Food labels – do we need calories and kilojoules?
Most of us know how to work with calories. I know I can consume around 2,000 kcal a day as a woman, and that men are recommended 2,500 on average. So will a law to add kilojoules to packaging confuse shoppers?
For years now, we’ve gotten used to seeing the energy content of food shown in calories (kcals), and most of us understand the concept. Recipes give energy information in calories, ready meals state how many calories they contain and, more recently, a number of restaurants have started to display the calorie content of their meals.
Simpler food labels
At Which?, we’ve been campaigning for simple food labelling that gives people the information they need to help them make healthy choices. Currently, most front-of-pack labelling gives the energy content of the food in calories and the sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt in grams.
This is great news for shoppers – especially as all the major retailers have now committed to traffic light labelling as well. This means that people will finally be able to tell at a glance whether the food they’re choosing is high, medium or low in various nutrients.
However, new EU legislation will now make it compulsory for food manufacturers to label the energy content of foods in kilojoules (kJ) as well as calories. At the moment, kJ are already provided on the back-of-pack labelling. But under the new rules, if there is a front of pack label, then the energy content will have to be displayed both front and back. Those that fail to do so will be breaking the law.
Over-packing the packaging
Although kJ may be the correct scientific way to represent energy, I question how useful it will be to people. After all, how many of us really know how many kJ we should consume a day, or how many kJ are in a kcal? When we asked over 2,000 people in an online poll last August, 61% wanted to see kcal displayed on food labels by itself. An additional 22% wanted kcal and kJ displayed together, but only 1% wanted kJ alone.
Many food manufacturers have said they’re concerned that this extra information on the front of food packages may confuse people, as well as overcrowding the packaging. Obviously, in this matter, the manufacturers’ hands are tied.
As the legislation has passed, we will soon have to get used to seeing both kJ and kcals on food packaging. But even so, I think I’ll stick to using the kcals to make a quick and informed decision about whether to buy or not. Do you use kcals, kilojoules or both when choosing your food? Do you think the extra info will crowd the packaging, or provide useful information?
What information would you like to see on food packaging?
Calories (kcals) (61%, 190 Votes)
Both calories and kilojoules (28%, 86 Votes)
Kilojoules (kJ) (11%, 29 Votes)
Total Voters: 309
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