Lecithin powder is an emulsifier present in the cells of living organisms. The French scientist Maurice Gobley first extracted lecithin from egg yolk in 1805. Lecithin commonly appears in culinary settings because of its emulsifiying properties, though it may also have some nutritional benefits. Research into the possible benefits of lecithin powder is ongoing.
Lecithin powder is commonly extracted as a by-product from soy beans, but it may also come from products like sunflower and corn oil. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the presence of lecithin powder in foods is generally believed to be less than 1 percent by weight of the final product.
Because lecithin powder can bond with both lipids and non-lipids, such as oil and water, manufacturers use it to combine the ingredients in foods such as candy and margarine. It is also added to cooking sprays because it helps keep baked goods from sticking to pans. Lecithin may also appear as a dietary supplement with various health benefit claims, but many of these claims are unsubstantiated by independent scientific research. Only take a lecithin supplement after speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian.
Some research does indicate that regular consumption of soy lecithin powder may help reduce LDL-cholesterol levels, also known as bad cholesterol. A 2003 study that appeared in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association” and a 2009 study in the peer-reviewed journal “Cholesterol” both found that daily lecithin supplementation ranging from 500 milligrams to 1,900 milligrams can reduce total and LDL-cholesterol levels in patients. Though these results indicate the benefits of lecithin powder supplementation, you should always speak to your doctor before adding it to your diet.
According to the FDA, soy is one of the most common allergens, with approximately 0.2 percent of all children and adults in the United States allergic to it. Fortunately for most people who are allergic to soy, lecithin derived from soy may still be safe to consume. The proteins in soy are what cause you to have an allergic reaction, and the soy lecithin extraction process mostly removes these proteins from the final product. The FDA reports that due to the manufacturing process used to extract lecithin, the maximum amount of soy protein possible in American products is a very low 300 milligrams per 100 grams of lecithin.
- University of Nebraska; Just the Facts -- Grains; Agricultural Awareness Coalition
- Cholesterol; Influence of Soy Lecithin Administration on Hypercholesterolemia; A. M. Mourad et al.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lecithin
- Weston A. Price Foundation; Soy Lecithin -- From Sludge to Profit; Kaayla T. Daniel, Ph.D., C.C.N.