If you are dealing with a soy allergy, you are probably well aware that soy seems to be in almost every single processed food. Whether in the form of soy flour, soybean oil or soy lecithin; soy is everywhere. How do you know which foods to avoid and which might be okay to consume? The answer is not as easy as you might think.
Many allergists tell their patients to avoid contact with any form of their allergen. However, some forms of food are so highly processed that no allergen protein remains. This can also be true of soy.
Lecithin is a term used to describe a fatty substance found in animal and plant tissue composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids. It is used in food manufacturing as an emulsifier.
In very simple terms, soy lecithin is a byproduct of soybean processing. It helps to bind ingredients together.
In food manufacturing you will typically see it listed as the last ingredient on the ingredient label.
From the US Food and Drug Administration:
“As noted, lecithin derived from soy contains very small amounts of soy protein and it is generally used in small amounts, whether for a functional or technical effect in the finished food or as an incidental additive. The proteins in soy lecithin have been found, in some cases, to be soy allergens, and there are a few case reports in the medical literature of allergic reactions to lecithin derived from soy. However, allergy to lecithin derived from soy has been neither definitively established nor definitively negated by oral food challenge studies. Despite its widespread use in the food supply, FDA is aware of only a few allergen-related complaints about FDA-regulated products containing lecithin derived from soy.(8) Also, FDA is aware that some clinicians believe that foods containing lecithin derived from soy present little or no allergic risk to soy-sensitive consumers, and these physicians do not advise their soy allergic patients to avoid lecithin derived from soy.”
If you are severely allergic to soy, you should avoid soy in all forms. However, it is possible that some allergic individuals can tolerate some levels of soy without reaction – especially soy lecithin. Discuss this information with your allergist. It might open up a variety of new foods for you to try making food shopping eaiser.