"Lecithin is any of a group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk, composed of
phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids (e.g., phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylinositol). However, "lecithin" is sometimes used as a synonym for pure phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipidthat is the major component of its phosphatide fraction. It may be isolated either from egg yolk(in Greek lekithos—λέκιθος) or from soybeans, from which it is extracted chemically (using hexane) or mechanically."
It has low solubility in water. In aqueous solution its phospholipids can form either liposomes, bilayer sheets, micelles, or lamellar structures, depending on hydration and temperature. This results in a type of
surfactantthat is usually classified as amphoteric.
Lecithin is sold as a food supplement and for medical uses.
Phosphatidylcholineoccurs in all cellular organisms being one of the components of the phospholipid portion of the Cell Membrane
As a food additive
Lecithin is regarded as a well-tolerated and non-toxic
surfactant. It is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administrationfor human consumption with the status "Generally Recognized As Safe." Lecithin is an integral part of cell membranes, and can be totally metabolized, so it is virtually non- toxicto humans. Other emulsifiers can only be excreted via the kidneys. Lecithin is used commercially in substances requiring a natural emulsifierand/or lubricant, from pharmaceuticalsto protective coverings. For example, lecithin is the emulsifier that keeps cocoaand cocoa butterin a candy barfrom separating.
There are studies that show soy-derived lecithin has significant effects on lowering
cholesteroland triglyceride, while increasing HDL("good cholesterol") levels in the blood [Iwata, T., Kimura, Y., Tsutsumi, K., Furukawa, Y. & Kimura, S. (1993).The effect of various phospholipids on plasma lipoproteins and liver lipids in hypercholesterolemic rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 39, 63-71.] [Jimenez, M. A., Scarino, M. L., Vignolini, F. & Mengheri, E. (1990). Evidence that polyunsaturated lecithin induces a reduction in plasma cholesterol level and favorable changes in lipoprotein composition in hypercholesterolemic rats. Journal of Nutrition 120, 659-667.] .
Commercial lecithin, as used by food manufacturers, is a mixture of
phospholipids in oil. The lecithin is obtained by degummingthe extracted oil of the seeds. The lecithin is a mixture of various phospholipids, and the composition depends on the origin of the lecithin. A major source of lecithin is soybean oil. Because of the EU-requirement to declare additions of allergens in foods, in addition to regulations regarding Genetically Modified Crops, a gradual shift to other sources of lecithin, e.g., sunflower oil, is taking place.
The main phospholipids in lecithin from soya and sunflower are
phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl inositol, phosphatidyl ethanolamine, and phosphatidic acid. They are often abbreviated to PC, PI, PE, and PA, respectively. To modify the performance of lecithin, i.e., to make it suitable for the product to which it is added, it may be hydrolysed enzymatically. In hydrolysed lecithins, a portion of the phospholipids have one fatty acid removed by phospholipase. Such phospholipids are called lyso-phospholipids. The most commonly-used phospholipase is phospholipase A2, which removes the fatty acidat the sn-2 position.
In margarines, especially those containing high levels of fat (>75%), lecithin is added as an 'anti-spattering' agent for shallow
frying. Lecithin is admitted by the EU as a food additive, designated by E numberE322.
Lecithins may also be modified by a process called
fractionation. During this process, lecithin is mixed with an alcohol, usually ethanol. Some phospholipids have a good solubility in ethanol (e.g., phosphatidylcholine), whereas most other phospholipids do not dissolve well in ethanol. The ethanol is separated from the lecithin sludge, after which the ethanol is removed by evaporation, to obtain a phosphatidylcholine-enriched lecithin fraction.
Compatibility with special diets
Thus far, the only proven benefit and suggested use is for those taking
niacinto treat high cholesterol. Niacin treatment can deplete choline, necessitating an increased amount of lecithin or choline in the diet.
Egg-derived lecithin may be a concern for those following some specialized diets. Egg lecithin is not a concern for those on low-
cholesteroldiets, but, if not purified before being used as a food ingredient, it could significantly raise the overall cholesterol content of the food.
Jews under Kashrut, it is considered " pareve", neutral, e.g., may be mixed with both meat and dairy. [OK Kosher Certification, "Meat, Dairy, and Pareve." [http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=63 http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=63] Retrieved on Sept 10, 2008.] However, soy derived lecithin is considered by some to be kitniyotand prohibited on Passover. [OK Kosher Certification, "Keeping Kosher for Pesach." [http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=172 http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=172] Retrieved on Sept 10, 2008.] For most Muslims, lecithin or any other derivatives from plants, egg yolks or animals are allowed.Fact|date=May 2008 There is no general agreement among vegetarians concerning egg-derived lecithin, but since it is animal-derived, Jains, strict vegetarians, vegans choose not to consume it.
* [http://www2.chemie.uni-erlangen.de/services/dissonline/data/dissertation/Christoph_Wabel/html/Chapter1.html Introduction to Lecithin] (
University of Erlangen)
* [http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/soyguid.html FDA Industry guideline for soy lecithin labeling]
* [http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/nutsupdrugs/pho_0288.shtml Phosphatidylcholine info]
* [http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/lecithin.html Use of lecithin for recurrent plugged ducts]
* [http://www.perfectbiotech.com Lecithin Manufacturer]
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