Soy lecithin is a food additive used in many processed foods, like chocolates and baked goods, as an emulsifier and stabilizer. Many bakers and bakery companies use it in their dough to make it smoother and fluffier. During the production process for soybean oil, solvents like hexane are used to extract soy lecithin as a byproduct.
How is Soy Lecithin Extracted?
Lecithin is found naturally in plant and animal tissues. The most common sources are eggs and soybeans. A complex and fatty substance, soy lecithin consists of choline, triglyceride, phospholipid, glycerol and fatty acids. When used to prepare food, soy lecithin is generally used in very small amounts, so it is good to keep in mind that you can get various forms of soy lecithin supplements.
To extract soy lecithin from soybeans begins with a highly humid environment in which the soybeans are kept. The moisture in the air is what helps loosen and separate the beans from their hulls. The beans are then heated and turned into flakes, which is when soybean oil can be extracted from them through distillation. Once the soybean oil has been extracted water is added to it and the centrifugation or steam precipitation process is begun in order to pull out soy lecithin from the oil.
Benefits of Soy Lecithin
While it is not a mandatory supplement for everyday bodily functions, soy lecithin has been found to play a significant role in combating heart-related problems. You can take it as a supplement on a regular basis and receive many health benefits from doing so.
- 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. Pharmaceutical companies also use soy lecithin as an emulsifier in medications.
Side Effects of Soy Lecithin
As with many food products, consuming soy lecithin in excess can and will cause many adverse side effects. If you take soy lecithin without a pharmacist’s or doctor’s advice, you may suffer the following unwanted side effects:
- Gastrointestinal Problems. Over-consumption can cause a variety of unpleasant gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which can interfere with proper absorption of nutrients.
- Weight Issue. While soy lecithin has been found to aid in weight loss, some have experienced weight gain. On the other hand there have been cases in severe loss of appetite leading to excessive weight loss.
- Allergies. Rashes, itchy skin and hives have been known to appear when soy lecithin is consumed in excess. These are often signs of an allergic reaction. These side effects may also appear as a result of a weakened immune system that is releasing antibodies in too much bulk to combat the allergens that have entered the body.
- Malabsorption. Many do not digest lecithin well or properly. Pungent body odor or foul breath is often a side effect of malabsorption of soy lecithin.
- Low Blood Pressure. This can occur when soy lecithin is consumed in excess. Many other negative side effects come with having low blood pressure like syncope, confusion, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, wheezing, headaches, vomiting and dizziness.
- Interference with Hormone. Soybeans have been found to greatly interfere with our thyroid function and the hormones released there. A lot of sources of soy are also unfermented which can increase these side effects so look for soy that is fermented. Soy and soy lecithin have even been found to hamper testosterone levels (soy is a phytoestrogen) and can even be linked to causing breast cancer.
- Others. Those who regularly consume soy lecithin may also experience coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, swelling in the throat and on their faces, difficulty swallowing, excessive sweating, anaphylactic shock. And, in the severest if cases, death.
As soy and soy lecithin allergies are not uncommon, it is wise to ask your doctor for an allergy test before you begin consuming soy lecithin in food, as a supplement or in your medications. If you have experienced any of the above side-effects, try cutting out processed food as soy lecithin may be the culprit.