Ask Dave: Soy Lecithin in Protein Powder

Posted on May 1, 2011 by


David Cohen

Dear Dave,

According to some articles found in the Genesis Transformation newsletter archives soy products should be avoided, yet it is listed as in ingredient in your protein powder.  Can you explain?

Alice, California

Hi Alice,

Yes.  The ingredient you mention is soy lecithin which acts as an emulsifier.  An emulsifier is needed in whey powder to make it easy to mix with liquids; you would wind up with a ‘whey brick’ without it.  While there are other emulsifiers available the majority of all whey powders use soy – it is by far the cheapest.  There is some debate on the effects of soy lecithin on the body but the consensus indicates that it is much less harmful than soy proteins.

I searched for months for a non-soy lecithin and was successful; sunflower lecithin is on the market.  However upon digging deeper I found that our protein manufacturer sourced the sunflower lecithin from Cargill, a noted agribusiness giant (and the largest private corporation in the US) whom I would rather not sponsor.  In addition to the sunflower lecithin I came across a whey powder that used egg-based lecithin – however also on the ingredient list was Sucralose (an artificial sweetener, also known as Splenda) !!!  Let’s just say I didn’t ask for a sample of that one.

In examining dozens of protein powders I only found one that did not have lecithin listed on the ingredients – so I researched a bit further to find out why.  Turns out there is some room for ‘interpretation’ on FDA labeling requirements.  Last spring it was widely reported that the FDA issued 17 ‘warning letters’ to food companies such as Nestle, Beech-nut, and Blue Diamond for labeling violations.  These are some of the largest processed food companies who are perfectly capable of indicating the EXACT ingredients and percentages on their products but they did not.  Instead they listed their interpretation of what was required – until the government cried foul.

Also of interest is the FDA’s former position on soy lecithin.  Before ample research was conducted soy lecithin was considered virtually hypoallergenic, as it is virtually devoid of the proteins which cause reactions.  The FDA did NOT require the source to be indicated on labels; simply ‘lecithin’ could be listed.  At this time the FDA requires that the source be listed as there are growing concerns over the presence of soy in any form.

In Conclusion: 

After attempting and failing to design a completely soy lecithin-free protein powder I realized that I was designing a processed food! I avoid processed foods – but I also enjoy the convenience of protein powders.  This means I do actually use a processed food, there are no two ways about it.  It is my responsibility to determine whether I can use such a product without causing undue stress or harm to my body.  If I feel that our ‘Genesis Blend’ protein powder is slowing me down in any way I will discontinue using it. I believe that for most folks, it works quite well.  We do have one of the cleaner protein powders on the market, and feel that in this regard we met our goal.  Oh, and it tastes great, too!

I am still driven to upgrade the Genesis Blend – if anyone finds some responsibly produced non-soy, non-GMO lecithin please let me know~!

Posted in: Ask Dave