September 03, 2019 3 min read


Hello, Healthy!

Soy vs. Soy Lecithin

Soy is a common ingredient in our food supply these days and there are differing opinions about its health values.  Soy has become a common allergen for many people, with even more people showing sensitivity to it.  The widespread use of soy has encouraged GMO versions of the plant to become more popular so farmers are better able to capitalize on the demand for this crop and these versions have shown to be more likely to cause sensitivities.  There are concerns about soy consumption regarding breast cancer, thyroid problems, and dementia. 

On the flip side, there are those who promote soy as a health food and claim it can be beneficial for warding off hot flashes, osteoporosis and protecting against breast and prostate cancers.  There is plenty of conflicting information out there, partially because there are lots of factors to consider when looking at the studies regarding soy. 

The following is from an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health that I think sums up the problems pretty well: 

  • Type of study. Is it being examined in a study with animals or humans? Soy may be metabolized differently in animals, so the outcomes of animal studies may not be applicable to humans.
  • Soy may be broken down and used by the body differently in different ethnic groups, which is why individuals from some countries who eat a lot of soy appear to benefit from the food.
  • Hormone levelsBecause soy can have estrogenic properties, its effects can vary depending on the existing level of hormones in the body. Premenopausal women have much higher circulating levels of estradiol—the major form of estrogen in the human body—than postmenopausal women. In this context, soy may act as an anti-estrogen, but among postmenopausal women, soy may act more like an estrogen. Also, women with breast cancer are classified into hormone type—either hormone-positive (ER+/PR+) or hormone negative (ER-/PR-) breast cancer—and these tumors respond differently to estrogens
  • Type of soy. What type of soy is being studied: Whole soy foods such as tofu and soybeans, processed versions like soy protein powders, or soy-based veggie burgers? Fermented or unfermented soy foods? If supplements are used, do they contain isoflavones or soy protein?

Because there is controversy on the subject, for the most part I encourage people to consume soy in its natural state, as soybeans, if they want it and otherwise try to limit how much they’re getting, primarily through limiting the number of processed foods they eat because that will be beneficial for them for a wide variety of reasons.  Organic or non-GMO soy is preferable as well. 

So what is soy lecithin and how does it compare to soy?  Let’s start with lecithin in general.  Lecithin can be made from several different things, but soy is a common one.  As a food additive, it acts as an emulsifier as well as an antioxidant and flavor protector. During the process of making soy lecithin, all but trace amounts of soy protein are removed.  The amount left is so small, even most of those who are allergic to soy are told not to worry about soy lecithin as an ingredient.  However, it is still required to be labeled as soy lecithin on ingredient labels in case of a very severe allergy.  As a food additive, the amount of soy lecithin that is used is very small.  There are some who take soy lecithin as a dietary supplement on its own to treat high cholesterol.  When used as a supplement, much larger amounts are used.  As a whole, based on the amount of soy lecithin used as a food additive, it’s not something I recommend avoiding unless you are extremely sensitive to soy.  

What is your opinion on soy and soy lecithin?  Do you avoid either one? Both?  Or do you treat it as a health food and include it in your diet purposefully?  Or maybe you’ve never given it any thought, now that you’ve read through this what are your thoughts? 

-Amy Denker, MS, RD, LD
More about me:
I attended Oklahoma State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Exercise. I went on to earn a Master’s of Science degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and completed the Dietetic Internship Program at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.
I was the Nutrition Services Clinical Coordinator at Crittenton Children’s Center for over 5 years before changing my focus to raising my family. I am excited to now be involved with a company that is focused on providing healthy options for customers as well as providing education and resources for customers to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones!