Soy lecithin is one of those ingredients often seen but seldom understood. Unfortunately, it’s also a food ingredient that’s difficult to find unbiased, scientifically backed data on. So, what do you need to know about soy lecithin and why might you need it?

Lecithin is a food additive that comes from several sources — one of them being soy. It’s generally used as an emulsifier, or lubricant, when added to food, but also has uses as an antioxidant and flavor protector.

Like many food additives, soy lecithin isn’t without controversy. Many people believe it carries potential health dangers. However, few, if any, of these claims are backed by concrete evidence.

Soy lecithin is found in dietary supplements, ice cream and dairy products, infant formulas, breads, margarine, and other convenience foods. In other words, you’re probably already consuming soy lecithin, whether you realize it or not.

The good news is that it’s usually included in such small amounts, it isn’t something to be too concerned about.

One of the more common reasons people turn to adding more soy lecithin to their diet is for cholesterol reduction.

Research on the effectiveness of this is limited. In one study, animals treated with soy lecithin experienced reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol, without reducing HDL (good) cholesterol.

Another study found similar findings on humans, with 42 percent reductions in total cholesterol and up to 56 percent reductions in LDL cholesterol.

Choline is an essential nutrient, and part of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It’s found in a wide variety of foods, including soy lecithin in the form of phosphatidylcholine.

Without proper amounts of choline, people can experience organ dysfunction, fatty liver, and muscle damage. Fortunately, increasing your choline consumption can reverse the effects of this deficiency.

Although soy lecithin is derived from soy, most of the allergens are removed in the manufacturing process.

According to the University of Nebraska, most allergists don’t caution people who are allergic to soy against soy lecithin consumption because the risk of reaction is so small. Still, some people with extreme soy allergies may react to it, so those who are highly sensitive are cautioned against it.

Soy lecithin is a generally safe food additive. Because it’s present in such small amounts in food, it’s unlikely to be harmful. Though evidence supporting soy lecithin as a supplement is somewhat limited, the evidence backing choline could steer people toward this food additive in supplement form.

Some people are concerned about the use of soy lecithin because it’s made from genetically modified soy. If this is a concern for you, look for organic products, as they must be made with organic soy lecithin.

Also, while the lecithin in soy is natural, it is often extracted using chemical solvents such as hexane. These solvents may be a concern for some.