What is Soy Lecithin?
If you’ve ever read any ingredients list for… just about anything, there’s a very good chance that you’ve seen soy lecithin. Included among the vast assortment of products that sport this additive is protein supplements. And, since you presumably take protein in order to actively support your healthy lifestyle, it’s worth questioning this ever-present additive.
So, then, what is soy lecithin? More importantly, should you avoid protein powers that contain it?
What It Is
Lecithin itself is a mixture of fats and oils found in many different foods, including eggs and milk. Soy lecithin, then, is what we get when this blend is sourced from the soy bean.
Like all forms of lecithin, the soy variety is used as an emulsifier to help food stick together and to achieve a desired texture. In protein powders, soy lecithin is added in order to create a richer, more pleasing drink when it’s all mixed up.
Adding lecithin to milk-based protein powders like whey and casein also has an extra benefit: It covers up low-quality source protein. Since milk proteins should naturally be creamy, an emulsifier should really be unnecessary. When the milk is over-processed or just generally low-quality, however, that texture is lost. Lecithin allows manufacturers to remedy the situation and basically act like nothing happened.
Why, though, do companies use soy lecithin so often as opposed to other varieties? Simply put, soy is relatively cheap. Also, because it’s not animal-based it can be safely used in vegetarian and vegan products.
But why should you be concerned about the use of soy lecithin in your food and protein powders? For several reasons, actually.
First, much of the soy now grown for consumption is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO). If you actively try to avoid these controversial foods, soy lecithin may be working against you.
But soy lecithin also contains fairly high levels of an anti-nutrient called phytic acid. Instead of giving your body anything, this substance binds with iron, zinc, magnesium and other minerals, blocking their absorption.
Soy has also been found to be estrogenic – meaning that it can significantly raise estrogen levels in the human body. This, in turn, could create other hormonal disruptions and even lead to developmental problems in children.
Granted, these problems have only been seen when soy lecithin is taken in large doses. It’s important to realize, however, that soy lecithin is in many of the processed foods that people eat on a daily basis. When you combine that with the regularity with which most individuals take protein powder, it’s easy to see how quickly intake of soy lecithin can increase.