Sunflower lecithin is a type of phospholipid abundant in sunflower seeds. This fatty substance is obtained by dehydrating a sunflower seed and separating it into three parts: the oil, gum, and other solids. Lecithin comes from the gum byproduct of this mechanical process. Nutritionally, it is an emulsifier that endows foods with a creamy, moist, smooth texture. It's often used in chocolates, faux butters and baked goods, such as muffins.
Although soy was once the dominant source for lecithin in foods, the type that comes from sunflowers has become favored by those seeking an alternative due to their concerns about soy. Many people have soy allergies, and most soy is genetically modified. Some critics also complain that chemical solvents are used in the processing of soy lecithin and that traces of those solvents remain in the food. A source of phytoestrogen, soy can allegedly make some people susceptible to cancers and thyroid dysfunctions, critics claim.
In contrast, sunflower lecithin is frequently organic and natural with no genetic engineering, according to agricultural studies.Instead of being processed with a chemical solvent, it is normally processed by cold-pressing. It is believed to have little to no side effects in most individuals, although some may experience allergies to this type of lecithin as well.
Besides using lecithin as a cooking ingredient, many people take it as a nutritional supplement. Nutritionists praise it as a beneficial source of phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is a nutrient that aids in mental recall, muscle conditioning and maintaining the nervous system. Lecithin’s greatest benefit is that it has an abundance of essential fatty acids, which are helpful to the brain.
In overall fatty acid composition, nutritionists say sunflower lecithin has virtually as much benefit as the traditional soy lecithin. Soy lecithin has slightly more palmitic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, but lecithin from sunflowers has more stearic acid and linoleic acid, which is believed to help lower cholesterol levels. They are equal in the levels of oleic acid, which is touted for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. Some studies boast that sunflower has more choline while soy has more of the other phosopholipid components.
Nutritionists recommend roughly 1,200 mg of lecithin daily to achieve the nerve, brain, and muscle benefits. Supplements come in liquid, granule, and powder form, and tablets are sometimes available. Many users believe that the granules are the most effective form. They are often mixed into drinks like fruit juices or skim milk.