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Kcal vs. Cal: What’s the Difference?
Nutrition

Kcal vs. Cal: What’s the Difference?

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 24, 2022
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3 min

When looking at the nutrition labels of food and drink items, you’re going to come across different abbreviations for calories. This can cause confusion, so learning the difference between kcal and cal is helpful to ensure your calculations are correct. In this article, you can discover the meaning of the two terms and how they differ from one another.

kcal vs cal
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A calorie is a unit of energy.

Calories measure the amount of energy in a food or drink item. We also use calories to refer to the amount of energy used during exercise. Understanding calories can help you sustain a balanced diet to keep your weight under control and help you maintain good overall health.

Many monitor the number of calories they consume daily and how many they burn. Calorie tracking is a common strategy for weight loss as it helps you create a calorie deficit, whereby you burn more calories than you take in. A calorie deficit is necessary to lose weight.

Keep reading as we discuss the difference between calories and kilocalories.

What Is the Difference Between Kcal and Cal?

The term “calorie” and “kilocalorie” are used interchangeably when discussing the amount of energy in food and beverages. While they both determine the amount of energy, there is a slight difference between them. One kilocalorie is equal to one Calorie (uppercase C). However, if the lower C is used, it changes everything.

Large calories are written as Cal – with a capital C. One large calorie is the same amount of energy as one kilocalorie (kcal). The kilocalorie is known as the food calorie or dietary calorie because it refers to the calories present in food. It estimates the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1°C.

As mentioned previously, the word “cal” refers to small calories, which estimate the energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius (1°C). One kilocalorie is equal to 1,000 small calories. Generally, people only use the term small calorie in the science world.

In the simplest terms, the equation is:

1Cal or 1kcal = 1,000cal

To avoid confusion, you can usually consider calories and kilocalories as the same thing when discussing the nutritional labels of foods. Furthermore, you might come across labels that list the calorie content as kilojoules (kJ). One kilocalorie equals 4.18 kilojoules.

Kcal vs. Cal 

The table below summarizes the key similarities and differences between kcal and cal.

Typekcalcal
Size11,000
EnergyThe heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1°C.The heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C.
Key characteristicsKcal is known as the food calorie and is displayed on food labels.cal (with a lowercase C) is not used on food labels 

Where Are Cal and Kcal Used?

Reading labels can get a little tricky. Nutrition labels in different countries tend to display food calories in different values. You might come across calories (cal), kilocalories (kcal), kilojoules (kJ), or a mix of these terms. All of the terms measure energy content, but the values differ.

Below, you can find the preferred food energy label for the following countries:

The United States and Canada: calories

European Union (EU): kilocalories and kilojoules

Australia and New Zealand: kilocalories and kilojoules

China: kilojoules

Manufacturers are required to add labels on food packages that show the nutritional facts. These food labels list the number of calories per serving or a certain weight in the food item. They also include the micro and macro content, including carbs, fat, protein, and fiber.

The information is crucial as it allows you to understand how healthy a particular food or beverage is before purchase. It helps you keep track of your calories and macros while ensuring you accommodate for other factors, such as food allergies and intolerances.

FAQs

How much is 100kcal in calories?

1 kilocalorie is equal to 1,000 small calories. So, 100 kilocalories are equivalent to 100,000 small calories. On the other hand, 1 kilocalorie is equal to 1 Calorie (the uppercase C represents a large calorie), which makes 100kcal equivalent to 100 calories in the diet and nutrition world.

Is a kcal the same as a calorie?

A kcal, or kilocalorie, is the same as a large calorie, written as Calorie with a capital C. So, 1 Calorie is equivalent to a kcal or 1,000 small calories. When discussing the nutritional value of foods and drinks, we’re talking about kilocalories as they measure food energy.

How many calories should I intake to lose weight?

1 pound of body fat is equal to approximately 3,500 calories. So, to burn 1 pound of fat per week, you would need to make a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. For most healthy adults, consuming 500–750 fewer calories is sufficient to achieve weight loss.

How many calories does the body need to function?

On average, the number of calories per day needed to maintain healthy body weight is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. Keeping this recommendation will allow your body to function properly and prevent weight gain. However, the human body can function on fewer calories if you want to reach a certain weight.

A Word From Our Coach

Checking the nutrition facts of foods when buying groceries is a great way to support weight control. Monitoring caloric intake is especially beneficial for those who want to drop a few pounds or shift stubborn body fat. Achieving a calorie deficit is the key to successful fat loss.

When counting your calories, things can get a little confusing. So, learning the difference between kcal and cal is a good idea to ensure you’re tracking the numbers correctly. You can then focus on burning more calories a day to ensure you reach your daily caloric goals.

Cal and kcal are the same in nutrition and are used interchangeably. In technical terms, however, calories can be split into small and big. One kilocalorie is the same as one Calorie (a large calorie) and 1,000 small calories. Small calories are often used in scientific terms.

Dietary-wise, you could try a low-calorie diet and snack on zero-calorie foods that boost your overall health. You can find your favorite sport to burn the most calories so you can enjoy the activity and get results. Swimming and running are great cardio activities to shave off calories.

Conclusion

Both calories and kilocalories (cal and kcal) measure energy concerning nutrition and exercise. The same goes for kJ, another measurement of calories that uses an alternative value depending on where you live. This is due to food labeling laws in different countries.

Keeping your regular calorie intake in check can help you maintain or alter your body weight.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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