Soy lecithin is widely used in various industries due to its emulsifying, stabilising, and texture-enhancing properties. It is commonly used in the food industry as an emulsifier in processed foods, in the cosmetics industry as a natural emollient and moisturiser and is useful in the pharmaceutical industry as a carrier for various active ingredients.
In this article, we will explore what is soy lecithin, its uses, and potential side effects.
What is Soy Lecithin?
Soy lecithin is a natural substance that is extracted from soybeans. It is a type of phospholipid, a type of fat molecule that is essential to the structure and function of cell membranes in the body. Soy lecithin is used in a variety of products, including food, cosmetics, and industrial applications owing to its emulsifying, stabilising, and texture-enhancing properties.
It is produced by extracting oil from soybeans and then separating and purifying the phospholipids from the other components of the oil. The resulting lecithin is a yellow-brown, oily liquid that has a mild, nutty flavour. It is commonly used as an emulsifier, which means it helps to mix and stabilise ingredients that would normally separate, such as oil and water.
This makes it a common ingredient in many food products, including baked goods, chocolates, and margarine. In addition to its emulsifying properties, soy lecithin is also used as a nutritional supplement. It contains choline, a nutrient that is important for brain and liver function, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Soy lecithin is generally considered safe for consumption, although some people with soy allergies may experience harmful reactions to it.
Nutritional Facts of Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin is a rich source of several essential nutrients, including choline, phospholipids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, as an emulsifying agent, it is typically used in small amounts in food products, so its nutritional contribution is usually minimal.
Choline is a nutrient that is important for brain and liver function, and soy lecithin is one of the best dietary sources of choline. A single tablespoon of soy lecithin contains about 70 milligrams of choline, which is roughly 13% of the recommended daily intake for adult men and 16% for adult women. Soy lecithin also contains phospholipids which are important components of cell membranes and are essential for normal cellular function. Additionally, soy lecithin is a source of unsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health.
A typical tablespoon of liquid soy lecithin contains approximately:
- Calories: 120
- Total Fat: 14 g
- Saturated Fat: 3.5 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 8 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 2.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Total Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Choline: 70 mg
Uses of Soy Lecithin
The addition of soy lecithin in a food product is generally considered safe for most people, including children and pregnant or breastfeeding women, when consumed in moderation. Here are various beneficial soy lecithin uses:
1. Food Industry
Soy lecithin is commonly used as an emulsifier in processed foods, such as baked goods, chocolates, and kinds of margarine. It helps to mix and stabilise ingredients that would normally separate, such as oil and water.
2. Cosmetics Industry
Soy lecithin is used as a natural emollient and moisturiser in cosmetics, such as lotions and creams. It improves the texture and appearance of the product.
3. Pharmaceutical Industry
Soy lecithin is used as a carrier for drugs and other active ingredients in pharmaceutical products, such as capsules and tablets. It helps to improve the absorption and bioavailability of the active ingredient.
4. Nutritional Supplements
Soy lecithin is available as a dietary supplement in capsules or powder form. It is often used to support brain and liver function, as it is a rich source of choline and other essential nutrients.
Side Effects of Soy Lecithin
While soy lecithin is generally considered safe for consumption in small amounts, excessive intake may have potential side effects, such as discomfort and allergic reactions.
It is also important to note that most soybeans used to produce soy lecithin are genetically modified, which may be a concern for some individuals. But here are some side effects of soy lecithin:
1. Allergic Reactions
Individuals with soy allergies may experience reactions such as hives, itching, or difficulty breathing when consuming soy lecithin.
2. Gastrointestinal Discomfort
In rare cases, consuming excessive amounts of soy lecithin supplements may cause gastrointestinal discomforts such as diarrhoea, bloating, or abdominal pain.
3. Drug Interactions
Soy lecithin may interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners, blood pressure medicines, or cholesterol-lowering drugs. Therefore, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking soy lecithin supplements if you are taking any medications.
4. Genetically Modified Soy (GMO Soy)
Most soybeans used to produce soy lecithin are genetically modified, which may be a concern for some individuals.
Soy lecithin is a versatile substance that is used in various industries and products due to its emulsifying, stabilising, and texture-enhancing properties. It is commonly used in the food industry as an emulsifier in processed foods, such as baked goods and chocolates, and as a natural emollient and moisturiser in the cosmetics industry.
Soy lecithin is also used in pharmaceutical products as a carrier for drugs and other active ingredients and in industrial applications to improve the flow properties and stability of products.
Frequently Asked Questions About Soy Lecithin
Q1. What are the disadvantages of consuming soy lecithin?
Soy lecithin is generally considered safe in small amounts, but consuming high doses may cause gastrointestinal issues, allergic reactions, and potentially contribute to certain health conditions. It is important to consume soy lecithin in moderation and talk to a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Q2. Which people are advised against taking lecithin?
People who are allergic to soy or other legumes should avoid soy lecithin. Additionally, individuals taking blood-thinning medications or with a history of liver disease should consult with a healthcare provider before taking lecithin supplements.
Q3. Can soy lecithin stimulate oestrogen production?
Soy lecithin contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds that mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body, but it is unlikely to have a significant impact on oestrogen levels in humans.
Q4. Which type of lecithin is considered the safest?
Sunflower lecithin is generally considered to be the safest form of lecithin, as it is not typically derived from genetically modified crops and is free from common allergens like soy and eggs. It is also rich in choline, a nutrient important for brain health.