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You Ask, I Answer: Soy Lecithin

What exactly is soy lecithin and why is it added to foods?

Should I be concerned about it?

– Dennise O’Grady
Bay Head, NJ

Lecithin is a byproduct of refined soy or sunflower oils.  Some food companies are starting to use sunflower lecithin as a way to appeal to individuals with soy allergies.  That said, soy lecithin is still the more common of the two.

It is mainly used as an emulsifier and stabilizer in foods as well as to provide better textures to powdered beverage mixes, salad dressings, and low-fat packaged foods.

You’ll usually see soy lecithin at the end of ingredient lists because it is used in such miniscule amounts (usually no more than 1.3 percent of the food product’s total weight.)

The Food & Drug Administration places soy lecithin in their list of Generally Recognized as Safe foods.

Interestingly, allergy information is not consistent. Since soy lecithins contain negligible amounts of soy protein, most people with soy allergies can consume them without experiencing any side effects.

There have been, however, scattered reports of allergic reactions.

Some people — particularly vegans — like to sprinkle soy lecithin granules over soups, salads, and cereals as a way to add choline to their diet.

Makes sense to me.  A single tablespoon provides half of the daily adequate intake figure of choline (other vegan sources, like peanut butter and cauliflower, contribute anywhere from 6 to 12 percent of adequate intake value per serving).

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One Comment

  1. Kate said on February 28th, 2009

    Ah, I keep reading about how lecithin helps if you’re breastfeeding and have recurrent plugged ducts, but I never knew what it was.

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