Is Soy Lecithin Vegan?

Is soy lecithin vegan? Is it bad for you? Is it gluten-free and what the alternatives are if you want to avoid it? In this article, we've covered all of these topics.
Zeynep Ozdemir, RDN

Written by Zeynep Ozdemir, RDN. Updated on January 16, 2023.

Lecithin is an emulsifying agent frequently used around the world. It can be plant and animal-based. Soy lecithin is derived from soy and it should be noted whether it is plant-based.

If soy lecithin is clearly labeled as vegan-friendly, it is fair to assume that lecithin is derived from plants.

In other words, it is reasonable to evaluate whether lecithin is suitable for vegans by looking at its general framework rather than just the food from which it is obtained.

In this article, we’ll explain what lecithin is, how to spot vegan lecithins, the potential health effects of lecithin, and whether it contains gluten.

What Is Soy Lecithin?

To understand what soy lecithin is, it is important to learn what lecithin is and for what purpose it is used in foods.


Lecithin is an inclusive word that refers to a group of naturally occurring fatty substances that may be discovered in the tissues of both animals and plants.

Lecithin was first extracted from egg yolk and found to be comprised of choline, glycerol, glycolipids, fatty acids, phospholipids, triglycerides, and phosphoric acid.

In modern times, it is often derived from a variety of sources, including cottonseed, soybeans, marine sources, rapeseed, milk, and sunflower seeds.

Lecithin is put to use for a variety of purposes, the great majority of which are related to the remarkable emulsifying capacity of the substance.

This is precisely the reason why lecithin is considered to be of such critical importance, and why it is frequently used as an additive in dietary supplements, processed foods, and medicines.

When lecithin is added to the mix, the oil undergoes a process known as emulsification, which breaks the oil down into tiny particles.

This makes the oil droplets simpler to digest or clean when they are consumed. Therefore, lecithin contributes to the goods having a smooth and consistent look.

Soy Lecithin

Soy lecithin is a lecithin type that is obtained by extracting it from raw soybeans. Like many other food additives, it has been the subject of heated debate.

Before deciding to consume foods or supplements that include this component, you need to be informed of the possible risks as well as the advantages that might result from taking soy lecithin.

Can Vegans Eat Soy Lecithin?

If the item in issue is explicitly labeled as vegan-friendly, it is fair to presume that lecithin was obtained from plants.

If it is labeled as vegetarian, you may assume that the lecithin was not derived directly from animals, but it might have been derived from dairy or egg, and other components may not be also vegan.

Manufacturers’ labeling options for soy lecithin:

  • Lecithin – from soy
  • Soy lecithin
  • Lecithin – derived from soy

There are numerous minor variations on this, but it is clear that the lecithin utilized in this case is derived from soy instead of eggs or anything else.

The issue arises when the ingredient list fails to specify how the lecithin got extracted.

Unless the product is clearly labeled as vegan-friendly, it is usually reasonable to conclude that lecithin is not acceptable for vegans in this case.

Is Soy Lecithin Bad?

Non-toxicity is one of the lecithin’s primary advantages. It is a globally permitted food additive, it is on the FDA “generally regarded as safe” list, has been thoroughly evaluated, and has been widely used throughout time.

In actuality, some individuals use lecithin as a dietary supplement, which suggests that it may not be entirely harmful.

It is rich in choline, which was the subject of vegan health concern when it was stated that vegans were deficient in it.

Soy lecithin is also linked to a variety of additional health advantages, including enhanced liver function, cholesterol reduction, and acne treatment.

But soy lecithin, as with many other food additives, may have its detractors.

Risks and Side Effects

Before deciding to consume foods or supplements containing soy lecithin, you should be informed of the possible risks and adverse effects associated with its use.

Extraction Techniques

When analyzing the side effects as well as the safety of soy lecithin, it is critical to evaluate the extraction procedure used to extract the emulsifier through soybeans.

Hexane is a solution used in the extraction of oils from vegetables and seeds. It’s also utilized as a varnish solvent and glue, as well as a cleaning solution in the printing sector.

Hexane is utilized in the process to separate lecithin from soybeans, and it is subsequently eliminated in a multi-step.

However, hexane residue may remain, and this isn’t controlled by the FDA. So, we don’t know exactly how much hexane can be in the soy lecithin we eat.

The Environmental Protection Agency cites a variety of serious side effects of hexane which purportedly include dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

Genetically Modified Soybeans

One further thing to watch out for when purchasing soy lecithin is whether or not it has been derived from genetically modified soybeans.

Soy lecithin is derived from soy oil. All soybean oils can be considered genetically modified unless specifically labeled as non-GMO.

That’s why you might think that soy lecithin can be considered genetically modified.

The origin of soy lecithin is hard to trace, therefore it might very easily be derived from genetically modified soy without your knowledge.

Possible Estrogenic Effects

The science behind isoflavones’ estrogenic actions is still unclear.

There is evidence from animal studies that high quantities of soy phytoestrogens may lower testosterone levels, however, there is also proof that soy eating has no impact on hormone levels in males.

Still, people who have thyroid disorders should aim to restrict their soy diet since research has shown that it may reduce the body’s synthesis of thyroid hormones.

Atopic Reactions

People who are sensitive to soy might experience an allergic response to soy lecithin, which is often manufactured from genetically modified soy.

However, soy lecithin seems to contain just trace amounts of soy proteins.

As a result, some experts predict that since soy lecithin lacks adequate soy protein residues, it will not trigger allergic responses in most soy-allergic individuals.

Soy allergens are present in the protein fraction, which is virtually fully eliminated during the production process of soy lecithin.

According to the University of Nebraska, whenever soybean lecithin is mentioned as an ingredient in food products, many allergists do not even suggest to their patients with soybean allergies to stay away from it.

These findings are most likely due to the fact that soy lecithin contains only minimal amounts of soy proteins.

Whereas the component is most likely harmless, those with serious soy allergies are recommended to avoid meals containing soy lecithin.

Is Soy Lecithin Gluten Free?

According to the FDA, lecithin can be obtained from a variety of plant sources, including soy.

Since soy lecithin is derived from soy rather than barley, wheat, or rye, it is classified as “gluten-free” by the FDA.

According also to Beyond Celiac, soy lecithin is safe for gluten-sensitive individuals.

How to Avoid Soy Lecithin?

The only individuals who must avoid soy lecithin are people who suffer from chemical sensitivities or severe soy allergies, as well as those who have a negative response to it.

In this case, checking the ingredient list and completely removing foods containing lecithin derivatives is the only solution.

If you don’t experience a soy allergy, buying items that are made with organic soy lecithin is one way to ensure you are not exposed to any of the other potential risks associated with soy lecithins, such as pesticides, solvents, or genetically modified organisms.

Although soy lecithin is a widespread addition to our present supplement and food supply, it is avoidable. However, if you have to eat soy lecithin-containing foods, look for certified non-GMO and organic options.

Another option is natural emulsification agents, also including sunflower lecithin. They are usually found in natural foods and healthier food products.

Sunflower lecithin is a good option for soy lecithin since it can be obtained without the need for harmful chemical solvents.

A cold press mechanism, similar to that used to produce olive oil, is employed to obtain sunflower lecithin, making it considerably healthier. Furthermore, it is free of GMOs and other potentially harmful substances.


Lecithin is an inclusive word that refers to a group of naturally occurring fatty substances that can be found in the tissues of both animals and plants.

It is used for various purposes related to the extraordinary emulsifying capacity of the substance.

Soy lecithin is a type of lecithin extracted from soybeans. Like many other food additives, it has been the subject of controversy.

If the substance in question is clearly labeled as vegan-friendly, it is fair to assume that lecithin is derived from plants.

It is advisable to pay attention to the vegan label to ensure that there are no different non-plant-based compounds.

Non-toxicity is one of the main advantages of lecithin. It is on the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” list and is a globally approved food additive.

But soy lecithin, like many other food additives, can produce adverse effects.

The reasons for these effects may be mainly due to extraction techniques, the use of genetically modified soybeans, possible estrogenic effects, and allergic response capacity.

Lecithin is classified as “gluten-free” by the FDA.

Unless you have a serious allergy, you do not need to exclude lecithin from your diet.

Still, it’s important that the lecithin you use is labeled vegan and organic.

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