aluminum cookware. When you replace your old pans, consider upgrading to anodized aluminum pans.
Aluminum pans are lightweight and inexpensive, which makes them a great choice for people just setting up a kitchen or for camping. Other frequently used cooking pan materials include copper, iron, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic or glass. Copper and stainless steel still carry some risk of metal transfer into food. The hard coating on anodized aluminum reduces the amount of aluminum that dissolves into food, making it a good choice. If you'd like to get an added health benefit from pan-to-food transfer, consider using cast-iron cookware; doing so can provide close to 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance of this blood-building metal.