Dr Asha Singh
Aluminum utensils are ubiquitous in households in India and other developing countries. Metallic aluminum has certain physical and chemical properties such as malleability, high thermal conductivity which make it usable for the manufacture of utensils. A wide variety of cookware and aluminum utensils are used around the world. Much of this cookware is locally made, uncoated and unanodized. Forged aluminum utensils are commonly used in developing countries for mass cooking in army messes and inns, and as aluminum foil in the kitchen as well as food packaging in developing and developed countries . Aluminum utensils are widely used because they are light, cheap, rust-free, and readily available. However, aluminum is a non-essential element and prolonged use of aluminum cookware under certain conditions may pose various health risks to human beings.
Aluminum is a growing public health problem, especially because of its link to various diseases and other neurological problems. According to some recent studies, cooking a meal in an aluminum pan adds about 1-2 mg of aluminum to our diet and a daily intake of 10 mg of aluminum is reported from different sources (including cooking utensils ). According to the WHO, the safe upper limit for aluminum intake for adults is 50 mg. The fact is that the amount of aluminum that seeps into food during cooking increases if the pan is pitted and worn. The longer food is cooked or stored in the pot, the greater the leaching.
Additionally, the leaching of aluminum from cookware depends on many factors such as pH, temperature, and the cooking medium. Lime, tomato and other acidic substances when cooked in aluminum containers help the ions of this metal to dissolve faster in food, and such food is harmful to the body. In recent times, wrapping meat and fish before baking has become a common practice which has led to excessive consumption of leached aluminum from aluminum foil. Studies on the leaching of aluminum in meat of different types, cooked in different food solutions of tomato juice, citric acid, apple vinegar wrapped with aluminum foil indicate that cooking increases the concentration of aluminum. aluminum in white and red meats with leaching values between 59.83 and 220.20 mg. /kg. The ability of the human body to excrete this metal is limited and gradually it begins to accumulate in the cells of the muscles, kidneys, liver, bones, etc.
Diseases caused by aluminum toxicity are depression, anxiety, decreased kidney function, diarrhea, hyperacidity, colitis, repeated inflammation of the mouth, and skin diseases such as eczema, etc. Aluminum reduces bone growth and predisposes it to osteoporosis. The accumulation of aluminum in the brain appears to be a major cause of the development of a neurological syndrome called “dialysis encephalopathy” or “dialysis dementia”. Aluminum is neurotoxic and disintegrates the myelination sheath around the axons of neurons. It leads to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, loss of nerve function, tinnitus, headaches, migraines, epileptic seizures, nervous signal fluctuations, sensory and motor neuron dysfunctions.
We can minimize the amount of aluminum entering our food by avoiding cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes in aluminum cookware. We should also avoid storing leftovers in aluminum pans or wrapping hot foods in aluminum foil as this allows the food to absorb small amounts of aluminum. A gradual switch to the use of anodized aluminum cookware should be encouraged to minimize aluminum leaching into cooked foods. According to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), aluminum utensils used for cooking should have a high degree of smoothness achieved by coating with aluminum oxide and anodizing the surface. Cookware should be cleaned with soft materials and care should be taken to preserve the protective anodized layer. The manufacturers advise that these utensils should never be scrubbed with a hard or metallic scrub.
Additionally, it is best to stop using old aluminum cookware and switch to better alternatives such as stainless steel or cast iron cookware. Terra cotta is another great option for safe cooking. Clay pots are gaining popularity these days due to their special cooking style. However, it is difficult to cook food in earthen pots otherwise earthen pots are a healthy and safe cookware option. Also, there is a need to educate and enlighten the public on the potential health implications of cooking in aluminum cookware, especially in developing countries like India. We all know that the food choices we make are vital to our health, but now is the time to realize that choosing the right cookware is also of great importance to our health.
(The author is Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Govt. Degree College Bishnah)