Dear dietitian: My stepdaughter advised me not to cook with aluminum foil as this can cause health problems. Is that true? Is It Safe To Use Plastic Containers When Heating Food In The Microwave? – Thanks, Jesse
Dear Jesse: We use aluminum in our daily life. Sources include medicines, aluminum foil, aluminum cans, and cookware. In fact, it’s the most abundant metal on the planet, and aluminum is even found in the air we breathe. But is it safe? Symptoms of aluminum toxicity include confusion, dementia, anemia, and osteomalacia (soft bones).
In the United States, aluminum toxicity is rare and no outbreaks have been reported since 2007. In a small study with 10 dialysis patients, increased levels of aluminum were found in the blood. The problem related to the dialysis machine and has been resolved. Notably, none of the patients showed any symptoms of aluminum toxicity.
Toxic amounts of aluminum have been discovered in people with kidney problems in which the kidneys cannot adequately filter excess amounts of the metal. High levels also occurred in patients who received a long-term IV diet. Any patient on a long-term IV diet should be closely monitored by a registered dietitian so that nutritional imbalance can be prevented or quickly corrected.
In the 1960s, aluminum became a suspect in Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, research has found no link between aluminum and the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
It is safe to use aluminum in cooking. It can slightly increase the level of aluminum in your body, but it is not harmful. The human body does not absorb aluminum easily, and a healthy kidney will excrete excess amounts in your urine. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your aluminum mirror. A simple blood test will tell if it is too high.
Another common and practical item in our closets is plastic. There are a few important things to know about using plastic containers to reheat food in the microwave. Plastics can release bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates into your food. These chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors, which means that they mimic human hormones. In doing so, they disrupt the body’s natural hormonal process. Hormone disturbances cause problems in animals, but there is little scientific information about the potential health problems in humans.
The FDA regulates the labeling of plastic containers that are “microwave safe”. These containers need to be tested to see if chemicals from the plastic spill into the food, what is the likelihood of someone eating straight from the container, and how hot the food will get during the microwave. The allowable amount of chemicals is 100 to 1000 times less than the amount that is harmful to animals.
Avoid using plastic bags, plastic wrap, brown paper, or plastic bags in the microwave. If you want to be extra careful, use only microwaveable glass or ceramic when heating food in the microwave.
Until next time, stay healthy!
LEANNE McCRATE, RDN, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning nutritionist based in St. Louis, MO. Their mission is to educate consumers about healthy, science-based nutrition. Do you have a nutritional question? Email her today at [email protected] Dear nutritionist, does not endorse any product, health program, or diet plan.