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What Heals and What Hurts: The Difference Between Lecithin and Soy Lecithin

Lecithin. Its role is to breakdown the fats in your body. Lecithin is naturally found in the foods that most of us eat, especially rich foods, such as egg yolks, soybeans, grains, wheat germ, liver, cauliflower, fish, legumes, yeast, and peanuts.

Maurice Gobley, a French scientist discovered lecithin in the egg yolk in 1846, and since then, scientists, the food industry and the government has worked hard to ensure that a synthetic form of this lecithin is not only present in almost every processed food, but that it would be harmful to the body.

For all the science geeks out there, in biochemistry terms and other related science, lecithin is a synonym for phosphatidyl choline. It is the main lipid component in biological membranes, like our cell membranes or cell walls of plants. On the other hand, commercial lecithin is actually a natural mixture of neutral and polar lipids, including glycolipids, triglycerides, sterols, and small quantities of fatty acids, carbohydrates, and sphingolipids.

Lecithin that contains phosphatidyl choline is produced mainly from vegetable sources, although it may also be found in animal and microbial sources. The majority of commercial lecithin sold in the market today come from soybean (mostly), sunflower, and grape seed. When talking about plant lecithin, the most common source is soybean. This is a big red flag, because most all soybeans are genetically modified and highly tainted with pesticides, but we will get into why that is so bad a little later.

 Let’s first focus on lecithin, without the soy.

According to the Institute of Medicine (1998), lecithin provides a great source of choline– essential to every cell in the body, for it is one of the main components of cell membrane. It builds brain cells and improves cardiovascular function.

The following are some of the many health claims that lecithin is said to have:

• Improves cardiovascular health

• Improves liver and cell function

• Fat transport and fat metabolism

• Healthy reproduction and child development

• Better treatment for gallstones

• Increases the improvement of memory, learning and reaction time in people

• Helps grow healthy hair and skin

• Increases cell communication

• Better physical performance and muscle endurance

• Relief of arthritis

Pretty great, huh? But before you rush out to the closest health food store to buy a bunch of commercial lecithin or anything with the name lecithin in it, learn to read labels . . . especially the difference between lecithin and soy lecithin.

What exactly is the difference between soy lecithin and lecithin?

According to the Mayo Clinic and British Journal of Nutrition, there are vast differences between the two, though the food industry tries to confuse consumers with its play on words and marketing of the word lecithin. Soy lecithin is derived from soya, the beans retrieved from pod of the soya plant. Once harvested, the soya is turned into a myriad of food products such as oil, tofu and milk. These products are processed with toxic Hexane. The “stuff” that is chemically turned into soy lecithin is a by-product of the soy manufacturing process that is often dehydrated and then recolored with chemicals to make it lighter so that it can be added to foods to make them “smoother” and to act as an emulsifier to keep foods like butter or cake mix from separating and to make the cleaning of manufacturing equipment faster (i.e. for the non-stick properties). The bottom line: Soy lecithin (shown in the powder form to the right) is a waste product left after producing soya oil, and lecithin is a collection of several phospholipids that have both health and industrial uses.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Consuming Soy Lecithin

The mixed reviews and strong opinions regarding soy lecithin in the media and nutrition arena confuse even me. On one hand, there are professionals in the field that proclaim soy lecithin’s amazing health benefits, including: improving brain functioning, promoting healthy weight loss, lowers cholesterol, prevents diseases and detoxifies the liver. They say that as long as the soy lecithin you chose to consume is fermented, follows guidelines passed by the FDA for pesticides toxicity and is not genetically modified, it is a great supplement to man’s diet.

It’s scary to read the flip side of this argument, however.

Let’s break down soy lecithin. First, the soybean.

The soybean was a modest and unpopular crop until food manufacturer’s intent on creating cheap vegetable oils effortlessly convinced the U.S. government to start subsidizing it. The soy was turned into oil, and the industry was left with an industrial waste product. Then a group of really smart people had an idea to hide these toxic industrial waste products and carcinogens into food and have people eat it by putting it in all the things they like and make it really cheap: hamburgers, ice cream, chocolate, chips, TV. dinners, mac and cheese. . .  

In a nutshell, little bits of soy lecithin (used mainly as a food additive) here and there will not kill you (though it is found in the majority of processed foods, especially in foods we feed our babies, toddlers and kids, like chocolate milk, Nutella, peanut butter, ice cream, crackers, chewing gum, and yogurts. On the up side, only a small percentage of an entire processed food is made of this stuff. The real problem comes when people are eating excess amounts of processed soy (and yes, our modern day society is guilty of consuming an overabundance of processed foods made with soy lecithin) and or taking soy lecithin daily supplements (over 3.5 grams of choline per day). Go and look inside your pantries, freezers and refrigerators and down the aisles of your local markets. You will be surprised at how many products use soy lecithin, even organic products!

Below is a list of adverse side effects from the use of soy lecithin. Remember that manufactures of foods and supplements may not provide the honest information regarding ingredients in their product.

•Low blood pressure, marked by fainting or dizziness.




 •Abdominal pain

 •Bad breath

 •Loss of Appetite

 •Excessive weight gain

 •Fullness of stomach


•Blurred vision

 •Coughing, sneezing, runny nose

•Excessive perspiration

 •Anaphylactic shock and in very severe cases, even death

 •Allergic reaction in case you have soy allergy.

 •Soy lecithin that contains genetically modified soy may affect the function of the pancreas and may lead to serious diseases and disorders.

 •Excessive consumption of the supplements may lead to cerebral abnormalities and poor mental reflexes. It can even affect the physical growth of the person.

 •The element fenistein present in soy lecithin can adversely affect the fertility of a man leading to sexual dysfunction and abnormalities in reproductive functions.

 •Studies show that phytoestrogens present in soy promote development of certain types of breast cancer in adult women, by lowering or raising the level of natural estrogen in their bodies.

 Soy Allergy Symptoms •Swelling of the lips, mouth, or throat

 •Swollen throat, facial swelling, difficulty in swallowing

 •Skin rash or hives

 •Wheezing or difficulty in breathing.


(Source: Buzzle.com)

No matter which side of the argument you may find yourself on, my mind is made up. The risks far outweigh the benefits on soy lecithin, and the pervasiveness of the product has me reading food label ingredients even more carefully now. Even organic tea has soy lecithin! Again, my mantra remains the same. . . Eat fresh, whole foods, not too much and educate yourself as to where your food comes from.

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64 Responses so far.

  1. Jannie says:


    How will I be able to know if the lechithin I use is soy or not. It only says on the lable (Phospholipids 62% minimum)


    Jannie van Vuuren

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Unless it states on the label that it is organic/non-GMO lecithin, assume that it is soy lecithin. Most international labels, unless required by government, will not list GMO and if it is soy or not. 62% minimum Phospholipids is the ordinary fluid soy lecithin level. The higher the % of phospholipids, the better the functionality as a water in oil emulsifier.

  2. Robin D says:

    I have psoriasis and I am 61 years of age. I would like to know the benefits and recomended amount daily of lecithin for my skin and about how long to see any results.
    Thank you.

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Every person is different when it comes to recommended amount of daily dosage of any vitamin, mineral or supplement. Lecithin and psoriasis have a great relationship with each other, in that studies have shown that taking lecithin up to three times a day for a few months mitigate the flare ups and severity of psoriasis and other skin inflammatory disorders. It has been shown to control cholesterol in the body and reduce fat absorption. Even used topically, lecithin seems to prove a great medicinal tool in treating psoriasis. That being said, there is also a dire need to keep the rest of the “holistic” lifestyle in check. When I say “holistic”, I do mean “whole.” How is your stress level? How is your fat intake? Your processed foods and sugar intake? What type of acidic forming and alkaline forming foods are you consuming? How is your digestive and intestinal tract? What types of topical creams/medications (if any) are you using? These all play a large part of the existence of psoriasis in the body. I suggest that all aspects of wellness from psychological to physical, from nutritional to mental, be taken into consideration and you have a good chance of seeing the psoriasis respond accordingly.

  3. Sonu says:

    Is the lechithin I use is good or not.
    It only says on the lable it non-GMO and has Phospholipids 95% .
    Is that safe for toddlers (in small quantities like 1/2 tablespoon) ?


    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Lecithin is great for people of all ages, but too much is not beneficial. Lecithin supplements could cause gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, weight gain, a rash and headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and/or a “fishy” body odor. Recommended dosages for infants up to 6 months old is 125 mg. Infants from 7 to 12 months old: 150 mg. Children from one to 3 years old: 200 mg. 250 mg for children from 4 to 8 years old and 375 mg for children from 9 to 13 years old.

  4. Diana says:

    I’ve read that lecithin is helpful for breastfeeding moms in preventing blocked ducts and clearing blocked ducts. I’d like to take some but I wasn’t sure if I should take soy lecithin or regular lecithin? …From the article it doesn’t sound like soy lecithin is all that great 🙁


    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Opt for non-gmo soy lecithin when possible. Lecithin with higher percentage of phosphatides is best. I like Premier Lecithin Granules, from Premier Research Labs. And, yes, it is very beneficial to breastfeeding moms!!

  5. David says:

    What would be the differences (and possible benefit/disadvantage) with Sunflower Lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      One of the greatest benefits of taking sunflower lecithin is its ability to break down fat within the body. Now, keep in mind that lecithin is found at the cellular level in the body but not considered an essential nutrient. Even so, it works by regulating waste materials that go into and out of cells but also the flow of nutrients. For years, this substance has been used to help fight high cholesterol levels by preventing the buildup of fats, especially in the walls around the heart, veins, and arteries.

      Sunflower lecithin has been shown successful when used as a dietary supplement in the prevention of cirrhosis of the liver. Sunflower lecithin has the ability to disperse fat and break it down, so that build up in the liver does not occur. In addition, many people will take lecithin as a weight loss supplement. Again, because it allows fat to break down instead of accumulate, it can aid in light to moderate weight loss. The biggest advantage in taking sunflower lecithin over soy is that people do not experience and allergic reaction.

  6. Rachel Belzile says:


    I suffer from hypothyroidism and I am taking 188 mcg of syntroid every day. I read that the soy has the side effect of slowing down the thyroid function. Can I still take non-gmo soy lecithin granule? If not, is there any other way to get the benefits of licithin. I woud like to take it to improve my cardiovascular health, my liver function, better fat metabolism as well as the improvement of my memory.

    Thank you,

  7. Cynthia says:

    Where can I find sunflower lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Amazon.com has great sources of Organic, NON-GMO sunflower lecithin :), otherwise, your local health food stores should carry a variety of them!

  8. Cynthia says:

    is it ok to take the sunflower lecithin if im taking a blood pressure pill (hydrochloric) 12.5 mg at bed time. Which is basically a water pill to manage my BP.

  9. Mary says:

    For breastfeeding moms, is it better non-GMO soy or sunflower lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Sunflower lecithin can be seen as the best source of vegetable lecithin for the food market: it is the perfect choice to replace lecithin made from (genetically modified) soybeans as well as to prevent a possible allergic reaction to soy (even if it is non-GMO soy).

      Sunflower lecithin has additional advantages such as very low odor and neutral taste, high phosphatidylcholine content, lower linolenic acid (= better stability) and high performance in its applications within the food, dietetic and pharmaceutical markets.

      The performance of sunflower lecithin is almost identical to that of soy lecithin. If I were to choose, I would select sunflower lecithin over non-GMO soy.

  10. Veronica says:

    What about lecithin extracted from eggs? Is that the best form of lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Lecithin extracted from fresh eggs using a solvent method (instead of a scorched method) yields a far higher quality and larger quantity of lecithin. I personally choose sunflower lecithin, but with the competition out there and the demand for purer and higher quality at a lower cost, lables need to be read. Do a little research on the company in which you obtain your lecithin. You will be very surprised in how many products (different types of ) lecithin is present (from vaccinations to pharmaceutical and over the counter drugs. . . and your favorite chocolate).

  11. Frank says:

    Dr. Nancy,

    What are the side-effects of egg lecithin? Especially, does it increase one’s cholesterol level? When compared with soy lecithin or sonflower lecithin in this regard? Finally, if I take egg lecithin without increasing my cholesterol level, should I give up egg eating?

  12. Diana S. says:

    Does anyone know of a sunflower lecithin that does not use hexane in its processing?

  13. Mia says:

    I’m a breastfeeding mom, so I’m taking daily lecithin. Is there a maximum dose that is safe to take of sunflower lecithin? I take a scoop of the granular sunflower lecithin daily and I think the scoop holds up to 43g of powder.

    I’ve also heard that lecithin helps regenerate the myelin sheath around your nerves. Is there any truth in that?

  14. George Kingston says:

    What be the best source that could be for people over 70years with memory loss. could you send me a reply to my email address.

    • Carol says:

      Would like that answeer also about loss of memory help demecia or other memory loss

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      (Side note) Although the granules sold in plastic bags are less expensive, they also contain far less of the important ingredient phosphatidylcholine. Some brand names that have a high content of phosphatidylcholine are Carlson, Lewis Labs, and BioSan. The advantage of using the lecithin that is sold in cans is that you are assured of freshness and, more importantly, calcium and magnesium have been added. Since high intake of phosphorus alone can result in some urinary loss of calcium, the addition of calcium to the lecithin granules is very helpful in preventing that phenomenon.

      The most common recommendation for the amount of lecithin that is helpful to the body is one tablespoon for children and two tablespoons for adults daily (including active agers). Since this is a food, one does not have to worry about taking too much lecithin. Be sure to keep the lecithin refrigerated once you have opened the container to keep it from becoming rancid. Lecithin should have a sweet, grainy odor when it is fresh. If it smells sour, it is not fresh. Lecithin is very good in boosting brain memory!

  15. Desiree B says:

    My 5YO daughter recently had MRT testing to diagnose any food sensitivities with 150 foods. The results showed many sensitivities, including lecithin. The test didn’t specify soy or sunflower lecithin. Does this mean she should avoid both, or is it likely they’re referring to soy?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Most lecithin sensitivity tests point to the protein concentration levels of the lecithin, in which the soy lecithin yield greater. If you have a sensitivity to soy, I would say to avoid the soy lecithin. Sunflower lecithin should be fine, but use caution. I would avoid it if you are unsure, or ask your doctor. If you would like a substitute, try taking daily doses of Omega 3, drinking your green vegetable juices and eating a scoop of coconut oil, and half an avocado.

  16. John says:

    The way this article is written is a little frustrating – problems without solusions …. So if not Soy lecithin – what does work. Is for instance sunflower derived lecithin without the problems?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      More people find that sunflower lecithin yields beneficial gains without adverse affects. Especially as compared to GMO soy lecithin and for people with soy sensitivities.

  17. ryger3351 says:

    The French scientist Theodore Gobley isolated lecithin in 1850 not 1950.

  18. Beth says:

    I bought soy lecithin at my local vitamin store to use a tablespoon in my bread roll dough. Please tell me if this is harmful, as the recipe calls for it, but negates the wholesome homemade rolls if indeed dangerous. Please tell me if I should search out sunflower lecithin for my breads.

  19. Holy says:

    Hello, reading all the comments here, I would like to know if sunflower lecithin would be that beneficial for brain function as soy lecithin. Please advise. I had some trigeminal nerve infection in my head and would like to supplement my brain. I am looking to buy some NOW products like lecithin and omega 3, since I’ve heard it’s a good combination. But should I buy just omega 3 or omega 3-6 -9? Also is NOW brand good enough?

  20. gene says:

    Contradictions seem to be coomon.
    I was going to use RiceDream then some experts say all of the vegetable oils are harmful?!

    • B. says:

      I realize that this is an old post but decided to add to the discussion anyway.
      With regards to rice milk, I was informed by my QRA (Quantum Reflex Analysis) practitioner, that all forms of prepared rice milk (store-bought) contains unhealthy ingredients, even organic brands! You can avoid these by making your own rice milk at home thereby using only healthy and organic ingredients. It is very simple to make and very delicious in comparison. There are several online recipes and YouTube videos which I have found to be helpful.

      Hope this information helps someone who, like myself, was frustrated with the availability of healthy rice milk.

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Thank you! Homemade is almost always the best!

  21. Maria says:

    I agree, we are living in very uncertain times. The FDA is not being held accountable for any product in the market if the price is right. For now we must pay attention to common sense and read, read and research before you decide. Doctors are not schooled in nutrition unless they are in that area and research how food is metabolized once ingested. Consider some are surgeons yet overweight and smoke, it might be smarter to do our homework and take responsibility for our own health. I will be switching to organic non-GMO sunflower lecithin, Thanks Dr.Nancy, Great advise!!😃

  22. Angela says:

    I am wondering if the NOW brand of Lecithin is sage for me to take. It says non-gmo 200 mg. on the label. On the back label it says Soy Lecithin (non-GMO 3.6 g (3,600 mg.) I have Grave’s disease and Plummer’s disease SD had a total thyroidectomy and parathyroidectomy in 2003. I now am hypothyroid and take 225 mcgs. Of levothyroxine daily.

  23. karlah says:

    I was wanting to take sunflower lecithin for gallstones, i wanted to ask if i take it then should i lower other fats in my diet for example flax avocado etc? Thank you in advance.

  24. Don says:

    Whats your opinion on wheat-derived phospholipid as a lecithin supplement?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      I would just make sure it is NON-GMO. There are many different types of Lecithin derived products. If you have no sensitivities to wheat, it will be fine.

  25. Paula Vargem says:

    I was wondering what kind of doctor you were & also I wanted to clear up something that is confusing me.You recommend Premier Lecithin Granules which are soy based but say in the article that you think sunflower lecithin is healthier.Which is it?Thank you

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      I can see how this is confusing. I am a Doctor of Nutrition and work with Bio-Chemists and Medical Doctors as well as Holistic Doctors. Premier Labs is a very reputable brand and their Lecithin is top notch. For people who do not want to take soy based lecithin, opt for Sunflower Lecithin.

    • Dana Mihailescu says:

      I realize it has been a while since this post, but I am perplexed by the recommended Premier Lecithin, because there’s no mention on the product if this Non-GMO. And of course, no mention of method of extraction.

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Yes, there is no information given by Premiere Labs of the extraction method. There is a “ask Premiere Labs” button on their site: http://prlabs.com/contacts Feel free to contact them and ask.

  26. Hope says:

    I am a breastfeeding mom and have had MANY painful blocked ducts. I was told to use lecithin to help with the viscosity of the milk, however the lactation consultant didn’t mention soy/not soy as far as what type to get. I got the only type at the pharmacy that was available, and it is a soy soft gel. I don’t see any percentage of phospholipid on the bottle. Is this going to help me with the clogged ducts or should I try a health food store and look for a really good kind with high phospholipid?

  27. Jeanna Mathewson says:

    Why would I be reacting to both soy lecithin, and sunflower?? Like GI reactions!!!!

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Everyone is built differently and reacts differently to specific foods or groups of food like products. Most likely it is not ONE thing that you are reacting to. A food panel of food sensitivities test is what I would suggest for you to determine underlying inflammatory and intolerant factors.

  28. Sarah says:

    Why not just take a Choline supplement? There seem to be quite a few available.

  29. Stephanie Thomas says:

    Will Leccithin help increase the fat levels in my breast milk? My milk looks like skim milk and only has about an eighth of an inch ofat. I am desperately trying to increase the amount of fat. Any help?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      I think it would not hurt. Also try consuming protein rich foods like lean meats, eggs, dairy, and beans. To give your breast milk higher nutritional value for your baby, maintain a diet that is rich in good sources of protein. Lean meat like chicken, as well as eggs, milk, beans, and lentils are all good additions to your diet.

  30. Ray says:

    Is sunflower lecithin safe for people withave minimal change disease for ed?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Minimal Change Disease (MCD for short) is a kidney disease in which large amounts of protein is lost in the urine. It is one of the most common causes of the Nephrotic Syndrome (see below) worldwide. The kidneys normally work to clean the blood of the natural waste products that build up over time. Because Sunflower Lecithin is so beneficial to the body in getting rid of toxins, it should be good for people with Minimal Change Disease, though more research needs to be done for the specific specification. Keeping on a low sodium, potassium and phosphorous diet is advised.

  31. Lisa Burres says:

    Thank you for the information in this article!
    I’ve been using a liquid sunflower lecithin; it is soy free and non GMO. I cannot find the % of Phospholipids listed, but does list typical phosphatide content: choline 19%; Inositol 12%; Ethanolamine 7%. I suspect the phospholipids isn’t listed because it isn’t required? Do you have an opinion regarding whether this is a good product or I should be looking for something else? Also, lately I’ve seen powdered sunflower lecithin…is there an advantage/disadvantage of 1 over the other?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Different lecithin products can be enriched in different phospholipids for various dietary benefits. Liquid vs. powder can yield different phospholipid percentage pending on how it is manufactured.

      Liquid lecithin contains glycophospholipids–the same phospholipids as in lecithin granules, but including phospholipids with a glucose molecule attached. These are “oily” and cause the extract to be a liquid. Liquid lecithin is generally about 20 to 30 percent fat, while lecithin granules or powders are generally less than 10 percent fat. That is the main difference between the two.

  32. Marta Nelson says:

    Hello Dr Nancy,
    I am really enjoying your site and learning much. Thank you. I make liposomal Vit C and I use sunflower lecithin in my recipe. Could you enlighten me on the difference in granules and powder?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Soy lecithin powder is processed to avoid the part of the soy that can have estrogen-like effects. This makes it a good choice for people who have been advised to avoid soy for its effect on hormones, such as those with breast cancer. Lecithin granules are made from soy powder mixed with soy oil (unless otherwise specified), so the granules do contain these estrogen-like compounds. If you cannot consume soy, some lecithin powder and granules is made from egg yolks instead.

  33. Aaron Levine says:

    Super excited to have stumbled upon this website! I use Soy Lecithin (organic) when cooking and infusing marijuana with Coconut Oil. It greatly increases the bio-availability of the medicinal properties of the plant when cooking. Being a vegetarian, I am very aware of the health effects of eating too much soy. Do you know if cooking with Sunflower Lecithin would produce the same results as cooking with Soy Lecithin? I know this is a very specific question, do not worry if you do not know the answer; I appreciate your time either way!

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Cooking with Sunflower Lecithin is different than cooking with Soy Lecithin. I suggest using organic and cold pressed Sunflower Lecithin and not exceeding over 104 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure optimal levels of nutrients to be bio-available. Cooking with these two do not yield the same results. To re-cap, “Sunflower lecithin is extracted without harsh chemical solvents like hexane and acetone, it is processed using a cold pressing system similar to what is used to obtain things like olive oil, sunflower lecithin is the only kind of lecithin that can be obtained raw and chemical-free. It is also rich in phosphatidylcholine (choline) and essential fatty acids like phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylethanolamine.” Second best option is to use non GMO Soy Lecithin.

  34. Kim says:

    If not using a lecithin supplement or products with lecithin added as an emulsifier, would the whole food (ie. tofu or edamame) be ok? My current concern is TMAOs produced by lecithin (and choline) by gut bacteria which is tied to elevated risk of heart attack. I noticed that sunflower lecithin is added to almond milk. I see it is not added to soy milk, so is the naturally occurring lecithin in soy milk better than the additive?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      I would stay away from Soy Lecithin, and soy products (even if it is added) if you are concerned of gut bacteria and risks associated with that. That being said, even tofu or edamame that is whole food form is tricky (even if it is NON-GM0). There are many more other foods to consume if you are worried about candida overgrowth, fungal or gut health. Sunflower lecithin is the way to go.

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