Soy Lecithin: The Sludge in Your Chocolate

I was going through my cabinets the other day and pulled out some old raspberry tea. I was trying to clean-out the rest of my “non-real food”. I thought, “I bet this is okay to keep. It’s just tea.” When I flipped to the ingredients, I was shocked at the laundry list of ingredients with “natural other flavors” (huh?) and soy lecithin in it. Why would there need to be soy in my tea? That box was put immediately into the trash.

Soy Lecithin The Sludge in Your Chocolate

Then we were at the health food store last night, and my husband said: “‘Organic Soy Lecithin’, that’s the first time I’ve seen that organic.” It got the gears turning in my head, why is this soy based additive in what seems like almost everything?

What is Soy Lecithin?

Soy Lecithin is used primarily as a stabilizing emulsifier (i.e., used to blend oil and water, like when egg yolks are used in a traditional Caesar salad dressing). Soy Lecithin is used in foods across the board, from creamy foods like bottled salad dressings to tea to chocolate to infant formula. Soy lecithin is what gives chocolate the smooth, creaminess we all love. And I have even found soy lecithin in organic chocolate chips and chocolate bars. And since Soy Lecithin has stabilizing ability with emulsification, it is also used to prolong the shelf life of the products that it is used in (i.e., boxed foods, chocolate, mayonnaise).

Soy Lecithin can also be found in the supplement aisle of your favorite food store, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September 2001. Soy Lecithin is rich in choline, a property that supposedly reduces the “bad” cholesterol.  There have been conflicting studies, however, on the benefits of taking this supplement and if it truly does reduce the risk for heart disease.

It also is considered to be a surfactant, something that is a common term found when purchasing household cleaners. Surfactants allow liquids to spread out and become absorbed more quickly by breaking surface tension (which is why soy lecithin is used in many prepackaged cake batters).

Soy Lecithin is also known for its “anti-stickiness” property – keeping cooking sprays from becoming gummy and making bread dough easier to work with. It also has an anti-foaming property, which is helpful in keeping those same cooking sprays coming out more oily than foamy.

Soy Lecithin is also used in make-up products, to help the skin become “softer” and allow the other elements in the make-up to sink into your skin (which is usually made up of harsh chemicals and unnatural products). There are many types of lecithin used in our foods, as an article from the Huffington Post explains:

“Lecithin isn’t always made from soybeans; it’s also present in egg yolks, liver, peanuts, wheat germ (1), and canola (rapeseed) oil. Soy lecithin is the most common type of lecithin because it’s a byproduct which is easily and inexpensively derived from soybean oil manufacturing. (Soybean oil accounts for the lion’s share of vegetable oils in North America.)” (source)

How is Soy Lecithin Derived?

Soy Lecithin is derived from the waste product of the processing of the soybean plant. In an excerpt from the book “The Whole Soy Story“, Dr. Kaayla T. Daniels explains:

“Soybean lecithin comes from sludge left after crude soy oil goes through a ‘degumming’ process. It is a waste product containing solvents and pesticides and has a consistency ranging from a gummy fluid to a plastic solid. Before being bleached to a more appealing light yellow, the color of lecithin ranges from a dirty tan to reddish brown. The hexane extraction process commonly used in soybean oil manufacture today yields less lecithin than the older ethanol-benzol process, but produces a more marketable lecithin with better color, reduced odor and less bitter flavor.7

Historian William Shurtleff reports that the expansion of the soybean crushing and soy oil refining industries in Europe after 1908 led to a problem disposing the increasing amounts of fermenting, foul-smelling sludge. German companies then decided to vacuum dry the sludge, patent the process and sell it as “soybean lecithin.” Scientists hired to find some use for the substance cooked up more than a thousand new uses by 1939.8” (source)

Well, if that isn’t unappetizing, I don’t know what is. Here is a product that is found in most items you pick up and look at in the organic and non-organic sides of the store (ice cream, coffee creamers, etc.) and it’s sludge. Dried sludge.

Concerns About Soy

The way soy lecithin is made is pretty scary. That same Huffington Post article explains some other concerns surrounding soy lecithin:

“Others dislike soy lecithin because it’s ‘artificial.’ While lecithin is naturally occurring in soybeans, it’s usually extracted using harsh chemical solvents. The last major concern regarding soy lecithin is that, like most soybean products, it is usually derived from genetically modified (GM) soybean plants. Since most soybean and corn crops grown in North America are GM, it can be difficult to avoid them completely. If GM soy lecithin bothers you, look for a label that says ‘organic soy lecithin’ or ‘organic lecithin,’ since organic ingredients can only be made from non-GM plant sources.” (source)

Not only is Soy Lecithin a concern for people with allergies to soy, but also the fact that most soy beans in the U.S. market are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is just as concerning. The only way to avoid GMOs is to purchase items that explicitly say “organic soy”; but even then, the organic soy still contains properties that can be harmful to your health like naturally occurring toxins, plant estrogens, and anti-nutrients.

I love this video by the great Dr. Kaayla T. Daniels, The Naughty Nutritionist, talking about the dangers of soy:

To Soy Lecithin or Not to Soy Lecithin?

After the research I have done, I am a proponent of not consuming soy, especially in commercially produced products. The risk of GMOs, pesticides, and harmful health disadvantages keep me steering clear.

With that said, I do not think it’s bad on occasion to enjoy organic soy sauce with sushi, eat a bowl of miso soup, or consume a product with a small amount of organic soy in moderation every now and then (i.e., a few times a month). But it definitely is not a staple in my diet. After discovering how soy lecithin is made: I don’t want to eat it! Leftover soybean sludge, dried, bleached, and added to food – no thank you!

I was a vegetarian for many years, and I ate and drank a lot of soy. Oh boy, do I regret that. This is why I am on my real food journey, eating real whole foods and learning everything I can about foods. It’s all about balance and putting the right foods into your body. That’s why I choose to avoid soy.

For more information on the dangers of soy, I would recommend this great book by Dr. Kaayla T. Daniels entitled “The Whole Soy Story“.

Sources: This blog could not have been completed without the research of Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, author of “The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food“, and the many “Soy Alert” articles she written for the Weston A. Price Foundation. Dr. Daniel’s book includes 45 pages of references from medical and scientific journals. For up-to-date information about soy and other nutrition topics, please visit her two websites www.drkaayladaniel.com and www.wholesoystory.com and “like” her on Facebook. Additional references used for this article include: Huffington Post: Soy Lecithin, WAPF: Soy Lecithin, WAPF: Soy FAQ, Book: “The Whole Soy Story”.
This post is a part of Fat Tuesday, Small Footprint Friday, Homestead Barn Hop, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Scratch Cookin’ Tuesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Frugal Days, Simple Lives Thursday, Sunday School, Homestead Barn Hop, Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, LHITS Linky, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Sunday School, Homestead Barn Hop.

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I am Katie P. - the girl behind Girl Meets Nourishment. I am a twenty-something who lives in Montana, I am a proud born and raised East Coast kid who moved out West toward the setting sun. In the time since I have trekked from coast to coast: I have acquired a degree in Psychology, an amazing husband who I love with all my heart, and wonderful new perspective on life & food. I love all things nourishing, (from the inside out), real, organic food, and unprocessed living. I am so happy you stopped by!

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64 Thoughts on “Soy Lecithin: The Sludge in Your Chocolate

  1. Thanks for this post, Katie. I’m trying to stay away from soy as much as possible, too. It’s so hard, though, since sooooo many products contain it. While I was never a full on vegetarian, I did consume a LOT of soy for several years. Regrettably, I also had my son drink a lot of soymilk when he was growing up. He hasn’t suffered as much as some; he looks masculine, but there are some residual problems from too much soy. I hope that by cutting out soy, he can get back to growing up the way his body was designed to.

    • What type of problems does consuming soy as children pose? My son drank only soy milk for the past two years until we reversed his lactose intolerance.

      • The video on the page from Dr. Kaayla Daniels goes into detail about consuming soy as a child, and she goes into more detail in her book The whole Soy Story (http://amzn.to/Zs3Dii). It’s worth a watch and her book is definitely a must-read on soy. I hope that this will answer your question!

        Thanks,
        Katie

  2. Janet on May 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm said:

    Are all edammame GMOs too then? Thanks.

    • From the research I have done, most edamame (young soybeans) not labels organic can be GMOs. I would just recommend looking into a the brands to learn how they grow their beans and whether or not they are labeled as non-GMO.

      I hope this helps!
      Katie

  3. Lyndsey Peebles on May 6, 2013 at 6:39 am said:

    I am so thankful for you and your unfearing drive to dig into the lies about the so-called food being put on the shelves. I want to be more like you, and am trying to dig deeper and expose the truth, but it is so disturbing that sometimes I can’t handle it. Thank you again for all you do! Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Lyndsey! I am glad you enjoyed the article, and it’s so interesting (and scary) once you start digging into the nitty gritty of the foods we find in the stores today. :)

      –K

  4. This is a WONDERFUL post! Thanks for all your hard work and for getting this information ‘out there’. :)

  5. gross. O.o
    Katie, can you open a real food store? You could call it..The Real Food Store :) and you could have all real foods and no sludge. Then I could shop at one place and know I’m getting all real things. Also, you could bake bread and sell that too because I don’t have time to bake bread!! Or any luck at keeping a sourdough starter alive (killed it again :( )
    Great job researching this!

    • I know! I had no idea soy lecithin was sludge…crazy. Let’s open a store! You could design all my logos. ;) I would love to shop at one place too and only be able to buy real things, I feel like I read more labels than I would like. I can always get your more starter – this summer, sourdough bread making afternoon? :D Talk to you soon!

  6. Yikes! This explains the horrible gut reactions I have when I eat this stuff… ugh!

  7. If you like soy sauce you should try the liquid amino alternative! Soy sauce can be harmful to your thyroid gland. Great video, thank you for sharing!

  8. I think soy has got to be one of the biggest health food scams to date! Because of soy lecithin and many other GMO additives I have completely sworn off of any kind of packaged food. Having said that, I regularly ferment organic soy beans to make natto, which is an excellent source of vitamin K2.

    It also neutralizes the bad elements and has a host of other health benefits. The only way to eat soy imho.

  9. Thanks for the post!

    I am a vegetarian and it really disgusts me when people say that they drink soy milk everyday. If it isn’t found in nature, without too much processing, it isn’t food. Fermenting is fine, culturing is fine, dehydrating or pickling is fine, grinding it up (nut butters or nut milks) cooking is, too. But not much else. I am not a fan of nut milks either – just eat the nut – but it is better than soy milk. I drink milk. The least processed variety that I can find – low temp Pasteurized, unhomogenized milk.

  10. I do know about soy lecithin, and have been avoiding it for years (not to hard since we don’t buy many processed foods). There are a few brands of very dark chocolate that I have found without soy , 365 and equal exchange, but again only the very high cocoa content varieties. Curiously, I just got up to check my organic soy sauce and there isn’t any soy lecithin on the ingredient label. Isn’t soy sauce fermented, so it is ok to eat?

    • Hello Sherri, thanks for the brands of chocolate that do not contain soy lecithin – hard to find, but wonderful when you do! Soy Sauce that says it’s been “aged” is usually fermented. If you have any questions about the product you specifically have, most labels have contact information which is such a valuable resource. I would email or call the company to see how they make their soy sauce. Here is a great post also about picking a good soy sauce: http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2009/03/soy-sauce-what-to-avoid-what-to-buy.html

      I hope that this has been helpful!
      K

  11. Trina on May 14, 2013 at 6:22 am said:

    I’m still up in the air about soy lecithin. I’ve actually heard from a very respected holistic food expert that soy lecithin is merely an extract of soy, but contains none of the protein (that is the allergenic portion btw – allergies are only to the protein of a substance, so to say soy lecithin may be allergenic is misleading). I’ve heard other food scientists remark that Kaayla Daniel is incorrect in areas as well. Who to believe…? I don’t know. I just keep reading and keep it all in mind when making food choices. I’m left with being concerned about the extraction process and that it’s usually from GMO. If one eats real food including grass fed/grass finished meats most of the time, occasional treats with a less than ideal food label are okay with me.

  12. I’ve read the Whole Soy Story and I long avoided soy by-products and any soy that wasn’t fermented. Recently, though, I’ve discovered that soy lecithin supplements do amazing things for my chronically plugged (breast) ducts. I don’t suppose you or any of your readers have ideas for an alternative?

    • Hi Anjanette,

      I am not sure what a good substitute for soy lecithin supplements would be. Here is a good post from Real Food Forager that goes into a little more detail about supplements of soy lecithin: http://realfoodforager.com/why-i-never-eat-organic-fair-trade-chocolate/

      I am sorry I cannot be of more help!
      Katie

      • She mentions in the post that eggs are a good source of lecithin, so I did a little digging and it looks like you can find it from several sources, including sunflower seed lecithin supplements. I’ll do some more research. Thanks for the push.

        • Misti on June 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm said:

          I to took soy lecithin while I was nursing my 3rd child. It was non-GMO brand. It really did save me from getting plugged ducts and mastitis like I did so much with my first two children. I would take 2 capsules 2-3 times a day and towards the end of nursing was able to slowly take less. I did about halfway through nursing her switch to sunflower lecithin and it was just as good as helping with nursing. I’m just glad that it was at least non-GMO soy that I took in the beginning. But the sunflower lecithin is a great alternative.

          • Yes, I’m taking sunflower lecithin now and I agree that it’s just not doing the trick. I’ve been living with plugged ducts (that very rarely turn into mastitis/fever/illness) for 5+years, so it’s not the end of the world, but I’d hoped I could stop the soy. I am going to up my dose and go back off of sugar and see how it goes.

        • Emily Ziegler on March 4, 2014 at 11:50 am said:

          Make sure the eggs are from hens that do not eat soy feed…soy free pastured eggs are best but costly…$7 doz

    • Jenny on June 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm said:

      I don’t have an alternative, and I too was recommended soy lecithin to help with clogged milk ducts. But I found it not helpful at all. About a year after I finished breastfeeding, I discovered through some testing that I have intolerances to gluten, casein, and soy. Since I was eating them all at the time, these probably were not helping my overall body’s inflammation levels. :( I’m pregnant again, and this time, I’m hoping the breastfeeding goes easier!!

  13. angelica on May 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm said:

    Well it wouldnt be the first time a nasty byproduct is used in our foods! Whey rprotein is a byproduct of milke processing. Companies were no longer allowed to dump it in rivers and streams so they market it to bodybuilders and other gym people to get their muscles rebuilt. Excellent marketing, still dont use it!

    Thanks for the post. I knew there was something fishy about this soy lecithin stuff! Thanks!

  14. Great information. I avoid soy products as much as possible but sometimes it is easy to forget about the ways soy lecithin sneaks its way into nearly everything. Thanks for the reminder!

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  18. Nick on June 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm said:

    Ok so eat organic soy and soy lecethin but if you think it’s ok to eat animal products (which by the by concentrates toxins even if it’s organic and grass-fed…that’s what animal bodies do is concentrate toxins) then you need to get a better set of food priorities. As for fear of phyto estrogens in soy, that’s just stupid because it has been found out in updated nutritional science (forget the old 1939 outdated Weston Price stuff) that phytoestrogens block the receptors that causes cancer/it prevents cancer! Paleo people should read The China Study and get an epidemeological nutrition update.

  19. Holly on July 11, 2013 at 10:50 am said:

    Eek! Rapeseed! Grapeseed’s evil cousin? Great article!

  20. SoyAntagonist on July 14, 2013 at 3:46 am said:

    Hmmm… yeah. So, i share a lot of the same feelings that my others on this forum share with one another..

    However, i think that everyone is overlooking a very important fact about soy.
    From what i’ve researched, the asian populations in the east that market and consume soy products only market and consume fermented organic soy. Whereas, the u.s. and european markets in the west market and consume unfermented soy which is most usually GM soy.

    My understanding is that the greatest health hazard lies in the consumption of UNfermented soy [in addition to GM soy] products which makes up the majority of processed foods in the west. Soy sauce, btw, is FERMENTED!! Just be sure to steer clear of GM soy sauce.

    i think it would serve everyone better to draw a comparison between western and eastern markets in regards to soy and to draw a comparison between the studies of health effects posed in each populace.

  21. SoyAntagonist on July 14, 2013 at 8:22 am said:

    Here are the facts layout which i am only copy and pasting from another informative site:

    “There are three things to look for when choosing a soy lecithin supplement that you absolutely must adhere to if you want only the best quality without negative side effects.

    1. Choose soy that follows strict guidelines for toxicity. Pesticide levels are high on many soy crops so to avoid the potential health problems these harmful chemicals cause you should always choose a manufacturer that complies with Good Manufacturing Practices for human food products as established by the US FDA, the European Commission and the World Health Organization’s CODEX.

    2. Ensure the soy is fermented. Many soy sources are unfermented, and while this may seem like the better choice, studies have shown that unfermented soy contains toxins and plant oestrogens that could disrupt menstrual cycles, cause breast cancer, damage your thyroid, lower testosterone and cause prostate problems as well as being difficult to digest. Fermenting soy dramatically reduces these risks but still retains all the good nutrients needed to be healthier.

    3. Check that the soy is not genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) pose considerable health risks and unfortunately, soy is one of the crops most likely to be modified. Long term effects are unknown and there is an increased risk of hidden toxins or interactions with other nutrients that you cannot predict. There are also no label requirements so you really have no idea what you are getting. When you consider that one in four food products are GMO, you really are risking your health by choosing food which has been genetically altered. The get the soy lecithin benefits, always check that the soy source is not genetically modified.”

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  23. Alice on July 28, 2013 at 4:08 am said:

    Mmm, my lactation consultant suggested I took it (2pills a day) after I had mastitis, it helps with recurring plugged milk ducts. Is the supplements equally bad? I am confused now

  24. Sophia on August 27, 2013 at 5:19 pm said:

    Love this post. Always wondered what soy lecithin was.
    Years ago I would work out for two hours a day and then enjoy a soy milk whey protein shake. I struggled to see results, then I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Little did I know I was killing my thyroid.

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  26. joleigh on October 2, 2013 at 8:31 am said:

    I’m listening to the Bread Beckers regarding making your own bread and they call for soy lecithin as a necessary ingredient for a good dough. They’re main thing is milling your own wheat, but they also cover kefir, fermentation and dehydration. I want to trust them, but in the back of my mind was your post.

    CONFUSED? I understand the whole GMO thing, but for some reason it doesn’t seem as simple as just buying non-GMO soy lecithin?

    • Hi Joleigh – Bread Beckers no longer uses soy lecithin, they use rice bran extract as a lecithin alternative. They explained this to me when I was in their store earlier this year, in February or March. Hope that helps!

  27. Hi Katie – thanks so much for this article! I knew soy lecithin was to be avoided, but didn’t know all the reasons why. This helps me understand! I will be referencing this article on my blog. Thanks!!

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  34. Alan Navarre on January 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm said:

    Thank you! Do you have an expose’ like this on rapeseed (a.k.a. canola)?

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  36. Catherine Truitt on February 17, 2014 at 9:37 am said:

    Thanks to everyone for the helpful information on Soy Lecithin, and especially the information about Bread Beckers no longer using soy lecithin in their bread.

  37. davea0511 on March 2, 2014 at 5:11 pm said:

    I found this article by Chris Kresser to be very informative on lecithin, and science based, and without innuendo like “sludge” (which really doesn’t have any purpose other than to make something sound bad): http://chriskresser.com/harmful-or-harmless-soy-lecithin#comment-161354

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dave. But to me, when it comes down to it – soy lecithin is sludge. You can choose to consume soy lecithin if you would like, but I will continue to not do so. Even in Chris’s post – he says there are chemical solvents and pesticides in the end product. Yes, we are exposed to it everyday – but that doesn’t mean I want to knowingly consume soy lecithin if I can avoid it. For the most part though, he shares the same thoughts as me:

      “Of course, in an ideal world, we would be able to avoid these things altogether, and I certainly recommend reducing your exposure as much as possible. It’s also a good idea to make sure your detox systems are functioning effectively. But unless you have a severe chemical sensitivity to hexane or pesticides, occasionally consuming small amounts is not worth getting bent out of shape over.”

      Just because I used a word like “sludge” (which it is) does not mean that I haven’t dug through research to find out what this stuff is. I work hard to provide people with information so that they can make educated decisions about their food choices.

      I wish you the best in your future endeavors,
      Katie

  38. Lois on June 13, 2014 at 8:17 am said:

    hi I just ordered organic sunflower lecithin from Florida, to use in making salad dressing, and to help bind the sprouted bread I make for the grandkids.
    Company name is Lekithos… no idea if they or the product will turn out well, lol, but
    thought I would let you know there is an available alternative to the sludge. regards L.

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