Kcalories vs. Calories: What is the Difference?

cooked foods

What is the difference between kcalories vs. calories? This article has the answers! It will answer what the difference is when talking about units of measurement as well as how kcals vs. cals applies to your food calorie intake and exercise!

The short answer? When it comes to tracking food, there isn’t a difference! For science, kcals are 1,000 cals.

Yet, there is a difference from a scientific standpoint. You can learn more about calories versus kcal by reading on.

What are Calories?

Calories are a unit of measurement, much like inches or pounds. Specifically, they are used to measure energy or heat produced. From a nutritional standpoint, they measure the amount of energy our body will get from consuming a particular food or beverage.

Every cell in the human body requires energy to function. That energy comes from whatever we consume.

Manufacturers determine the number of calories a food or beverage contains based on the amount of energy-supplying nutrients it contains.

The three main energy-supplying nutrients are:

  • protein
  • carbs
  • fats

Protein and carbs each provide about 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram.

Alcohol also supplies 7 calories per gram.

Food manufacturers round to the nearest 1-gram increment.

Calories (uppercase) vs. calories (lowercase)

There are two different ways calories are referred to.

One of these is calories. One calorie is the amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 c or one degree Celsius.

The other is Calories (see, capital C this time), which is essentially 1,000 calories, or the estimated amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

When it comes to food, the term calorie is used interchangeably with Calorie. The word you are most familiar with, whether you knew it or not, is actually Calorie.

Now, in order to avoid confusion, another term is used. That term is kcals, kcalories, or kilocalories!

What are kcalories?

calories versus kcal - what is the difference?
kcal on a plate

Much like grams and kilograms, a kilocalorie refers to 1,000 calories. However, it is typically only used in chemistry or physics environments. When it comes to tracking food or physical activity, you are technically tracking kcals, even though you are seeing and tracking the term calories.

Is kcal the same as cal?

Did you know that “calories” and “kilocalories” (often abbreviated as “kcal”) are not the same thing?

A calorie (lowercase “c”) is a unit of energy that describes the amount of energy necessary to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

A kilocalorie (uppercase “C”), meanwhile, is equal to 1,000 calories and represents significantly more energy.

Food Energy/Nutrition

In nutrition, the term “calorie” generally refers to a kilocalorie (or 1,000 calories), and the energy content of food products is usually expressed in kilocalories. Fascinating, right?

Food labels will show how many Calories are in one serving of the product. In other words, the amount of food energy you will get from that serving. For exercise, the number of Calories burned refers to kilocalories as well. However, it was the amount of energy required to maintain your body’s movement and functions.

So, when it comes to food tracking, I think it is safe to say they are the same. However, if you are working in a scientific setting, you will definitely want to differentiate between calories versus kcal!

How Does kcalories vs. calories Apply for Food Tracking?

hands of a person measuring a man s waistline- does kcalories vs. calories apply for food tracking
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

It really doesn’t in the sense that if you are tracking calorie intake, you are still actually tracking kcalorie intake. The terms are pretty interchangeable when it comes to keeping track of food and drinks.

The only time this could be a health concern is if you were testing the calorie content of your food yourself in a lab. Then you would find yourself very hungry all the time eating only 1/1000th of the calories you thought you were!

If you aren’t sure how many calories you should be consuming to reach your health goals, check out this tool: Calorie Calculator: Find Your Caloric Needs

Looking for ways to save on healthy food? Check out this Guide!

Conclusion: kcalories vs. calories

Calories are a measure of energy in nutrition and exercise.

Calories and kcal are used interchangeably and refer to the same amount of energy.

The measurement of kcalories vs. calories will most likely not affect you at all if you are just tracking food intake. It is kind of cool information to know, though.

There are a few exceptions, as some places measure their nutrition labels with kcals or kJ (kilojoules). If you are wanting to convert a nutrition label, here is some help!

1 calorie is equal to 1 kcal IF converting nutrition labels.

1 calorie is equal to 4.18 kJ.

I hope you found this article helpful in answering any questions you had regarding kcalories vs. calories! Feel free to post additional questions in the comments below.


Are Calories and Kcals the same?

For food tracking purposes – Yes. Otherwise, no.

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