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Is a kcal = to a calorie?

twodales Jun 23, 2008 12:31 PM

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


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  1. l
    Laura D. RE: twodales Jun 23, 2008 12:34 PM

    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.
      jgg13 RE: Laura D. Jun 23, 2008 12:49 PM

      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
        RicRios RE: jgg13 Jun 23, 2008 01:43 PM

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

        1. re: RicRios
          jgg13 RE: RicRios Jun 23, 2008 02:22 PM

          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
            Ruth Lafler RE: jgg13 Jun 23, 2008 02:28 PM

            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
              jgg13 RE: Ruth Lafler Jun 23, 2008 03:25 PM

              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
              caliking RE: jgg13 Jun 23, 2008 02:34 PM

              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
                jgg13 RE: caliking Jun 23, 2008 03:27 PM

                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
                  Caitlin McGrath RE: jgg13 Jun 23, 2008 04:55 PM

                  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: jgg13
                    RicRios RE: jgg13 Jun 23, 2008 06:05 PM

                    Here's the beef:


                  2. re: caliking
                    jlafler RE: caliking Jun 24, 2008 11:04 AM

                    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 http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/f...


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

          2. d
            Dianasaur21 RE: twodales Jun 23, 2008 05:02 PM

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

            3 Replies
            1. re: Dianasaur21
              dustchick RE: Dianasaur21 Jun 23, 2008 05:46 PM

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

              1. re: Dianasaur21
                Emme RE: Dianasaur21 Jun 24, 2008 12:27 AM

                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
                  goodhealthgourmet RE: Emme Jun 24, 2008 07:16 AM

                  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. r
                ricepad RE: twodales Jun 24, 2008 08:01 AM

                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
                  jlafler RE: ricepad Jun 24, 2008 10:49 AM

                  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
                    DonShirer RE: jlafler Jun 24, 2008 04:06 PM

                    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
                    goodhealthgourmet RE: ricepad Jun 24, 2008 02:35 PM

                    "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
                      ricepad RE: goodhealthgourmet Jun 24, 2008 03:26 PM

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

                      1. re: ricepad
                        goodhealthgourmet RE: ricepad Jun 24, 2008 03:40 PM

                        life savers.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                          jlafler RE: goodhealthgourmet Jun 24, 2008 08:51 PM

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

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                            ricepad RE: goodhealthgourmet Jun 25, 2008 09:07 AM

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

                            1. re: ricepad
                              goodhealthgourmet RE: ricepad Jun 25, 2008 11:46 AM

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

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                ricepad RE: goodhealthgourmet Jun 25, 2008 12:50 PM

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

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet
                          KevinB RE: goodhealthgourmet Jun 24, 2008 09:26 PM

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

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