The Popularity of Bad Actor Ingredients


Made using Google nGrams, the chart above tracks the frequency four ingredients (high fructose corn syrup, triclosan, bisphenol A, and phthalates) are mentioned in published books. These four ingredients have been associated with negative health effects. You can’t draw any scientific conclusions about these ingredients from this chart, but it’s worth spending a few minutes to observe trends over time and try to understand why there are fluctuations in ingredient popularity.

For example, what causes the BPA spike in the late 1970s? What prompts more books to refer to all of these ingredients in the late 1990s? Why do phthalates get more attention in the 2000s than the other three ingredients? Answering these questions thoroughly requires a very close look at the history of each compound. Here’s a start.

These few events reveal that there is a lot behind why certain compounds show up in the products we buy. It also shows how long it can take to phase out a chemical once we realize it’s not a good idea to use it. What do you think? Any explanations for some of the trends you see above?

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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