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Are Products with Soy Lecithin Safe to Eat? (Like Chocolate & Ice Cream)

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What is Lecithin and why is it in so many foods?

Is soy lecithin bad (high PUFA)? What about Sunflower?

Everything that applies to SOY lecithin also applies to SUNFLOWER lecithin

How much soy lecithin is there in chocolate, ice cream and other products?

Should I avoid chocolate or other foods that contain soy lecithin?

What about other problems with soy like GMOs and phytoestrogens?

If you’ve been reading labels lately, you might have noticed soy lecithin showing up on the ingredients list. If you haven’t, take a look the next time you buy prepared foods like chocolate, candy of any kind, ice cream, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cakes, breads, peanut butter, coffee creamers, even orange juice or other citrus beverages.

This article will explain why soy lecithin is added to foods, and whether or not you should avoid some or all of the foods to which soy lecithin is added.

What is Lecithin and Why is it In So Many Foods?

Soy, sunflower and other lecithins are added to foods helps create a smooth consistency and helps ensure the mixture stays mixed.

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If you’ve ever done home made vinaigrette dressings, you may have noticed that the oil and water separate a lot faster than the vinaigrettes you buy in the store. That’s because the manufacturers usually add emulsifiers. Caesar dressing is cloudier and creamier than vinaigrettes because (when you make it yourself) you add an emulsifier in the form of egg yolk.

Emulsifiers like soy lecithin help a salad dressing stay mixed up so that it does not separate before you can pour it

Egg yolks are also a great source of lecithin. So are soybeans and sunflower seeds.

Lecithin’s stabilizing property comes from its chemical make up, being composed of fat-soluble compounds on one end and water-soluble compounds on the other. This dual nature means it sticks on the outer surface of oil droplets and helps to hold it in place in water. Emulsifiers keep things nicely mixed together, not just oil and water but also oil and air, sugar and cocoa butter, sugar and cream and other mixtures. They work by holding the suspension for a longer time than they otherwise would before separating again. This has obvious benefits to the way the food looks–smooth and creamy rather than separated, lumpy, or greasy looking. Emulsification also has flavor benefits and even helps to slow certain kinds of chemical decay, thus potentially enhancing nutrition.

If you’ve ever tried to whip up mayo yourself using egg yolks and oil, you know that the egg yolk is essential for keeping the air/oil mixture stable and making your mayo nice and thick and white and creamy. Without the egg yolk, you might whip a few bubbles into your oil, but they won’t hold for more than a few minutes.

Many foods we love are actually emulsions. My personal all time favorite emulsion is chocolate. Chocolatiers recently discovered that making chocolate smooth and flowy enough to pour into molds is much easier when they add an emulsifier. Soy lecithin helps hold the sugar molecules in the cocoa butter (or any fat), thus it’s likely that lower sugar chocolates containing lecithin contain less lecithin than higher sugar chocolates. Same goes for ice cream: the more sugar, the more the lecithin (be it from egg yolks, or soy) helps your ice cream stay smooth and creamy, which is especially important as it warms up on your tongue.

Soy lecithin is the new soy-product on the chocolate block. Such a common thing now I created a post on soy in lecithin for ya, here https://drcate.com/valentine-chocolate-saying-i-love-you-without-lecithin/

Is lecithin bad (high PUFA)?

Soy, sunflower and other high-PUFA seed-based lecithins are not great. The reason it’s not great is that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the fatty acids in soy lecithin are polyunsaturated and therefore prone to oxidizing and breaking down into toxins like 4 hydroxynonenal, among others, during storage and heating. What’s more, once our body fat accumulates too many polyunsaturated fatty acids we can lose our ability to burn it. (This is discussed in detail in my 2020 book, The FATBURN FIX)

If you can avoid soy lecithin, I would. However, as is true everywhere in toxicology, the dose makes the poison. We can handle a tiny bit of even very toxic chemicals so it might not be necessary to avoid every single product listing soy lecithin on the label because some products contain very little. Which begs the question:

How much soy lecithin is there in chocolate, ice cream and other products?

It depends on the product.

The food with most lecithin might be mayo. Most mayo these days contains soy or sunflower lecithin instead of whole egg yolks. The manufacturers of products like veganaise like to claim their mayo is healthy because soy lecithin is healthier than egg yolks, but that’s nonsense because eggs are healthy. According to Chef Debbie Lee, mayo made with soy lecithin would contain about 2 ounces per quart, or 6% concentration by weight. A 10 ounce salad dressings made with soy lecithin would contain about the same roughly 6% concentration.

 

Tired of spending $6-8 on avocado oil mayo? Try making your own with Chef Macy’s basic mayo 101 recipe. CLICK HERE to view in YOUTUBE

Chocolate on the other hand contains much less soy lecithin than veganaise mayo, somewhere around 0.4% according to an article posted on FoodDensity.com, which seems chemically credible to me. Many of the more boutique brands of chocolate do not use any soy lecithin.

Should I avoid chocolate or other foods that contain lecithin from soy, sunflower or other high-PUFA seed?

Here’s my bottom line: Chocolate’s ok. But as for the rest, it’s best to avoid the lot.

The rationale:

In my view, the bulk of the other foods high in soy lecithin are also best avoided either due to being too high in sugar or loaded with vegetable oils, like soy oil. If you want to be healthy its essential to avoid foods with soy oil and the other toxic PUFA-rich seed oils [for more on the subject of good fats and bad, click over to my list of good fats and bad page]. So that means avoiding most of the mayo and salad dressing that contain significant amounts of soy lecithin, as well as cookies and other junk foods that are typically made with these toxic oils.

If you have an allergy to soy protein, that’s a different story and depending on the severity of your allergy you may need to avoid soy lecithin all together.

What about other problems with soy like GMOs and phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens are simply plant hormones, and all seeds contain phytoestrogens. Our liver can break these down. Unless you are consuming very high amounts of soy and other seeds, the phytoestrogens will not be a problem.

GMOs: GMOs are a problem primarily for the environment, not for the animals that eat them. That said, GMO soy is often doused with extra helpings of herbicide that might very well remain in soy lecithin in concentrations you wouldn’t want to know about. Keep in mind that buying organic produce (or growing your own) is the best way to avoid unwanted chemicals of all kinds.

Questions? Corrections? Please leave your thoughts below!

Dr. Cate

With over two decades of clinical experience and expertise in genetic and biochemical research, Dr. Cate can help you to reverse metabolic disease and reshape your body.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I am wondering about the ‘gums’. Guar gum, gum acacia, xanthum gum, etc. Do you feel that they might have an inflammatory effect?
    THANKS

  2. Phosphatidylcholine question & reason why I’m asking: I have an MTHFR polymorphism (one C677T snp) which, according to my understanding, reduces methylation by around 30%.

    I’ve heard that 50% of methylation is used to create phosphatidylcholine and creatine. Since my methylation is theoretically reduced at least 30% by my C677T gene, it seemed reasonable to me to supplement phosphatidylcholine and creatine. I’ve been doing this for at least a year with no apparent problems.

    Now that I know sunflower lecithin is a source of pro-inflammatory, easily oxidized PUFA, I don’t know what to do about supplementation. I’ve been taking 2 teaspoons of Seeking Health “Optimal PC” liquid phosphatidylcholine daily: 2.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat made of non-GMO sunflower lecithin “which delivers 5,200 mg of blended phospholipids.”

    I’m cutting out other PUFAs and am going to switch to all animal fats for my oils (I use emu oil currently — soon I’m going to try camel fat, tallow and lard). What are your thoughts on phosphatidylcholine supplementation from liquid sunflower lecithin?

    Would it seem okay to cut back to just 1 teaspoon a day?

    Or, considering that sunflower oil is one of the “hateful eight,” is it advisable that I quit it completely?

    If I should quit it completely, do you have any advice for a way to get more phosphatidylcholine from other sources? Off hand I would think eggs might be a good source, but I have not been agreeing with eggs lately, even extremely well-produced, grass-fed, pastured eggs from Mint Creek Farms here in Chicago.

    Although I am able to incorporate some animal products in my diet, like beef liver powder, emu oil, and soon the other animal fats I mentioned, I have otherwise been a vegetarian for 35 years, so … meatier solutions would be tough for me, but I’m open to possibilities. I am going to be trying camel fat when it comes in the mail this week, so there’s that!

    Thanks for your help with this!

  3. I have atherosclerosis and have had bypass surgery. I’ve been eating a tablespoon or two of lecithin on my oatmeal every morning, thinking that it is good for brain and heart health. Based on this article, this is a mistaken idea. My question is, how much harm have I done by eating lecithin in this way and can I expect to see improvements after I stop eating it?

    Thanks!

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