Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jun 23, 2008 12:31 PM

Is a kcal = to a calorie?

When I buy European food the food charts are in kcals. Are these equal to calories?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yes, though technically a kilocalorie is 1000 calories, the American "calorie" that is listed on nutrition labels is synonymous with the kilocalorie included on European labels.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Laura D.

      not just european stuff either ... when you read more scientific type discussions, Kcal is what the layperson would read as "calorie" here in the US

      1. re: jgg13

        Reminds me of the European "billion" ( = a million millions ) versus US billion ( = a thousand millions ). Is there a pattern here?

        1. re: RicRios

          I don't think this is a Europe vs. US thing so much as US layperson vs. everyone else thing. I'm not positive on this, but I always figured that the "calorie" was first used here in the States because "kilocalorie" would sound too exotic/confusing/scientific/etc. Perhaps I don't have enough faith in our general public but my assumption was this was a "stupid American" kinda thing.

          1. re: jgg13

            Sounds reasonable. Don't want to confuse Americans with the metric system. You'll notice that US labels will read "Calories: ##" while labels using kcals will say "Energy: ##kcals" -- much more precise. Describing calories as "energy" is also more informational. Believe it or not, a lot of people don't really understand what a calorie is (a unit of energy) and somehow think that a calorie is something bad.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Good point on the 'Energy' vs. simply 'Calorie' thing. I suspect this could have been a lot simpler on our feeble minds if we did it the Euro way in the long run, but oh well :)

            2. re: jgg13

              kcal= "calorie" was done to make things easier for US consumers who generally don't know the metric system from a mattress. In science, 1kcal= 1000 cal. In the US grocery store, 1kcal= 1 "calorie"

              I'm not sure what the difference between a European billion and a US billion is ... a billion is 1 x10^9, and a million is 1x10^6... I thought that was the accepted (Systeme Internationale or SI) definition.

              1. re: caliking

                Ah, that's what I thought. Simplification.

                re: Billion - I thought it was a US vs. UK thing, don't know what the rest of the world does. We use one thousand million (10^9) and they use one million million (10^12) but I believe they're transitioning.

                1. re: jgg13

                  Yes, I don't know about calories vs. kcals (except that they're equivalent and, yes, thank you. I do know that calories are a unit of energy!), but the difference in billions, as you rightly point out, is one one of those US/UK oddities.

                  1. re: caliking

                    But the term "Calorie" (for kilocalorie) was in use before modern labeling conventions were designed. According to an article in the Journal of Nutrition

                    "In 1863, the word entered the English language through translation of Ganot's popular French physics text, which defined a Calorie as the heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water from 0 to 1°C. Berthelot distinguished between g- and kg-calories by 1879, and Raymond used the kcal in a discussion of human energy needs in an 1894 medical physiology text. The capitalized Calorie as used to indicate 1 kcal on U.S. food labels derives from Atwater's 1887 article on food energy in Century magazine and Farmers' Bulletin 23 in 1894. Formal recognition began in 1896 when the g-calorie was defined as a secondary unit of energy in the cm-g-s measurement system. The thermal calorie was not fully defined until the 20th century, by which time the nutritional Calorie was embedded in U.S. popular culture and nutritional policy." (see


                    So its not just American ignorance of the metric system; the distinction (and the confusion) has been around for a long time.

          2. The notation I learned in chemistry class was 1 kcal = 1 Cal (with a capital "c") = 1000 calories.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Dianasaur21

              That is correct, and Calories (with a capital "c") are what are listed on food labels.

              1. re: Dianasaur21

                exactly what i was scrolling to check and make sure was posted... the capital C is the distinction.

                1000 calories = 1 kilocalorie = 1 Calorie

                1. re: Emme

                  for anyone who's studied nutritional science, this is one of the first things you learn...and professors screw around with it on exams to try & trip you up :)

              2. They way to remember the distinction between a calorie and a Calorie (kcal) is this fallacy.

                Ice water has a temperature of 0C. Drinking a glass of ice water will result in the water's temperature being raised to body temperature, or about 37C. So for every milliliter of ice water you drink, you're burning one calorie. Consequently, if you drink 2 liters of ice water daily, you'd expect to lose all kinds of weight just from all the work your body's doing to warm the water. Two thousand milliliters raised 37 degrees C means 74,000 burned, right?

                Of course, it doesn't work like that, because of the calorie/Calorie/kcal thing. Nutritionally speaking, you've burned 7.4 calories...less than a single Tic-Tac.

                10 Replies
                1. re: ricepad

                  Yeah, 1 calorie is 4.184 Joules, and a Joule is a tiny unit of energy -- nothing is measured in Joules above the atomic level.

                  1. re: jlafler

                    A joule is MUCH bigger than atomic level energies! The energy required to strip the electron from a Hydrogen atom, for instance, is 13.6 electron volts, about 2 billionths of a billionth of a Joule! It is true that a Joule is fairly small potatoes when it compares to the energies used in everyday toil, or the energies released in a nuclear (not atomic) explosion.

                  2. re: ricepad

                    "Nutritionally speaking, you've burned 7.4 calories...less than a single Tic-Tac."
                    aren't tic-tacs "the one-and-a-half calorie breath mint"? so really, you'd burn off a whopping 4.5 tic-tacs...


                    "nothing is measured in Joules above the atomic level."
                    that's why, on food packages outside of the U.S., energy is listed in kilojoules [kj] instead of joules.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Uh...I guess you're right. So what was the 10-calorie candy...?

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          And jelly belly jellybeans are 1 gram of sugar per bean, for 4 Calories. Or kilocalories.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            THAT'S IT! Lifesavers were touted as only having ten Calories!

                            1. re: ricepad

                              yeah, i have way too much relatively useless information crammed into my brain :)

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                As a co-worker used to tell me, trivia is the last refuge of a squandered intellect.

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Could you tell me how much that is in "Libraries of Congress" units?