Among supplement enthusiasts lecithin is a controversial ingredient.
Or, at least “controversial” as far as these things go. 🙂
Some despise its presence, and curse it as an industrial filler that only serves to cheapen products and rape consumers of real value.
Others love it because it contributes well to flavor and is very important to cellular functioning and fat metabolism.
So who’s right?
The truth is, they both kind of are. Whether or not you get a supplement with lecithin in it should be determined by your priorities.
What Is Lecithin?
Just so the conversation is phrased in the right terms, it’s best to talk accurately about what lecithin is, without resorting to labels that stoke different mood affiliations.
Lecithin is a naturally occurring food compound containing phospholipids that’s located within cell walls, particularly within the nervous system. They’re considered to be a special form of Fatty Acids called “Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acids” (HUFA’s) because they have a very “kinked” phosphatidyl backbone.
The body uses it to transport a lot of different stuff into and outside of cells, particularly molecules that are “fatty”
Because it’s especially concentrated in the nervous system, lecithin seems to have a very beneficial effect on memory and CNS related disorders like Alzheimer’s, etc.
It’s even used to treat drug addicts who are hooked on stuff like morphine, which messes with your brain. In some cases it even stops addiction.
Because lecithin is such a “fat loving” compound, it’s positively associated with fat metabolism, and in a few instances lack of phosphatidyl cholines have been associated with increased risk of cancer. It’s also used in the liver to rid itself of metabolites, and might even increase sexual performance (….maybe).
It’s also very important for the metabolism of plasma cholesterol, since it
It’s a pervasive substance in the body, and it’s required in large amounts in order for it to function properly.
Green Superfood Powders
Okay, so we know lecithin isn’t a lethal carcinogen or anything like that.
So why all the ruckus about its inclusion in health supplements?
Some say it’s cheap, and while it may be important, it’s not as good for you as other substances that could be used in superfood mixtures.
The price of something all by itself isn’t a foolproof indicator of its value, but it’s a decent starting point.
So if lecithin is a cheap filler, how does its cost compare to similar ingredients it could be used with?
The most common ingredients in the “base” of greens powders is grasses like wheatgrass, barley grass, and alfalfa grass. The latter 3 are some of the most popularized “superfoods” in the holistic health circuit.
So how do the costs of each compare?
Here are the prices of a pound of each on GNC.com and Mountain Rose Herbs, along with a few other herbs commonly found in superfood powders:
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s worth noting that the price of lecithin isn’t dramatically more or less expensive than other ingredients which are lauded for their health benefits. And in some cases it’s actually more expensive.
It’s certainly not as expensive as some of the more high end foods like acai or acerola (nor as nutritious), but it’s monetary value compares favorably with most ingredients you’ll find in your favorite formulation.
Why It’s Used in Green Powders
In addition to its health benefits, lecithin also helps to give mixtures more desirable flavor characteristics.
It’s no coincidence that the greens powders most often associated with having a great taste almost all contain lecithin. It makes mixtures more mixable, gives them a finer, more granular texture and takes away a lot of the bitterness that naturally comes from different greens and herbs.
It also helps them last longer, and in some cases improves the nutrient absorbance of other foods. For example, a study published in the Journal of Agriculture And Food Chemistry found that lecithin increased the absorbance of phytonutrients in reservatrol was increased when taken with lecithin,
This is because its strong backbone makes it fairly stable, and many of the compounds in other well known superfoods are notoriously fragile and break down easily.
Eggs, Soy, and Sunflowers
In commercial foods lecithin is almost exclusively from eggs, soybean, and sunflowers.
Is there a remarkable difference between lecithin from one food or the other?
As far as I can tell the answer is no, although it’s possible that the lecithin that’s derived from sunflowers has a less invasive extraction process.
Should You Get A Superfood Powder With Lecithin?
If this issue is important at all to you (and for many of you it’s not), I’d ask yourself which of the following two statements best describes you:
Statement 1: I understand the health benefits of many high quality supplements, but often find that I can’t take them because I just don’t enjoy their taste. It’s important for me to enjoy what I eat, and for that reason I have to have something that I like in order for me to stick with it.
If that’s you, then look for a greens powder with lecithin.
Statement 2: When I buy a greens powder I absolutely demand the highest level of nutrients possible, and find it somewhat offensive and disappointing that many supplement companies would put an ingredient in their mixture that’s so commonly found in other foods.
If that’s you, then get a greens powder without lecithin. Simple as that.
If the issue isn’t important to you at all, then I would disregard the issue entirely and purchase a supplement according to your other desires, such as taste, price, and the inclusion of other nutrients that are important to you.
Canty, David, et. al. Lecithin and Choline in Human Health and Disease.
Wood, JL. “Effects of Consumption of Choline and Lecithin on Neurological and Cardiovascular Systems”
Attia, YA. “Semen quality, testosterone, seminal plasma biochemical and antioxidant profiles of rabbit bucks fed diets supplemented with different concentrations of soybean lecithin”
Chen, Dingyan, et. al. “Neurotransmitter-precursor-supplement intervention for detoxified brain ”
Glomset, John. “The Plasma Lecithin: Cholesterol Acyltransferase Reaction”