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What Is Soy Lecithin?

Soy lecithin keeps a candy bar's chocolate and cocoa butter together.
Soybeans.
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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2014
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Soy lecithin is a common additive used in foods. It serves as an emulsifying agent, keeping ingredients from separating. It can also serve as a wetting agent, a coating base, a mixing aid, and many other purposes.

When used in food products, soy lecithin is found in very small amounts. The typical component of the compound within a food product is one percent of the product's weight. It is often used to thin out candy, and reduce the stickiness of food ingredients. It can increase volume and shelf life, help ingredients mix cohesively, reduce potential batter spray during cooking, and enhance food texture.

In candy bars, for example, soy lecithin keeps the chocolate and cocoa butter together, preventing natural separation from occurring. It works the same way in foods such as peanut butter, ice cream, and margarine, where fats and waters would otherwise typically separate. In breads, it can help improve texture and size during baking.

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Although many people believe that many soy lecithin dangers exist, the product has been largely found to be nontoxic and safe for human consumption. Some people are concerned that, as a byproduct of soybeans, it contains pesticides and solvents, such as the hexane used to produce the product, that could be harmful when eaten. Many sources of the soybeans used to make lecithin are genetically modified, which also worries many people. The use of unfermented soybeans is also a potential concern, as it has been linked to health issues, such as reproductive problems and allergies.

Other people, however, use lecithin as a health supplement. High in choline, the compound may help encourage healthy brain development and heart health. Lecithin from soybeans may also help prevent dementia and other conditions, including high cholesterol, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, and psoriasis.

The use of soy lecithin can cause some side effects. Low blood pressure can result from taking the supplement. Other lecithin side effects include dizziness and fainting. When taking the compound to fight cholesterol, it can be enhanced by simultaneously taking a niacin supplement.

Outside the food industry, soy lecithin has many other uses. In animal feed, it serves as a cheap source of protein. It is used in the pharmaceutical industry to create medications. Lecithin can also be used in the manufacturing of paints, plastics, and other household items. In cosmetics, lecithins are often used to soften skin and help pigments become absorbed by skin cells.

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Discuss this Article

anon325227
Post 7

If you read the book, "The Whole Soy Story", you will never eat soy again. The soy industry is responsible for all of the positive soy articles and they are very, very misleading. Those who do agree with the positive soy story are marginalized by lots of money. Soy will and does kill.

aishia
Post 6

@gimbell - Yeah, good point. Why not genetically tamper with how hardy the soy beans are if you're going to mess with them anyway?

The article says that soy lecithin made with unfermented soy beans can cause reproductive problems -- scary stuff, there! Is there any way to recognize whether the soy lecithin somebody might take as a supplement is made from unfermented soy beans or not?

Imagine taking something thinking it made your health better and later finding out it was in fact canceling out your chances of having kids. That's serious business.

gimbell
Post 5

@Mae82 - Avoiding soy lecithin is a great step toward a healthier diet! As the article discusses, genetic modification is one big reason to quit soy lecithin -- and all other things with soy in them, too.

People keep advertising soy beans as a great health food, but they're not anymore, because pretty much all soy beans grown and sold commercially are now genetically modified organisms. I don't want to eat genetically tampered-with food, so I'm avoiding soy.

Another reason is the pesticides. The article says that soy lecithin may be considered unhealthy to some not because of its own effects, but because of the effects of the pesticides lingering in it from the soy bean crops. My question is, don't people genetically modify the soy beans in order to make it less necessary to use pesticides at all?

Both are evil as far as I'm concerned, but if you're going to modify the soy beans you may as well make them hardy so the pesticides aren't necessary.

VivAnne
Post 4

Aha, so this is the substance that makes the difference between "all natural" peanut butter and the usual premixed stuff!

All natural peanut butter always separates in a kind of gross way, with grainy ground up peanuts on the bottom and a puddle of peanut oil at least half an inch deep floating on the top.

Even when you stir the peanut butter up really thoroughly, it seems extra greasy and a bit too watery. I love peanut butter, but I think if not for soy lecithin I might not be a fan at all.

hanley79
Post 3

@Sara007 - I have to agree with you, here -- if soy lecithin was deadly poisonous or something, it would not be approved to be put into people's food.

My sister is one of those people who is direly allergic to soy lecithin (along with about half the other foods available to the average person), so I do understand that it could be dangerous to some people. It's kind of like saying you're shocked people still eat peanuts if you justify it by allergies alone, though -- it's fine for most people.

As an avid eater of chocolate bars, I can assure Mae82 that soy lecithin isn't toxic even when eaten daily.

Sara007
Post 2

@Mae82 - I really think that you are sensationalizing the effects of soy lecithin. While no additives are great for us, the side effects you mention only show up in people ingesting more than 3.5 grams of choline a day, or those that have an actual allergy to soy lecithin.

The truth is that soy lecithin makes up less than 1% of the processed foods we eat and like anything, if you eat it in moderation everything will be fine.

There has even been research done that shows having soy lecithin in your diet can be a good thing. It has even been identified as a substance that can help with dementia and certain liver diseases.

Mae82
Post 1

Soy lecithin as an additive shouldn't be taken lightly. This substance is indeed dangerous to your health and is nothing more than a waste product that comes out during soy oil production. It contains harmful pesticides and solvents. I am amazed that people still eat foods that contain soy lecithin.

Some of the dangers of soy lecithin include excessive weight gain, stomach pain, and headaches, just to name a few.

If you are trying to eat healthier I would really suggest avoiding processed foods. They are nothing more than a chemical soup. No matter how good they taste it just isn't worth it.

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