Is Lecithin Vegan?
Lecithin is a fatty substance that occurs naturally in animal and plant tissues. It is commonly found in food products like salad dressings, ice cream, and baked goods. Lecithin also serves as an ingredient in dietary supplements, pharmaceutical products, and personal care products. Given that lecithin can be sourced from both animal and plant tissue, it can be a little tricky to understand if it’s vegan or not. To add to the confusion, even plant based lecithin can be made non-vegan with added ingredients. But fear not, there are completely plant-based lecithin products out there! Read on to find out how to source them.
Health Benefits of Lecithin
Lecithin plays an essential role in the cell membrane structure of the human body. It is also important for brain function and cognitive health, and helps with memory and learning. Lecithin also helps reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart disease. Nursing moms are often encouraged to take sunflower lecithin to help their milk flow more freely and to avoid blocked ducts. I can personally say that regularly consuming sunflower lecithin has helped and still helps me keep blocked ducts at bay. I am prone to them, so it has been incredibly helpful for me to find a plant-based alternative for my sunflower lecithin supplement.
Types of Lecithin
There are several types of lecithin, including egg lecithin, soy lecithin, and sunflower lecithin. Egg lecithin is derived from egg yolks and is therefore not vegan. Soy lecithin is the most common variety of lecithin and is derived from soybean oil. Sunflower lecithin is made from sunflower seeds. Soy and sunflower lecithin are technically vegan, but it isn’t a given that the final form in which you find it is still vegan. It can be added to foods that contain other animal products, or you might find the health supplements in capsule form, which more often than not contains gelatin – an animal product.
For those following a plant-based diet, sunflower lecithin is an excellent choice as it is derived from a plant-based source and has a high nutrient content. Additionally, sunflower lecithin is a safer alternative to soy lecithin for those with dietary restrictions or allergic reactions. Sunflower lecithin doesn’t have the negative connection to the high level of pesticide use or deforestation that soy often does (more on this later).
Sunflower lecithin is often recommended to nursing moms to help against blocked milk ducts. Vegan and vegetarian moms need to pay special attention to what format their lecithin comes in. Pills will almost certainly contain gelatin, which is derived from pigs, making it unsuitable for both vegans and vegetarians. To get around this, you should go with granules or powder version of sunflower lecithin. I personally use this powder and just sprinkle it over food (like in the picture below) or mix it into smoothies. Another vegan option is this liquid form of sunflower lecithin.
Sunflower Lecithin For Breastfeeding
As mentioned above, sunflower lecithin supplements are often recommended for nursing moms. Consuming it should have your milk flowing more freely. This can help you clear a blocked duct and avoid it from happening again. I personally had an oversupply with both of my babies and had to deal with many blocked ducts (and milk blebs and even mastitis). It’s a painful experience!
After my first baby’s birth, I would only reluctantly take lecithin when I got into trouble again. Why? Because I couldn’t figure out where to find a vegan version of sunflower lecithin, and only knew of the capsules. But the capsules contained gelatin, which really grossed me out. But I was desperate! So I would still take the capsule for a few days each time I got a particularly bad blockage. Twenty months later, towards the end of my second pregnancy, I took the time to do deeper research and that is when I came across this one brand of sunflower lecithin powder that I finally felt comfortable taking!
I took this regularly for the first 3 months, and it really helped. Then, when the baby was 5 months old, we went on a long international trip. I didn’t think to bring my lecithin powder and whenever I eat differently, I tend to get blocked ducts again. It was quite upsetting being abroad, unable to find sunflower lecithin in any format at all! The only thing I could find was soy lecithin, but as the non-vegan capsule! That’s why I decided to write this guide here for all the vegan and vegetarian nursing moms out there!
Vegan Sunflower Lecithin Powder for Nursing Moms
So, if you are looking at this before your baby is born, I highly recommend you get a container of this sunflower lecithin powder now. Start taking it right after your baby is born to give yourself the best chance of avoiding any painful blocked ducts and all the complications that can come from it. (But do double check with your healthcare provider before you start taking it, just to be sure!) Sprinkle it over your food (like in the pictures above with the tacos) – it is virtually tasteless – or mix it into a smoothie or some juice. Believe me, it really does make a difference to your milk flow! Bring some powder with you if you are spending a weekend or longer away from home. Better to have it with you than to find you are in need of it, but can’t get vegan lecithin where you are!
Soybean lecithin is technically vegan. However, some vegans might avoid consuming it for other reasons, though. Soy is often genetically modified and can contain a high level of pesticides. Additionally, soy farms are often the source of deforestation, which is why some vegans choose to stay away from it. (Deforestation causes many environmental issues on top of destroying the habitat of hundreds of animals in one go.) Soy can also be an allergen. Again, with soy lecithin as well as with sunflower lecithin, you want to stay away from the capsules, as those usually contain gelatin (pig) and other potential non-vegan ingredients. Find it in granules or powder to make sure it is without any animal ingredients. This brand is vegan and non-GMO.
Lecithin supplements are commonly available in liquid form, gel capsules, and lecithin granules. The gel capsules are the most readily available version, but they are rarely vegan, because gelatin is used to make the capsules (and gelatin is made from pig). This liquid form and powder are both vegan versions of sunflower lecithin. Granules are usually vegan too, but more commonly found for soy than sunflower. These supplements are often used to improve brain function, reduce cholesterol levels, and aid in breastfeeding. Whatever reason you might have to start taking lecithin supplements, it’s always a good idea to first talk to your healthcare provider, just to be sure it’s the right thing for you and your particular body!
Lecithin in Food Products
Lecithin is commonly added to food products as an emulsifier. It helps to combine ingredients that would otherwise separate, such as oil and water in salad dressings. Lecithin is also commonly found in ice cream and cocoa powder, where it helps to create a smooth texture. Additionally, lecithin is often added to vegan butter alternatives to help mimic the texture and consistency of traditional butter.
Those looking to consume only vegan products should always check the ingredient list of anything they buy. Many products these days will have a vegan symbol on their label, but not everything that is vegan does directly say so on the label. If you have a hard time reading ingredients, I suggest you stick to whole foods and learn how to cook simple, healthy meals yourself. Check out my blog with easy recipes any busy vegan mom can make! Sticking to essential ingredients and making your own food is a great, healthy way to eat vegan foods. And if you are in need of buying lecithin itself, then buy one of the above-mentioned supplements in either liquid, powder, or granule form derived from soy or (better yet) sunflower.
Lecithin in Personal Care Products
Lecithin is also commonly used in personal care products such as lotions, shampoos, and soaps. In these products, lecithin helps to improve the texture and moisturizing properties. Vegans can look for personal care products that have the vegan symbol on their label. This is a good thing to look for, because some personal care products might have only vegan ingredients, but could have been tested on animals during the production period. Animal testing is something that vegans do not want to support. So, whether lecithin in personal care products is vegan is not the only thing to look out for when picking your product. Stick to clearly marked vegan, no-animal testing products to make sure it aligns with your moral standards.
In conclusion, lecithin is a common ingredient in food products, dietary supplements, and personal care items. While it is derived from both animal and plant sources, there are plant-based alternatives available for those following a vegan diet. Soy lecithin is the most common variety of lecithin. However, sunflower lecithin is a safer alternative for those with dietary restrictions or allergic reactions.
Lecithin has several health benefits, including improving cognitive function and reducing cholesterol levels. Reading ingredient lists carefully is important for identifying lecithin-containing products and making informed decisions about what to purchase. When looking to buy vegan lecithin, your best bet is to find a liquid, granule, or powder form of lecithin that has only the lecithin in its ingredient list (no gelatin or other such animal product often found in capsule forms). By avoiding capsules and reading the ingredients list, you should be able to find lecithin that is suitable for your vegan lifestyle.