Soy lecithin is an additive found in many everyday foods, but it’s normally used in such small amounts that it rarely exceeds more than 1 percent of the weight of any food product. It works as an emulsifier in candy bars, keeping the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating. Soy lecithin also can be used in baking to make the dough less sticky and help it rise. It works as a so-called wetting agent, too, making cake mixes easier to spread into a pan when liquid is added.
But what exactly is it? Well, it’s a substance that is extracted from soybeans using a solvent such as hexane, and it’s a by-product of soybean oil.
According to registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Tara Gidus, soy lecithin is not bad for you. Gidus herself takes it as a nutritional supplement, though not every day; while she was pregnant she occasionally sprinkled it on her breakfast cereal. “It’s high in choline, which is also found in egg yolks, and it’s shown to be good for brain development and heart disease prevention,” Gidus explains. “I wouldn’t make a blanket statement that all pregnant women should take it. It hasn’t been studied all that well, but it is a natural part of the soybean, and you can take it now and then, especially if you’re not a big egg eater.”
However, some of the few soy lecithin studies have shown that choline might help treat dementia. Other experiments showed a slight cholesterol decrease in humans and animals taking soy lecithin or choline supplements. Still, moderation is key—people who chronically take more than 3.5 grams of choline per day occasionally have experienced side effects, including low blood pressure, marked by fainting or dizziness.