When I head out food shopping every Thursday, like most people, I’m always wanting to try different types of snacks to keep things fresh and to mix it up and its not only snacks, but supplements as well.
One ingredient that I always see “popping up” as an avid label reader is soy lecithin. Now the word soy always makes my ears perk up and gets my brain going, but is this added ingredient any different? Is it healthy for us? Should we be consuming it? Lets take a closer look!
What Is Soy Lecithin?
So what does lecithin do and why is soy lecithin bad for you? Soy lecithin is a common ingredient in hundreds of processed foods, including cereals, pasta, breads, soy milk and many meats. Lecithin is also available as a health supplement; proponents claim that it can benefit the heart, brain, liver and athletic performance. However, there are potential dangers of soy lecithin that could outweigh the possible benefits.
Back in 2007, the GMO Compass reported that soy lecithin, like the majority of other food products in our supermarkets, contained genetically modified soy. Genetically modified foods are bio-technically changed to increase yields and resistance to herbicides and insects.
Some prominent health-food advocates as well as some of today’s top scientists have concerns with the potential long-term impact from eating genetically modified food sources. For example, a study published in the “Journal of Applied Toxicology” discovered that mice fed GM soybean developed a decrease in pancreatic function. Think about that for a second as a type 1 diabetic. No I’m not saying this is the cause, but its definitely eyebrow raising for sure, I know it was for me personally.
Although the nutrition of the soy was not altered, the study showed that as few as five days of feeding GM food caused pancreatic cellular changes, which were reversed after 30 days of non-GM foods. You can read about the study here.
How Is Soy Lecithin Derived?
Great question indeed! Check this out.
Soy Lecithin is derived from the waste product of the processing of the soybean plant. In an excerpt from the book The Whole Soy Story Dr. Kaayla T. Daniels explains:
“Soybean lecithin comes from sludge left after crude soy oil goes through a ‘degumming’ process. It is a waste product containing solvents and pesticides and has a consistency ranging from a gummy fluid to a plastic solid. Before being bleached to a more appealing light yellow, the color of lecithin ranges from a dirty tan to reddish brown. The hexane extraction process commonly used in soybean oil manufacture today yields less lecithin than the older ethanol-benzol process, but produces a more marketable lecithin with better color, reduced odor and less bitter flavor.7
Historian William Shurtleff reports that the expansion of the soybean crushing and soy oil refining industries in Europe after 1908 led to a problem disposing the increasing amounts of fermenting, foul-smelling sludge. German companies then decided to vacuum dry the sludge, patent the process and sell it as “soybean lecithin.” Scientists hired to find some use for the substance cooked up more than a thousand new uses by 1939.8” (source)
Yum! Now that I have your taste buds going, what about any additional side effects that we should be aware of or what about any possible benefits? Well, continue reading a little further.
Soy Lecithin Side Effects:
The most important side effect is that if you have a serious soy allergy, you should avoid all products which contain it but with that being said, here are the most common side effects linked to soy lecithin:
Gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea
Changes in weight (loss and gain)
Loss of appetite
Nausea, dizziness, vomiting and confusion
Low blood pressure (which is just as dangerous as high blood pressure)
Blurred vision and occasional fainting
Now, these side effects sound severe, and some of them are, but it is worth remembering that they are almost all as a result of pesticides and chemicals applied to many soy crops.
Soy Lecithin Benefits?
So while we have been focusing on why I’m really not a fan of this stuff, what about the possible benefits? Are there any? While it is not mandatory for everyday bodily functions, some research shows that soy lecithin has been found to play a significant role in combating heart related problems as well as helping in a couple other areas.
Benefits such as:
- Protect Cells. The phospholipid properties of soy lecithin helps facilitate cell transportation processes. Ions, fats, nutrients and wastes need to be regularly moved in and out of cells, and soy lecithin can be a key player and doing this efficiently and smoothly. It helps protect cells as well as benefit their function and development.
- Lower Cholesterol. Soy lecithin is able to dissolve a certain amount of fat so that it does not build up in the arteries. It helps to reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol while also being believed to elevate good cholesterol levels. Overall it helps to minimize the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis.
- Weight Loss Aid. The choline found in soy lecithin helps to speed up metabolism so the body can easily and quickly burn fat and other substances. Many use this as a supplement to help them shed some weight. Research studies have found that the properties in soy lecithin promote the breaking down of accumulated fats in the body.
- Other Benefits. More studies have found that this byproduct aids in healthy brain function and can even help to improve memory retention. It has been found that soy lecithin can even delay and sometimes prevent the onset of brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Soy Lecithin can also be taken to strengthen the liver by preventing the accumulation of fats in this vital organ.
All in all, I am a proponent of not consuming soy, especially in commercially produced products. The risk of GMOs, pesticides, and harmful health disadvantages keep me weary at best. If you want to avoid soy lecithin, then avoid processed foods or only buy those that contain alternative sources of lecithin, sources such as sunflower seed lecithin.
If your looking to use soy lecithin as a health benefit, such as helping with cholesterol, then this is something that you definitely want to discuss with your doctor to discuss all the pros and cons.
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