What is Sunflower Lecithin?

What is Sunflower Lecithin in Whey Protein Powder?

What is Sunflower Lecithin?

Quick Answer - Sunflower lecithin is a clean emulsifier. In grass-fed whey protein, Lecithin serves the role of an adaptor. Two chemicals that otherwise would never form a bond due to their differences in chemical composition, like oil & water, whey protein, and water, now have a bridging agent that allows them to bind to one another efficiently.

More Details - To understand the function lecithin serves in AGN Roots Grass-fed Whey protein, it’s essential to view protein as merely a chain of amino acids (polypeptides).

As an industry leader in macro-nutrient & BCAAs (branched-chain amino acid) concentration, we share our protein composition in tabular form.

This Amino Acid Profile contains the names and quantities of each polypeptide found in AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Isolate.

Benefits of Sunflower Lecithin in Protein Powder?

The National Nutrient Database maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that sunflower oil comprises predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats [6].

With less than 190 mg of Sunflower Lecithin for every 29 grams of whey powder (a standalone Sunflower Lecithin supplement is ~1500 mg per serving), the following benefits have a long publication history.

  1. The Non-GMO natural oil reduces denaturing by utilizing chemistry, rather than the need for aggressive agitation to mix with a water-based solvent (water).
  2. Lecithin helps balance bloodstream fat levels for a healthy heart, taking full advantage of phytosterols, which counteracts the bloodstream's affinity towards cholesterol absorption, thus lightens the processing loads on the liver.
  3. Phospholipids support everyday brain health, function, and the latest studies suggests the ability of lecithin nanoliposomes enhance neuronal development [8].
  4. Sunflower oil is a natural antioxidant and great for the body's defenses and immune system strength (vitamin E serves to combat the development of free radicals while protecting surrounding healthy cells) [7].


    Sunflower Lecithin and Protein Powder Explained - Why is Lecithin in Protein Powder?

    Is Grass-Fed Whey Without Lecithin Better? 

    No. The value of authentic grass-fed whey is within the macro-nutrients, which the minimal addition of sunflower lecithin does not impact.

    Among others, these consist of β-lactoglobulin, α-lactalbumin, bovine-serum-albumin, immunoglobulins, Glutathione, & Lactoferrin. Having an emulsifier is like finding that puzzle piece connecting two halves of the puzzle together.

    What Effect Does Sunflower Lecithin Have and Why?

    Lecithin allows for a smooth connection between the water-side and the protein-side without forcing the link mechanically. The impact of this smooth linkage eliminates the potential damage of mechanical denaturation that occurs when a blender shears the mixture with force.

    What Happens to Grass-fed Whey in a Blender?

    Quick Answer - Mechanical shearing (using a blender) is the most common way to render the macro-nutrients of the grassfed whey denatured post-manufacturing. Blending whey protein and water will force elements like the air that (not polarized) into spaces adjacent to the Tertiary & Quaternary Protein Structures

    The force-fitting (denaturing) of the protein (without the lecithin adaptor for a snug fit) into the water creates for a smooth protein shake; however, it defeats the purpose of a truly-grassfed whey protein.

    More Details - When a single-ingredient whey protein requires a blender to go into solution, the mechanical energy applied to the protein structures forces a change in shape, by definition denaturing the protein.  As a dehydrated powder, whey protein structures and the macro-nutrients within are very fragile and require a soft hand for water phase reconstitution.

    Blending whey protein or shaking aggressively single-ingredient protein with a shaker bottle and whisk will most certainly cause tertiary and quaternary denaturing. Molecules that are not polarized lack the fittings to allow water and whey to disperse evenly.

    Like random puzzle pieces put in the same box with a complete set, they have no natural place to fit in and require a force-fit through mechanical means.

    In Summary - For single-ingredient Whey protein (without an adaptor, like lecithin or kinetic energy) to disperse into a water solution smoothly, it requires mechanical denaturation. Denaturing grassfed whey at the point of consumption defeats the purpose of purchasing a high-end nutrient-dense whey. The workaround for this is to add an emulsifier.

    How Does Sunflower Lecithin Work?

    Every peptide structure contains hydrophilic (soluble in water) & hydrophobic (not water-soluble) side chains. The hydrophobic components of the whey protein (oil-based solute) will not naturally dissolve into a water-based solvent to form a homogeneous solution.

    As a result, intact whey protein (non-denatured) needs some adaptor to support the dispersion into water. In whey protein with sunflower lecithin, the lecithin serves as the "adaptor," with the "emulsification process" being the action of the oil and water connecting via the adaptor.

    To give you an idea of milk composition and how various components are water-soluble and multiple fat-soluble components - below is a composition wheel.

    Click Here - Milk Composition Wheel High Resolution

    Is Lecithin a Popular Additive in Whey?

    Emulsifiers are everywhere and used in many industries to assist fats (oils) in uniformly dispersing in water (i.e., milk) and likewise for water to evenly distribute in fats (i.e., butter).

    An excellent example of this is why we use “soap and water” to wash our hands. If there is any oil on your hands, water alone will take a while and will not connect to the oil structures, thus bead off.

    Emulsifiers 101-

    Mechanical Emulsification:

    If the first thing you can do after opening a milk carton is to skim the cream and fat off the top, chances are your milk has NOT undergone a homogenization process (emulsification).  This process involves flowing high quantities of pasteurized milk through a tiny area that is no wider than the width of a hair.  The pressures and velocities of this process disrupt the fat globules within the milk, forcing them to disperse into much smaller ones. This emulsion method is considered mechanical and has an expiration date; looking at curdled-milk, this is the emulsion breaking down over time and the fats rejoining other fats and floating to the surface.

    You can safely consume non-homogenized milk; however, drinking “raw,” unpasteurized, is extremely dangerous. Too often, whey protein brands will make a claim such as "un-denatured," which often gets misinterpreted to mean "not pasteurized."

    Denaturing whey protein structures can occur during some pasteurization methods. It is, however, essential to know that this "un-denatured" term, in general, has nothing to do with the microbial dangers stemming from consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

    Learn More: What is "Undenatured" Whey?
    Learn More: What is "Cold-Processed" Whey?

    Below is a link to a "cold-processing pasteurization table." In it, we illustrate a few standard pasteurization methods that sacrifice nutrition bio-availability for an extended shelf life and stability profile. These methods are called Higher Heat Short Time (HHST) & Ultra Pasteurization (UP).

    Global dairy export companies like Fonterra responsible for supplying China's dairy demand from New Zealand will use flash processing methods to ensure stability and shelf life during export transit. We highly recommend being skeptical when seeing advertisements for "New Zealand Grassfed Whey," it's harmless macro nutrition and is very stable. However, nutritionally speaking, the micronutrients and minor protein fractions are denatured (not bio-available). 

    Learn More: Milk Pasteurization 

    Molecular Emulsification:

    In nature, there are several organic amphiphilic agents capable of attracting both oil and water-based components. that essentially serve as universal adaptors, capable of bringing together oil and water without the brute force of a homogenizer.  “Lecithin” happens to be one of these natural agents and exists in abundance in both animal and plant tissues. It’s considered critical for the healthy function of the brain, blood, nerves, and digestive system. Our bodies use lecithin to support essential processes such as metabolism and the creation of specific neurotransmitters.  It is also used in general to protect the integrity of our cell membranes, and thus lecithin can be found present in every single cell of our bodies.

    What Does Sunflower Lecithin Do? 

    The minimal amount of non-GMO Sunflower Lecithin within AGN Roots Grassfed Whey allows our community of health enthusiasts accesses to nutrition-on-the-go without the clumps and chunks associated with mixing protein in a water-based solution without electric agitation.

    With an unwavering commitment to the integrity of our product while optimizing the functionality and sensitivities of mixing; the addition of sunflower lecithin couldn't have been more of a clear choice. 

    We don't have a stance on whether there is an advantageous recovery window to consume protein throughout your day to optimize recovery benefits (our product as excellent as it is, does not quite have the consciousness to form an opinion).

    When presented with the opportunity to afford our consumers the convenience of a superior Grassfed whey product that was also available for immediate consumption at any time while maintaining the absolute integrity of our goals, we seized it.

    As a result, AGN roots Grassfed Whey can be mixed with a spoon or a shaker bottle on the go. Although It is unflavored and just about as naked/raw as it gets, we do encourage a blender or magic bullet to be used at home with all kinds of your favorite fruits and natural or organic flavors to make every serving count. We highly recommend you spice it up and have fun with your nutrition!

    "Ready to Mix" - Proven Benefit of Sunflower Lecithin

    AGN Grassfed Whey is a dairy powder that's ready to mix; once reconstituted with a liquid phase, it's wise to treat the solution precisely like you would a cold dairy product rather than a citrus soft-drink or can of pop.

    After making a whey protein powder shake, if you plan to save it for later, a rule of thumb by the FDA is to do so at 40°F (refrigerator temperature) with the recommendation of NOT letting it sit out longer than 2 hours unrefrigerated. 

    Sunflower Lecithin vs Soy Lecithin -

    Naturally, AGN Roots Grass Grassfed Whey would only be satisfied with the highest quality lecithin available. Without a doubt, the healthiest lecithin comes from sunflower seeds. Our Sunflower Lecithin is Non-GMO and naturally extracted (mechanically) from sunflower seeds in a 100% chemical-free process.

    Being Non-GMO lecithin is in stark contrast to many other lecithin sources, including the more commonly used soy-lecithin, which requires chemical use (alcohols and petroleum-based) to extract from their respective sources. Soy lecithin is often associated negatively with the common allergen (Soy Allergy).

    Also, it carries within its properties that may impact your hormones (estrogen levels). However, at these quantities, that is highly unlikely and was massively hyperbolized years ago by the weight lifting supplement side of the industry.

    Additionally, there is another facet of uncertainty around GMOs and the impacts of consuming soy. Soy lecithin is a double hitter, with 75% of soy lecithin made by GMO. Another benefit of Sunflower Lecithin is that it provides a valuable source of phosphatidylcholine known to improve digestion and cognitive health.

    What are the Benefits of Sunflower Lecithin?

    As a standalone supplement, Lecithin is available at your local pharmacy.  While soybean lecithin tends to come in granulated capsule form, you can buy sunflower lecithin in both powder and liquid form as well. Sunflower lecithin isn’t as standard, but many prefer it, especially if trying to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as mentioned earlier.   

    Although there is no substitute for performing your research, below, you’ll find a summary and consensus from the many sources we’ve seen over the years to be credible.

    If you have personal experiences and willing to share value with our community around this topic, we would love to hear from you. We will continue to pursue the latest research to only include ingredients that are irrefutably health-affirming in our grass-fed whey. These benefits and common claims include -  

      • Heart Health – Lecithin has a natural propensity to help balance the fat levels in your bloodstream.  In theory, this has the potential to reduce risks around cardiac issues such as atherosclerosis.  
      • Brain Protection – Phospholipids (the building blocks of lecithin) are crucial for brain health and the repair processes utilized by neural cells. Lipid substances that contain choline, like lecithin, may improve the brain’s functional pathways [1]. Conflicting data exist on whether lecithin benefits populations that suffer from neurological & nervous system conditions, but research into this benefit of lecithin is promising and moving forward.  One day soon, regular use of a lecithin supplement may be proven to result in faster neural regeneration, thus protecting the nervous system. 
      • Connected to battling Dementia Symptoms - Lecithin contains choline (precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine), which is a chemical your brain uses to communicate. Clinical Research suggests that a diet rich in choline may support memory function, thus benefit those battling Alzheimer’s disease [2].  
      • Liver Integrity – Lecithin supports the liver’s fat-processing functions. If you’ve ever stepped outside your regular diet and indulged in a very fatty meal, lecithin can significantly reduce the amount of work your liver needs to do to handle the excess fat.   
      • Blood Pressure – You’ve probably noticed a theme, but when it comes to excess fat in your bloodstream, there is no shortage of potential health risks. Less fat in your blood, the less likely your blood pressure puts a strain on your cardiovascular system. 
      • Boost the Immune System - Research has found that this phospholipid substance speeds the healing process and stimulates the immune system. Mainly due to its antioxidant effects, thanks to phosphatidylinositol and phosphatidylethanolamine.  

    In closing, we strive for pure transparency and hope we’ve provided you enough information to be comfortable with our decision to include ingredient Sunflower Lecithin in our Grass-fed Whey. The small ( < 1% ) non-GMO Sunflower Lecithin addition to our Grass-fed Whey allows for incredible practicality, via ease of mixing without needing a portable blender, for the on-the-go enthusiast.

    Is Sunflower Lecithin "Pro-Inflammation?"

    The truth is, there are very few plant oils that undergo water degumming to produce lecithin in the ideal Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio; is there a perfect ratio?

    In the last few years, various publications have recognized the benefits of marine fatty acids that contain lower Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios as less likely to impact inflammation [3].

    There is little reason to worry; we won't be substituting our non-GMO sunflower lecithin for fish oil anytime soon. Currently, more studies suggesting inflammatory responses related to seed oils compared to fish oil are not well enough studies to draw an objective conclusion [4].

    Furthermore, sunflower lecithin concentrations for surfactant use in powdered dairy protein products unless highly sensitive in terms of impact-potential to unseat an otherwise balanced diet is vital to put into perspective.

    A typical over-the-counter sunflower lecithin supplement serving size relative to quantities in AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey is more significant by an entire order of magnitude.

    110 mg of sunflower lecithin, in the perfect ratio of Omega-3 & Omega-6 fatty acid or not, compared to a healthy quantity of the recommended daily intake of fat (40-80 grams) accounts for ~0.1% - 0.3%, making the notion that whey protein the utilizes this emulsifier is a cause of inflammation is a bit of a stretch.

    Can You Be Allergic to Sunflower Lecithin?

    Yes. Although allergies associated with seeds are not very common as other nuts like peanuts, the allergy exists in some people. The symptoms are expressed in similar ways to that of a typical peanut allergy.

    Lectin Vs. Lecithin

    Many people actively avoid lectin; thus necessary not to conflate lectin with lecithin; they are two completely different food elements. Where lecithin is a phospholipid (fat), lectin is a protein.

    What is Lectin?

    Lectin is a naturally occurring carbohydrate-binding protein endemic to most plants, with concentrations varying drastically. Contrary to a widely held belief that anything from a natural plant is healthy, lectin breaks this mold.

    Although lectin serves plant flesh as an important protectant to fend off animals looking for a quick bite (perceived as a toxin), those benefits do not translate to human consumption like we think a phytonutrient does.

    Why is Lectin Harmful?

    Lectin is commonly known as an anti-nutrient. With how much we harp on the importance of bioavailability and digestive health, lectin represents one of the worst proteins we ingest that actively inhibits any gains made in that space. Our digestive tracts are not able to digest lectin as it shares similar characteristics to a fiber.

    By binding to the gut lining, lectin reduces the active surface area that absorbs nutrients making our digestive capabilities less effective. In terms of the difference between lectin and lecithin, they exist as opposites. Lecithin, when it comes to the chemical emulsifier, actively helps us optimize bioavailability.

    Learn More: What is Bioavailability?

    How Much Sunflower Lecithin is in AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Protein?

    There is between 0.5% - 0.65% Non-GMO (<190mg) of sunflower lecithin per serving of AGN Roots Grass-fed Whey Protein Isolate.

    Although the amount of Sunflower Lecithin per serving in AGN Roots Grassfed Whey is minuscule compared to the suggested serving sizes expected from a supplement standpoint, the benefits start even at this low intake threshold. Regarding what type of Lecithin is preferred, it is evident that a non-GMO, naturally extracted Sunflower Lecithin is the best decision and one we stand by and support wholeheartedly!

    Where is Sunflower Lecithin Sourced?

    Ukraine, Netherlands, France, Argentina, and Russia make up nearly the entire organic sunflower oil and lecithin competitive commodity market. As the leading producer of sunflower lecithin, whose national flower happens to be the Sunflower, Ukraine makes up anywhere between 50% to 75% of the global supply [9].

    Ukraine's turmoil in 2022 has created a sizable shortfall within the sunflower oil supply, resulting in skyrocketing prices for the remaining intact markets. Although reserves worldwide dictate availability, our ability to procure consistent high-quality lecithin is much supported by our small batches and flexibility.

    Can you have Sunflower Lecithin on Keto?

    Non-GMO Sunflower Lecithin is keto-friendly, which is why AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Isolate remains the #1 Keto-Friendly Whey protein available.

    Learn More: What is the Keto Diet?
    Learn More: What is the Keto Flu?

    Sunflower Lecithin & Breast Feeding - Good or Bad?

    As a dairy brand, when it comes to the sensitivity of this topic, we point directly to health and science professionals. We also offer the following disclosure - Consulting with a lactating or medical professional can not be overstated on any scenario involving a lactating mom and infant; our views on this website should not conflate with professional medical advice.

    Dietary Lecithin is often a viable solution to milk duct blockage issues. There are currently no studies that suggest counter-evidence against the general efficacy safety of consuming a lecithin supplement to aid in nursing from both mother and infant [5]. Comparing a typical dosage of over-the-counter dietary lecithin with that per serving of AGN Roots grass-fed whey, a stand-alone lecithin supplement concentration is roughly ten times the quantity used in our product. 

    [1] Tayebati, S., & Amenta, F. (2013). Choline-containing phospholipids: relevance to brain functional pathways, Clinical Chemistry, and Laboratory Medicine (CCLM)51(3), 513-521. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cclm-2012-0559 
    [2] Poly, C., Massaro, J. M., Seshadri, S., Wolf, P. A., Cho, E., Krall, E., Jacques, P. F., & Au, R. (2011). The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American journal of clinical nutrition94(6), 1584–1591. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.008938
    [3] DiNicolantonio, James J, and James H O’Keefe. “Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega–6/Omega–3 Ratio for Reducing Inflammation.” Open Heart, Archives of Disease in Childhood, 1 Nov. 2018, openheart.bmj.com/content/5/2/e000946.
    [4] Tulk, Hilary M.F., and Lindsay E. Robinson. “Modifying the n-6/n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Ratio of a High–Saturated Fat Challenge Does Not Acutely Attenuate Postprandial Changes in Inflammatory Markers in Men with Metabolic Syndrome.Metabolism, W.B. Saunders, 21 July 2009, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049509002406.
    [5] Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Lecithin. [Updated 2021 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501772/
    [6] Hosted by the National Agricultural Library., FoodData Central is managed by the Agricultural Research Service. “FoodData Central Search Results.FoodData Central, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Agricultural Research Service, Apr. 2018, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172328/nutrients.
    [7] Hassan, Iffat, and Mohammad Abid Keen. “Vitamin E in Dermatology.” Vitamin E in Dermatology, Department of Dermatology, STD and Leprosy, Government Medical College and Associated SMHS Hospital, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India [Indian Dermatol Online J 2016;7:311-4], 5 July 2016, DOI: 10.4103/2229-5178.185494
    [8] Latifi, Shahrzad, et al. “Natural Lecithin Promotes Neural Network Complexity and Activity.Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 27 May 2016, www.nature.com/articles/srep25777.
    [9] Burke, Céimin. “War Leaves Crisp Makers Scrambling for Sunflower Oil Alternatives as Price Hikes Set to bite2022.TheJournal.ie, TheJournal.ie & Press Council of Ireland, 22 Apr. 2022, https://www.thejournal.ie/ukraine-sunflower-oil-crisps-ireland-5727664-Apr2022/.
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    so I’m still confused, I love almond milk, but notice sunflower letchin is in some of it, and im not allowed oil, is it oil? Or not? Thank you sincerely, Sue rowe

    Sue Rowe

    Really appreciate the break down in this article, and proud to be a recent customer! For those that haven’t reached out, the level of details provided by this brand will blow your mind. I literally asked similar questions to other “premium” unflavored brands like Levels, promix, naked, and several others who dominate google ads and the responses were laughable in comparison, keep up the good work and glad to put in this plug!!! ~ JW

    J. Williams

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