First and foremost, it’s used as an emulsifier which means it makes oil and fat mix well with other ingredients (like water). For example, it keeps the oil and water in salad dressings mix, and the oil and solids in natural peanut butter remained mixed instead of the oil floating to the top.
It even helps to create an amazing texture foods you’ve probably never thought of as "emulsions"—like chocolate and chocolate brownies (we use it in all of our paleo protein brownies!). In chocolate, lecithin keeps the cocoa butter (fat) portion stable, so it doesn’t separate from the cocoa solids and dairy (in the case of milk chocolate) that make up the rest of the bar. Without lecithin, chocolate wouldn’t be as velvety and smooth as we like it. And it would be more prone to fat bloom, the leading cause of gross-looking grayish streaky chocolate (still safe to eat though). A lot more foods than you realize benefit from lecithin’s emulsifying powers.
Best of all, sunflower lecithin offers some incredible health benefits! These top five come from the excellent online magazine, Healthy Focus. This is an abbreviated version of their exhaustive piece:
Lecithin is especially good for the health of your heart. It can help both prevent and reverse damage from coronary disease. Lecithin is essentially a fat emulsifier which the body can use to rid the excess fats from your bloodstream. These excess fats include cholesterol and triglycerides meaning that it will help you to reduce and control your cholesterol levels.
This task is accomplished largely because of the linoleic acid contained in high concentrations in sunflower lecithin. Only olive oil can boast similar levels of linoleic acid while soy lecithin has very little of it.
Sunflower lecithin can do wonders for your neurological and cognitive health. This is because it is chock full of essential phospholipids with incredibly long chemical names. Phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylethanolamine are all important ingredients which are utilized by the body to repair, strengthen and produce brain cells and also nerve cells. There are promising reports that sunflower lecithin can improve cognitive functions like study, focus and memory.
The phospholipids mentioned above also play a very important role when it comes to the health of your liver. The liver is prone to becoming over burdened with excessive fats, these fats or lipids can then accumulate within the liver instead of being excreted from the body via the bowels as they should be. This is a condition called (non-alcoholic) fatty liver disease which is an increasingly common complaint that in turn leads to more serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis and possibly liver cancer. Because of its phospholipid content, sunflower lecithin can help prevent this excessive build-up of fats and keep the liver in good working condition.
Sunflower lecithin can help the nervous system to function more efficiently because of its abundant fatty acids. These fatty acids boost the strength of nerve tissue and actually improve neurotransmitter activity. Your nerve fibers consist of a complex network of sheaths which allow nerve impulses to effectively travel from one place to another. Unfortunately, the nerve system can be disrupted but sunflower lecithin can help keep these nerve functions healthy.
While this is not an actual health benefit per se, it is worth noting that unlike soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin is free of the phytoestrogens contained in soy lecithin. Phyoestrogens can cause people of both sexes to produce excess estrogen leading to numerous metabolic issues such as early menopause, breast growth, sexual dysfunction and weight gain. It can also cause autoimmune disorder to the adrenal glands and thyroid.