If you’re the kind of person who reads ingredient lists and nutrition labels (which, by the way, is very important) you’ve probably noticed soy lecithin more than a few times. It seems like this ingredient is in everything, which makes you wonder why it’s so ubiquitous. Well, it’s very useful. Soy lecithin is extracted from soybean oil and generally functions as a natural emulsifier or stabiliser in various food applications. Some people also use it as a supplement due to its high nutrient content. As one of the most widely used food additive on the market today, you’re probably already consuming it either knowingly or unknowingly. It can also be used in pharmaceutical products, paint, textile, plastic, and lubricants, just to name a few.
So, is soy lecithin vegan? The answer is almost certainly yes. Soy lecithin is extracted from soybeans and no animal by-products are used in the process, which is a good start. Vegans might, however, have a problem with the way it’s grown, processed, tested, or manufactured. For instance, some soy lecithin is available in gel capsules, which are not vegan-friendly.
If you’re vegan, you’re generally concerned with what you consume. You’ll find yourself examining the labels on everything that goes into your shopping cart to ensure nothing contains any animal products. As mentioned earlier, you’ve probably seen soy lecithin as an ingredient in several labels. This additive does appear in sauces, salad dressings, and several other dairy-free and vegan products. The question then becomes, is it vegan? That is what I’m going to cover in this article. Keep reading to find out how soy lecithin is made and whether or not you should include it in your vegan diet.
Is Soy Lecithin Vegan?
Before answering this question, you should understand what lecithin is because it’s the actual ingredient. The addition of soy to labelling only indicates how and where the lecithin has been produced. Well, lecithin is a group of fatty substances that can be derived from animals or plants. They have a unique ability to attract water and fats.
As the name suggests, soy lecithin is extracted from a soybean plant. No animal product is used in its creation, which makes it vegan by any definition. So, if you see soy lecithin as an ingredient in any of your groceries or use it for your home cooking, you’re probably safe.
Away from animal welfare, some people adopt a vegan lifestyle for health reasons. You’ll be happy to know that soy lecithin has a high nutritional value. It’s composed of calories, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, choline, vitamin K, vitamin E, as well as a mixture of phospholipids. All these play an important role in one’s body. Soy lecithin can also help reduce the level of bad cholesterol, fight physical and mental stress, improve cognitive function, prevent the development of osteoporosis, and help with breastfeeding among other things.
What major concerns do vegans have about using soy lecithin?
Vegans have their individual basic set of rules, and some stretch them more than others. It all comes down to your reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle. Some are strict practitioners who will not support businesses that exploit animal in any way, whether directly or through affiliation. Others only look at the ingredient list to determine whether a product is vegan-friendly or not. The truth is veganism is not as cut and dried as you would think. You make the rules! That being said, here are a few vegan concerns when it comes to using soy lecithin:
Soy is mainly grown in the US and the EU, but other countries produce it as well. Unfortunately, soy from these other countries is often grown on what used to be rainforest land. Rainforests are essential for the Earth’s ecosystem as they play a big role in the lives of all living organisms. Deforestation is as bad as it gets for a vegan. Many animals are cruelly killed when clearing forests, not to mention, deforestation threatens the continued survival of all living creatures. Soy lecithin that comes from soybeans that are grown from such situations is definitely not vegan-friendly.
Genetically modified (GM) soy
Soy is one of the most widespread GM crops in the world. About 80% of the total production is thought to be the GM type. There are many ethical problems that come with GMO practices. Also, soy in most parts of the world is typically grown with pesticides. High level of pesticide use is environmentally destructive.
Since soy lecithin is a direct by-product of soybeans, strict vegans will undoubtedly take the above information into account when deciding which soy lecithin they want to consume. To be safe, look for the ones that are clearly labelled as sourced from the US or the EU.
A lot of people are allergic to soybeans. The good news is soy lecithin is extracted from the soybean oil, whereas the allergens are found in the protein part of the soybeans. Soy lecithin is produced using a hot-solvent extraction technique, which ensures most, if not all, allergic proteins are eliminated. Unfortunately, small traces of soy protein can still be found in the lecithin. Although the risk of reaction is very small, those with extreme soy allergies may still react to soy lecithin. The chemical solvent used for extraction may also be a concern for other vegans.
Other Things Vegans Should Watch Out For In Soy Lecithin
As mentioned before, there are several sources of lecithin. Thankfully, in a world that’s slowly realising that vegans exist, food manufacturers are being more specific with the labelling of lecithin in their ingredient list. So, how can you know whether lecithin is soy or not? Here’s how manufacturers might label it:
- Soy lecithin
- Lecithin (derived from soya)
- Lecithin (from soy)
- Soya lecithin
In Europe, the ingredient list for most items labels lecithin as E476, which covers animal-based lecithin; or E322, which is a plant-based alternative. However, keep in mind that E322 may also be derived from eggs. The E number system of labelling has been around for a long time and making a major change to it can be very complex. It’s, however, confusing for consumers to determine if a particular product is vegan-friendly or not. Therefore, unless the product is clearly labelled as vegan-friendly or suitable for vegans, I would advise you assume it isn’t. Alternatively, you can go to the standard protocol of checking with the manufacturer.
In addition to protecting animals and the environment, a lot of people turn to a plant-based diet to help improve their health. Despite its many health benefits, soy lecithin also has a few potential risks that vegans who are in it for their health should watch out for. This includes:
Toxic build-up: The extraction process of soy lecithin from soybeans uses hexane. A build-up of this chemical may cause dizziness, sleepiness, damage to the nervous system, or even liver and kidney disease in the long run.
Diseases and nutrient deficiencies: Most of today’s soy comes from GMO crops. The entire process of creating GMOs produces allergens, toxins, and carcinogens. These chemicals can cause all kinds of health dangers, including birth defects, sterility, and increased chances of having cancer. There’s also a high use of herbicides, meaning you could be ingesting traces of toxic chemicals from the herbicides. All these toxic chemicals are also harmful to the environment.
Keep in mind that these are, of course, concentrated levels of soy lecithin.
What Is The Best Alternative For Vegans?
Given all the places soy lecithin can be found, it’s nearly impossible to avoid all products containing this ingredient. In my opinion, you should definitely avoid commercial soy lecithin due to the GM soy and dangerous solvents used to produce it.
Organic soy lecithin, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. It’s made from organic soy, which is non-GMO, and extracted without the use of toxic chemicals. Besides the GMO issue, organic soy is grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or insecticides. These chemicals are known to pollute and damage waterways, soils, and ecosystems. They can also have adverse effects on those exposed to them.
By choosing organic soy lecithin, you’re taking care of your own health and that of others, while supporting a more sustainable environment. Is there any better way to be vegan than this? I don’t think so!
In Conclusion: Is Soy Lecithin For You?
Soy lecithin is a common additive to many foods and supplements supply. When you choose the right kind, it can actually offer you several benefits as discussed above. In summary, pure soy lecithin powder from the US and the EU is vegan. Others from elsewhere may be vegan, depending on your rules for a vegan diet. Be sure to choose certified non-GMO or certified organic options.
The world of soy lecithin can be a tricky one for vegans. Generally, you should avoid soy lecithin if you have severe soy allergies, or are concerned about GMOs or refined oils. If you still have some reservations about this ingredient, why not go for a more natural emulsifying agent like sunflower lecithin. It’s a better option than soy lecithin because it can be extracted without using harsh chemical solvents, making it much healthier and safer for the environment. Additionally, it doesn’t contain GMOs, which has been a huge vegan concern about soy lecithin throughout the text.
While soy lecithin in itself is vegan-friendly, its production doesn’t sit well with the overall ethics of veganism. The information is out there for you to make a choice. Hopefully, this text has given you more insights regarding the nature of soy lecithin to help you make an informed decision about adding it to your vegan diet.