While it may sound scary, aluminum does lurk in food — but it's less dangerous than you think. The amounts of aluminum found in food are minuscule and are generally safe to eat with no adverse effects on your health. So, nope, you won't find a chunk of metal in your strawberries.
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Unless you work in conditions that expose you to large amounts of aluminum dust, there's little reason to worry about the aluminum content in your food. If you want to play it safe, you can cut back on eating highly processed foods and keep an eye out for aluminum ingredients in your foods.
Aluminum in Food
Certain food containers and additives contain trace amounts of aluminum, which you may ingest, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). While aluminum is usually associated with beverage cans or roofing material, small amounts of aluminum can be found in antacids, buffered aspirin and food additives.
Typically, foods that are minimally processed, like fruit, vegetables and meat contain very little aluminum, according to the ATSDR. Aluminum found in whole foods is naturally occurring and minimal, as the Earth's crust is full of aluminum.
However, people are most exposed to aluminum through additives in highly processed foods. Two common additives that contain aluminum include sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate — which are found in self-rising flours and cheeses as well as in cereal flours, respectively, according to the FDA. Take note that both of these additives are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
Chocolate-flavored beverages, like hot chocolate and certain dairy products, might contain aluminum, according to Kylie Gearhart, RD at NY Nutrition Group, a private nutrition counseling practice. Firming agents in pickled foods, baking powder, biscuits, tarts, cereal, rice milk and olive oil (among other foods) can also contain small amounts of aluminum.
Cooking foods in aluminum pots or pans can cause small, trace amounts of aluminum to leach into the food you're preparing, according to the ATSDR. This can expose people to higher amounts of aluminum than using cookware made of glass or stainless steel.
Aluminum in the Body
The connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease has been studied in the past, however, there isn't enough compelling scientific evidence to support any causation between the two, according to Gearhart.
In fact, the average American adult may consume anywhere between 0 to 95 milligrams of aluminum per day, according to Gearhart, with the median amount being about 24 milligrams. And while this may sound like a lot, these values are generally safe, Gearhart assures.
"The body is able to eliminate small amounts of ingested aluminum," Gearhart says. "To date, there have been no reports of any dietary aluminum toxicity, so it's not something to worry about."
Typically aluminum exposure is most harmful for workers that come into close contact with large amounts of aluminum. While working with the metal, inhalation of aluminum dust can occur and cause issues with the lungs, according to the ATSDR. However, the use of breathing masks in factories has mostly eliminated this problem.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to food, aluminum content is generally minuscule and safe for consumption. If you want to be extra careful, though, Gearhart suggests buying non-aluminum cookware and utensils. You can also cut back on eating highly processed foods, buy aluminum-free products (like flour) and look for whole foods that are low in aluminum.
"Natural, whole foods contain the least amount of aluminum and are also more nutritious, so it's a win-win," Gearhart says.