Lecithin is a nonessential fat (or phospholipid) that's found naturally in foods, such as eggs. It's sometimes added to processed foods to improve their taste and texture.
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In the body, lecithin helps move fats and eventually, it turns into choline, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. While lecithin itself is not an "essential" nutrient (meaning your body can make it on its own), choline is an essential nutrient that must come from food.
One of the most important roles of choline is making the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is directly related to memory, mood, muscle control and other brain and nervous system functions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There are many claims lecithin can be used as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, dementia and gallbladder disease, but the evidence is not conclusive, according to the NIH. But, it may support breastfeeding people and those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
But before you reach for a supplement, try eating more of the foods high in lecithin listed below to get more of the nutrient.
How Much Lecithin Do You Need?
There is no recommended daily intake for lecithin, and the amount you need can vary greatly, per the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Talk to your doctor if you're curious about how adding lecithin to your diet might benefit you.
1. Egg Yolks
Eggs are an excellent source of lecithin, but you'll only find this fat in the yolks — not the whites. If you typically eat egg whites to cut down on fat and calories, you're not only missing out on lecithin, but also choline, selenium, several B vitamins and vitamins A, D and E.
One egg yolk has 25 percent of your daily value (DV) of choline. Most Americans do not meet the recommended intake for choline of 550 milligrams per day for people assigned male at birth (AMAB) and 425 milligrams a day for people assigned female at birth (AFAB), per the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health.
Lecithin is found naturally in soy beans, and it's extracted and used as a food emulsifier, which improves the texture.
Soy is one of the nine major food allergens, but soy lecithin may be tolerated by people with a soy allergy. Soy allergens are found in soybean protein, which is mostly removed during the processing of soy lecithin, according to the University of Nebraska Lincoln Food Allergy Research and Resource Program.
Of course, if you do have a soy allergy, you should talk to your doctor before eating foods with soy lecithin added.
Milk and other dairy products like yogurt, cheese and butter are natural sources of lecithin. They are often also high in saturated fat and have smaller amounts of unsaturated fats.
While dairy foods are great sources of protein and calcium, you may want to choose low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese if you eat them often. Only 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat (around 13 grams) to keep your heart disease risk low, per the American Heart Association.
4. Wheat Germ
Wheat germ is the nutrient-rich part of a cereal grain responsible for the growth and development of new plant sprouts, per the Mayo Clinic. While you naturally eat wheat germ when enjoying whole-wheat products like bread and cereals, you can also find it on its own as a specialty health food.
Wheat germ is a lecithin-rich food, and it also gives you some fiber, protein and iron, per the USDA. Sprinkle it on top of oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, granola or add it to baked goods for more nutrients.
Lecithin and Liver Health
As a source of choline, lecithin has been tied to protection from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis, according to a January 2016 review in Advances in Nutrition. The researchers say choline, especially in the form of phosphatidylcholine or lecithin, may help remove fat from your liver and prevent buildup.
5. Sunflower Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including the phospholipid lecithin. The oil in sunflower seeds is an excellent source of lecithin and is often extracted to be used in lecithin supplements.
Snacking on sunflower seeds will give you lecithin as well as folate, magnesium and vitamin E, per the USDA.
6. Chicken Liver
Chicken liver and other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are good food sources of lecithin. While not as common as muscle meat like chicken breast or thighs, chicken liver is an excellent source of iron — a 3-ounce serving offers 35 percent of your daily value, according to the USDA.
Not only is lecithin found in many common foods, but it's also available as a dietary supplement. You can find lecithin in various forms, including granules, capsules and oil at your local health food store or online.
Some breastfeeding people use lecithin supplements to relieve clogged milk ducts. While there is limited scientific evidence supporting this claim, many have found relief from taking it. If you're having trouble with clogged milk ducts, talk to your doctor or OBGYN before taking lecithin supplements.
People also take lecithin for their heart health under the impression that it will reduce cholesterol levels. Some research suggests it might, but more studies conducted on humans are needed to say for sure.
Before adding lecithin supplements to your daily routine, talk to your doctor about the possible benefits and risks.
Lecithin vs. Lectin
The two may sound the same, but they're different nutrients with vastly different roles in the body.
While lecithin is a fat, lectin is a type of protein found in many foods, including beans, nuts and grains. Raw beans and raw whole grains have the most lectin.
- NIH: "Choline"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Lecithin"
- Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation: "Lecithin"
- Advances in Nutrition:"Choline, Its Potential Role in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, and the Case for Human and Bacterial Genes1,2"
- USDA: "Egg Yolks"
- Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health: "Choline"
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Allergy Research and Resource Program: "Soy Lecithin"
- Mayo Clinic: "The Good Germ"
- USDA: "Wheat Germ"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- USDA: "Sunflower Seeds"
- NIH: "Vitamin E"
- USDA: "Egg"
- Nutrients: "Egg Phospholipids and Cardiovascular Health"
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