When you begin a fitness journey, the term calories will be something you’ll use a lot to track your weight loss progress. Looking at calories indicated in food labels will become a routine before buying any product. But wait, what if some foods are labeled as kcal and not calories? Will you still know how to interpret it?

If you go to another country, you may realize that the nutritional labels useanother term that you’re not used to. Whether it’s tagged kcal or calories, it may not be easy to interpret if you don’t know the difference. So, how do you differentiate these two terms that are sometimes used interchangeably?

What is a calorie?

We’ll start with what you know before getting to what you don’t. The world is getting more conscious of health matters. Thanks to manufacturers today, you can tell how many calories you’ll take from consuming a certain food. This way, it becomes easy to be mindful of what you put in your body. But how do you understand the term calorie?

When you hear a calorie is mentioned regarding food or drinks,it simply refers to a measure of energy. It does not mean the quantityof weight or nutrient density as many would think. Instead, it reflects two things. The food energy you get from food and drinks, and the measure of energy you burn through exercising or Basal Metabolic Rate(while resting).

Calories give the body energy that’ll help you carry out your normal activities. Even so, you must take note of the number of calories you consumeand those you lose in a day. If you fail to do this, you’ll overconsume, and having too many calories will increase your body fat-something you’ll not want.

Technology has made calories-tracking a possible and easy process. You can use calorie counter apps. Such devices will help you record the amount of food energy you take in a day. If you’re in a workout program, you can also use the app to monitor how much you lost in a day.  These provisions will help you compare your calorie intake and the amount you lost.

Kilocalories vs. calories

It’s easy toconfuse kcal and cal. However, there isn’t a big difference between the two. If you’re observant, you’ll realize capital C is used to write Calories. When capital C is used in calories, it’s referring to kcal on product labels. In other words,calories and kilocalories are used to mean the same thing. Calories are found in two sizes; small, denoted as ‘c,’ and the largerversion written “C.’ Small ‘c’ shows how much energy is required to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Large calories mean the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. The concept of 1 kg is 1000 grams is the same one that applies to 1 large Calorie is 1000small calories. To make it simple, kcal or kilocalorie refers to 1 large Calorie or 1000 small calories. So, when a food label is talking about calories in a day, it’s referring to kilocalories even if it may be termed as ‘calories’ without capital C.

What is kilojoule?

While kcal and cals are the most confusing terms, some countries may use kilojoules. European Union and New Zealandare some of the countries that use kilojoules(KJ). At this point, we know kilocalories and calories are the same thing. But when you’re talking about kilojoules, you’ll have to make some conversions. Here is the calculationyou’ll need;

1 calorie=4.18Kj


If you want to convert one calorie/kilocalorie to kilojoules,you’ll multiply the Calorie by 4.18KJ. Keep in mind that kcal and calhave the same unit, so you won’t need to convert them.To change one Kjto kcals, you’ll divide the given measurement by 4.18.

How arejoules used?

As we have seen, one large Calorie equals 1000small calories, and that’s also what happens to kilojoules and joules. 1 kilojoule is 1000 joules. So if a food label is written in joules, but you want to convert to caloric value, you’ll have to change the joules into kilojoules before finally converting to calories. But pleasant news for you. Joules are less likely to be used in food and beverages labels-no need to worry about the long calculation process.

How many calories are found in food?

The amount of kilocalories or calories present in food or beverage depends on the manufacturer and the product’s total energy. Carbs, proteins, and fats are the grand nutrients that you get from food energy. In one gram, you’ll get about 4 calories or 16.7Kj from both proteins and carbs. Fat gives 9 calories or 37.6Kj per gram.

If you ever calculate calories in a product and find different values than those written in the item label, don’t think your calculations are wrong. Manufacturers reach their figures by rounding their figures to the nearest 1 gram. Another reason is that fiber is grouped as carbs, and foods that contain it may have fewer calories thanwhat you estimated. Some fibers are indigestible or wrongly digested and so release fewer or zero calories.

Summarized difference between cal and kcal

energyThe energy required to improve the temperature of one kg of water by 1cThe energy required to improve the temperature of 1 kg of water by 1c
Food caloriesNot identified as a food calorieRecognized as a food calorie
Food labelsNot used on a food packageUsed on food packages and may be termed as Calorie
Metric equivalenceJouleKilojoule


If you’ve been struggling to know the difference between kilocalories and calories, you now know how to differentiate. You don’t have to struggle anymore because kcal and calare the same thing. 1 Kcal is equal to 1000 calories. You don’t need to change one into another. You may only have to perform some calculations if you want to convert to kilojoules. From now on, you’ll never get confused aftercalories and kilocalories are used interchangeably. Are you happy to finally learn the difference between the two?

Marie Salbuvik

Dietician MS, Lund University, Sweden Nutrition plays an important role in human life. Eating habits are one of the factors that affect our health. There is often a misconception among people that nutritionists force a very restrictive diet, but that is not true. In fact, I don't ban any products, but I point out dietary mistakes and help change them by giving tips and new recipes that I've tried myself. I advise my patients not to resist change and to be purposeful. Only with willpower and determination can a good result be achieved in any area of life, including changing eating habits. When I don't work, I love to go climbing. On a Friday evening, you are most likely to find me on my couch, cuddling with my dog and watching some Netflix.