Lecithin is a naturally occurring substance found in various foods such as steak, peanuts and eggs. Soya lecithin, also called soy lecithin, is extracted from soybean oil after a distillation process.
Lecithin was discovered in eggs by the French scientist Maurice Gobley in 1850. Its extraction from soybeans began during the 1930s. Today, most lecithin is derived from legumes.
Soy lecithin is primarily used as an emulsifier, which keeps water and fats from separating in foods. It is found in chocolate candy, peanut butter and margarine. Soy lecithin also has various industrial uses.
Because soy lecithin is high in choline, an important cell component, many value it for its presumed health benefits. Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated it for safety, purity or effectiveness.
Groups such as the United Soybean Board and others continue to make unsubstantiated claims for a wide variety of afflictions that soy lecithin allegedly helps alleviate.
According to Kaayla Daniel, Ph.D., author of the book "The Whole Soy Story," soya lecithin is a waste product that contains pesticides and solvents, such as hexane. Daniel further contends that soy lecithin poses certain dangers for those with soy allergies.