Aluminum in Food

Aluminum in Food

Aluminum in Food

Aluminum is a metallic element that makes up about 8.2% of the earth’s crust.
In the 19th century, the discovery of cheaper extraction processes (from aluminum oxide and bauxite) enhanced the application and versatility of the material.
Food additives , kitchen utensils, medicines, deodorants, foods and drinks contain aluminum in more or less relevant quantities.
However, unlike other metallic elements (such as iron , zinc , copper , etc.), aluminum is neither useful nor essential for man. This is why its excessive presence in the diet should be considered potentially harmful to health.

Aluminum in Additives

Being a ubiquitous element, aluminum is found in soils and waters all over the globe. This means that most foods contain it “at least”, making it enter the human body every day.
We specify right away that small amounts of aluminum do not cause any type of injury but, over time, this metal could accumulate in the tissues.
Aluminum is a fundamental element for certain food additives, contained above all: in chemical yeast , in melted cheeses ( thin slices , cheese, etc.) and in pickles .
The table below summarizes the Italian and American lists of food additives that contain aluminum.

Additives Licensed in Italy Additives Licensed in the USA
In Italy, the Ministry of Health considers the following food additives safe:

  • E520 Aluminum sulphate
  • E521 Aluminum sodium sulphate
  • E522 Potassium aluminum sulphate
  • E523 Aluminum ammonium sulphate
  • E541 Acid sodium aluminum phosphate
  • E554 Sodium aluminum silicate
  • E555 Potassium aluminum silicate
  • E556 Calcium aluminum silicate
  • E559 Aluminum silicate
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the following food additives generally safe (GRAS):

  • Aluminum sulfate
  • Ammonium aluminum sulfate
  • Aluminum and sodium sulfate
  • Calcium aluminum silicate
  • Aluminum stearate
  • Sodium aluminum acid phosphate
  • Aluminum nicotinate

The safety of these ingredients is still a matter of debate.

In September 2005, a research group known as the Department of the Planet Earth filed a request to exclude aluminum-containing additives from the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS ) list.
In support of the petition, some studies were reported attempting to demonstrate a correlation between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease .
However, these insights have not been shown to be statistically significant.

Aluminum and Food Preparation

In addition to being naturally present in foods and beverages, and structuring various additives, aluminum can contaminate foods during their preparation. The transit of the material takes place from the utensils (pans, containers, etc.) to the food, through chemical or physical wear.
In the culinary sector, aluminum is one of the most used materials. It is distinguished by an excellent thermal conduction, typified by uniformity and effectiveness.
On the other hand, aluminum is a fairly soft metal; if scraped, it easily releases small fragments that “dirty” the food. An indicative example is the production of creams and béchamel; these recipes require massive use of the whisk which, if made of steel (harder than aluminium), corrodes the pan. Sometimes, the particles that are released by this process are so abundant that they change the color of the sauce or cream making it green or grey.
Furthermore, aluminum tends to react with acidic foods such as fruit , vegetables , vinegar , and wine (especially in the presence of heat) . This chemical interaction favors the erosion of the metal and promotes its passage into food. Furthermore, aluminum promotes food oxidation, which is why it is NOT particularly suitable for storage.
To avoid these eventualities, many manufacturers have begun to build pans and frying pans in anodized aluminum. This process allows you to:

  • Maintain the conductivity of the material
  • Create a harder surface layer
  • Prevent food reaction.

It is however necessary to avoid scratching the containers, for example by using less aggressive ladles, tongs and whisks (for example those made of plastic or coated in silicone).

Toxicity of Aluminum

According to some laboratory analyzes carried out in the United States, the foods that contribute most to the intake of aluminum are: cereals and derivatives (such as bread , sweets , biscuits and pastries), vegetables ( spinach , horseradish and lettuce ), mushrooms , drinks ( tea and cocoa ) and some products of very early childhood. Drinking water and medicines are also a significant source of aluminum.
Based on some research, considering the poor removal of metal from fabrics, the “The European Food Safety Authority ” (EFSA) has restricted the dietary intake of aluminum to 1mg/kg of body weight per week. Beyond this limit it is not excluded that it can create health problems.
The average dietary exposure of the European population is calculated taking into consideration the studies carried out in different countries (the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and Sweden). The study, carried out by a group of experts appointed by EFSA, highlighted how heterogeneous collective exposure can be. The average for the adult population is between 0.2-1.5mg/kg weekly; for younger subjects, upper limits ranged between 0.7-2.3mg/kg per week.
The “New York University Langone Medical Center” reports that prolonged exposure, especially at high levels, can cause serious health problems.
By eating foods that contain sodium hydrogen phosphate and aluminum, or by living near mines, exposure to the metal becomes more harmful over time.
However, even short-term exposure such as breathing aluminum dust in the workplace can be very harmful. Aluminum
toxicity affects the musculoskeletal system and the brain , causing: muscle weakness , bone pain , osteoporosis, fetal changes , growth retardation in children and changes in male reproductive function ( testicular impairment ). Deterioration in mental abilities, dementia , and seizures occur predominantly in people with kidney failure .



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