What Is Lecithin, and Will It Boost Your Metabolism to Speed Weight Loss?
Adding it to your diet may help you slim down, though more research is needed.
Ever notice how your body doesn’t move quite as easily as it did when you were younger? Maybe you need a few minutes to get going in the morning, or you let out an involuntary groan when you stand up after sitting for too long. We all get a little stiff and creaky as we get older — and it turns out that our cell membranes do, too.
The problem: Our cell membranes act as gatekeepers of the metabolism — and when they’re stiff, pounds may pile up. A healthy cell membrane should look like a water balloon, flexible and fluid, explains Cate Shanahan, MD. Healthy membranes are semi-permeable, allowing nutrients in to be used for energy and releasing waste and toxins. But when cell membranes become stiff and rigid (due to aging and the processed fats in the standard American diet), nutrients can’t get into cells to be burned for energy, slowing metabolism, according to weight-loss expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. The potential solution: Adding more lecithin to your diet.
Lecithin, a naturally occurring fat, works to break down harmful fats that stiffen cell membranes and slow fat burning, then rebuilds the membranes so they’re pliable, boosting metabolism and erasing stubborn fat from your belly, hips, and thighs. “Lecithin is a fat-flushing accelerator,” says Dr. Gittleman. “People see extraordinary change in their waistline when they increase their intake.”
Understanding Stiff Membranes
Complicating matters: Stiff membranes may also create a fat-packing hormone imbalance. Just as nutrients get locked out of cells, toxins get trapped inside. “Stiff membranes inhibit cells from removing toxins like xenoestrogens, which mimic estrogen,” Gittleman says. “Since xenoestrogens are … stronger than estrogen, they act as fat magnets, increasing fat storage.”
Most women simply don’t consume enough of the compounds that keep cell membranes healthy. Among them: a fat called lecithin. “Cell membranes are composed of the fat you eat,” says Gittleman. “Lecithin is a naturally occurring fat that keeps cell membranes pliable and healthy.”
One reason so many of us are deficient in lecithin: “Some of the foods highest in lecithin are also high in cholesterol,” says Dr. Shanahan, pointing to egg yolks, butter, and red meat. “We’ve been told for a long time that we shouldn’t eat cholesterol, so these foods fell out of favor.” In fact, Gittleman estimates that as many as 90 percent of women over 50 aren’t getting enough lecithin to maintain healthy cellular membranes and keep metabolism humming.
The Potential Benefits of Lecithin
Getting more lecithin fires up metabolism. How? The “good” fat may make cell membranes stronger in two ways: First, it breaks down the “bad” fats making membranes stiff, Gittleman explains. Once these harmful fats are destroyed, lecithin — along with other “good fats,” including coconut, olive, and avocado oils — replaces them, becoming incorporated into new, healthier, more flexible cell membranes. All told, this may speed up fat loss.
Lecithin also helps break down fat stores throughout the body. “Lecithin melts fat from the thighs, hips and belly,” says Gittleman. In one study, dieters given a lecithin supplement lost more than twice as much body fat as those who took a placebo. The results were so impressive that scientists noted lecithin can “rapidly reduce body mass without any side effects.” (Note: This small study has not been replicated, and larger studies don’t support this theory.)
The benefits go beyond weight loss. “Lecithin has been shown to reduce fatigue and menopausal symptoms,” says Gittleman. Other research suggests lecithin improves immunity. Final verdict? More research is needed on the efficacy of lecithin supplements for weight loss, but adding a small amount of the supplement to your daily routine, and adding lecithin-rich foods to your diet, are two great places to start.
Note: Speak to your doctor before adding a new supplement to your diet.
Boosting Your Lecithin Intake
To get more lecithin into your diet, Dr. Shanahan recommends upping your intake of lecithin-rich foods, including red meat, organ meats (like liver), egg yolks, seafood, poultry, leafy greens, beans, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
To maximize fat burning, Gittleman also suggests supplementing with sunflower lecithin or non-GMO soy lecithin in powder (1 tablespoon) or granule (2 tablespoon) form daily. Gittleman says both the powder and granules have a mildly nutty, slightly buttery flavor, and she prefers blending granules, like NOW Non-GMO Lecithin Granules, into her morning smoothies. “The granules make smoothies nice and thick — almost like a milkshake,” says Gittleman, who suggests storing lecithin in the fridge. “You can also try adding powdered or granulated lecithin to sauces, gravies, soups, and even salad dressings to make them creamier.” You’ll benefit from taking lecithin any time of the day, but Gittleman says morning is the ideal time to take a supplement because it may aid appetite suppression, keeping you full until lunch.
Slimming Strategies to Add to Your Lecithin Routine
Of course, lecithin alone is not a magic solution. Dr. Gittleman also recommends incorporating these strategies into your routine to potentially amplify lecithin’s effects:
Power up with protein. Start off each day by eating at least 20 grams of protein, advises Dr. Gittleman. Not only is protein essential for building strong, supple cell membranes, but that’s the amount that may boost metabolism for the rest of the day. Delicious ideas: Start your day with a cup of Greek yogurt, stir two tablespoons of nut butter into a bowl of oatmeal, or add a scoop of protein powder to a smoothie along with your lecithin.
Cook lecithin-rich foods on low heat. Dr. Gittleman recommends eating eggs hard-boiled or poached since high-heat cooking methods, like frying, can reduce the lecithin content of eggs. Also smart: Steam or sauté your greens. Gently cooking greens makes their lecithin more bioavailable, so you’ll get more bang for your bite.
Enjoy a pre-meal mocktail. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, a compound that may protect cell membranes against free-radical damage. Plus, the compound slows the breakdown of carbs, helping to stabilize blood sugar and control cravings. A study at the University of Arizona in Tucson found that adults who drank apple cider vinegar 30 minutes before a meal ate up to 275 fewer calories over the rest of the day. To get the potential benefits, Dr. Gittleman recommends combining 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 8 ounces of sparkling water before lunch and dinner.
Sidestep damaging fats. While lecithin makes cell membranes pliable, unhealthy processed fats, like soybean oil and vegetable oil, may make membranes hard and rigid. “Everyone tends to think, ‘I don’t eat highly processed fats,’ but we all do,” says Dr. Shanahan. “They’re served in restaurants and found in packaged foods, including nut butters, salad dressings, cereal, granola bars, dried fruit, and even frozen vegetables.” Dr. Shanahan recommends clearing your kitchen of packaged foods that contain damaging fats. Check labels for margarine, soybean oil, safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated oil, refined palm oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, and rice bran oil — especially on staples like salad dressings, potato chips, nut butters, granola, and cookies. Instead, reach for products that contain coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, or butter, and lean toward these fats in your cooking as well.
Other Lecithin-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet
Berries. Strawberries contain CoQ10 (co-enzyme Q10 for short), an antioxidant your body produces naturally, which is also found in foods. This plant compound may also fortify cell membranes against free radical damage to keep them healthy. Bonus: Enjoying ½ cup of berries (fresh or frozen) daily may rev your energy. That’s because berries activate genes that make energy-producing cells.
Peanut butter. The yummy spread contains an ample amount of vitamin E, which acts as the first line of defense in cell membranes, protecting against damage. Bonus: Enjoying just two tablespoons of sugar-free peanut butter a day may help heal damaged neurons, sharpening memory and potentially lowering the risk of cognitive decline.
Rich in carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes may increase cell membrane fluidity so nutrients can get into the cell. Bonus: Enjoying two sweet potatoes each week may make your skin look years younger and healthier.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.