There is a misconception that aluminium cookware is somehow unsafe. The main concern centres on a possible link between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease and the other on the possible toxic nature of aluminium itself. Both these concerns are unwarranted.
The first suggestion that there was a link between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease was made in the 1970’s when research from Canada showed that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s had evidence of higher levels of aluminium in their brains than healthy patients. In the intervening years further research has discounted this link. It is possible that Alzheimer’s causes more aluminium to accumulate in the brain, but there is no evidence to suggest that higher consumption of aluminium heightens the risk of contracting the disease.
Of course aluminium is toxic is large concentrations, but we all consume aluminium and for most of us that means about 30 to 50mg every day. Aluminium is one of the most common elements in our environment, drinking water has minute traces of it, and it is present in many foods and many medications. There are relatively high levels of aluminium in antacids, aspirin and in the antiperspirants many of us use everyday. Most of the aluminium consumed passes harmlessly through our digestive systems, only a very tiny fraction is actually absorbed into the body.
Aluminium cookware was singled out as something that should be avoided because certain foods with a high level of acidity, such as tomato sauce and vinegar, can react with aluminium, leaking trace amounts from the cookware into the food. Needless to say, most aluminium cookware is treated so that there can be no reaction to food. However, even an untreated aluminium pot will leak only minute traces of aluminium into the food that is being cooked in it. This is backed up by research, showing for example, that cooking tomato sauce in an aluminium pot will lead to the release of about 3mg of aluminium into the food, a small proportion of normal daily intake.
Therefore aluminium pots and pans pose no risk to users, even if they are old and scratched and pitted. Additionally, as mentioned briefly above, aluminium cookware is almost always treated so it cannot react with foods. When aluminium is anodized it goes through a chemical bath and an electrical current and this binds the metal into the pan, sealed in this way the aluminium cannot leach into food.
Furthermore, most aluminium cookware is coated. The exterior is either porcelain enamel, which has a distinctive gloss finish and is very heat resistant, or it is a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), the most common non stick coating which most of us know as Teflon. PTFE is not damaged by acid or alkali, and is heat resistant to 400°C. PTFE is approved in the USA, Europe, and in many other countries for use on cookware as it has no reaction to food, water or household cleaners. PTFE is used to coat heart stimulators and has even been injected into patients with serious kidney problems. If this non stick coating does peel or scratch and PTFE particles are accidentally ingested, there is nothing to fear as they are not absorbed and simply pass through the body.
Aluminium cookware represents a substantial part of the cookware market, between 40-50% in total. It has significant advantages over other types of cookware. It is lightweight, it has superb thermal conductivity, 13 times more than stainless steel, and heat diffusion is excellent, making for even cooking results.