Lecithin – what is it and is it bad for me?

What is lecithin?

“Lecithin” is a generic term applied to any yellowish, fatty substance that naturally occurs in plant and animal tissues – “a mixture of phospholipids and oil.” It’s chemically extracted from inexpensive sources like canola, eggs, milk, soy, and sunflowers and added to commercially made foods so the ingredients don’t “separate out” as well as give a “creaminess” to the product.

It’s been used as a remedy for:
• Cardiovascular health
• Liver and cell function
• Reproduction and child development
• Physical performance and muscle function
• Relief of arthritis
• Healthy hair and skin
• Treatment for gallstones

So if it’s been used as a cure for illnesses, is it safe?

You and I have ingested it (most likely) and millions unknowingly consume it daily through various food products, so obviously we won’t die from it. But the fact that it’ been used to treat problems doesn’t convince me…I know there are other remedies out there and lecithin isn’t “THE ONLY ANSWER”.

Many consumers as well as companies are aware of “soy lecithin” and opt for alternatives such as sunflower sources. But is that really better?

Because lecithin is extracted from raw material through a chemical solvent (usually hexane) there is some concern that chemicals may transfer to the final product. This study tested soybean oil, however the same method is used for all other sources as well. Sadly, the FDA does not regulate the amount of hexane residue left in commercial foods after-the-fact (hmmm that’s no surprise eye roll).

Side effects:
Diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and/or fullness are a few things one may experience from lecithin consumption. And though in small amounts you may not experience any….but it’s in everything! So if you’re consuming products that contain it, those “small amounts” can tally up rather quickly and before you realize it, you’re ingesting much more than intended (if intended at all).

Hardening of the arteries:
THIS STUDY indicates that phosphatidylcholine found in lecithin is converted by bacteria in the gut into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). Over time, increased levels of TMAO are associated with hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.

Common products containing lecithin:
• Plant based milks (try this 30-second milk instead)
• Bagged teas (especially flavored ones!)
• Bottled sauces (try this sauce instead)
• Boxed/canned soups
• Buttery spreads
• Cooking oil sprays
• Cottage cheese (I love this brand as an alternative!)
• Chocolates
• Breads (try this bread instead)
• Ice creams (here’s some better alternatives)
• Protein Bars and Food Bars (Healthy alternatives are listed HERE)
• Even certain vitamin supplements

I’m not perfect and have been known to purchase things with lecithin and known it (hey, I’m human!) but the point of this post is to be aware of it, know the side effects, and at least make an effort to stay away from it when possible…especially if you have IBS and digestive issue. There’s no reason to consume it. It’s just another additive to prolong the shelf life of food, and shorten our own!

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