Kcalories vs. Calories: What is the Difference?

cooked foods

If you have been wondering what the difference is between kcalories vs. calories then this article has the answers you are looking for! It will answer what the difference is when talking about units of measurement as well as how kcals vs. cals applies to your food intake!

The short answer? When it comes to tracking food, there isn’t a difference!

However, there is a difference from a scientific standpoint. You can learn more 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.

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, which estimates the amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by one degree Celsius.

The other is Calories (see, uppercase this time) which is essentially 1,000 calories, or the estimated amount of energy that is 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?

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, you are technically tracking kcals, even though you are seeing and tracking the term calories.

Is kcal the same as cal?

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 the two measurements!

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.

The only time this could be a concern is if you were testing 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 goals, check out this tool: Calorie Calculator: Find Your Caloric Needs

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 food labels with kcals or kJ. If you are wanting to convert food labels here is some help!

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

1 calorie is equal to 4.18 kJ.

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

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