Understanding how many calories you should be taking in each day (how much you're eating) vs how many calories you’re burning is important to know. When counting calories and studying food labels, you may see the term kilocalories or KCal. This can make it confusing to know if you are calculating calories correctly, so it’s important to know the difference between them.
What Is a KCal?
A KCal is 1,000 calories which is the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram of water by 1-degree celsius.
Calories on food labels are measured in kilocalories. Food labels and weight loss programs use kilocalories or KCals to measure the energy used in food and exercising. These are called Calories and use an uppercase C to represent the large calorie. It’s a simpler way of saying that a food item has 180 Calories (KCal) instead of 180,000 calories.
What Is the Difference Between Cal and KCal?
Now, let's look at the difference between Cal and Kcal. Kilo means one thousand, so kilocalories mean 1,000 calories. Food labels and weight loss programs use kilocalories to calculate food energy consumed and burned daily because calories (with a lowercase ‘c’) are too small to use for these calculations.
Again, when you read Calories on a food label or a weight loss program, they should be indicated by an uppercase ‘C’ because they represent KCals or kilocalories (1,000 calories).
Food labels and weight loss programs would describe calorie amounts in the millions, which would be too difficult to easily calculate and understand daily, especially when counting calories and estimating calories burned for a healthy lifestyle.
Without using the KCal conversion to measure Calories, we would be using astronomical numbers to calculate the energy consumed and burned on a daily basis. These numbers would be in the millions, leaving too much room for errors. What’s more, using numbers in the millions is overwhelming. This is why KCals or kilocalories are used to represent 1,000 calories.
Consuming 2,000 KCals in a day is the same as consuming 2,000,000 calories daily. Using KCals to account for 1,000 calories makes it easier to calculate the number of calories we consume and burn daily so that we aren’t using numbers in the millions for these calculations.
KCals in Relation to Diet and Exercise
KCals are used to determine the caloric intake in diet and exercise. Just as we use KCals to read food labels, we also use KCals to determine how many Calories we need to burn for our weight loss program.
Nothing changes when tracking your diet and exercise by knowing the difference between KCals and calories. For example, 2,000 Calories is the same as 2,000,000 calories because Calories with an uppercase ‘C’ represents 1,000 calories.
It can seem confusing at first because a calorie is a calorie, right?
Unfortunately, when reading food labels and calculating exercise, a calorie is not a calorie. A food label with a Caloric total of 350 is equivalent to 350,000 calories. KCals or Calories simplify calculating a daily Calorie intake at a smaller number than in the millions.
The same applies to exercise programs and physical activity. If you need to burn 500 Calories during your workout, you are really burning 500,000 total calories. It makes it easier to calculate when using KCals or kilocalories because you’re dealing with a small calorie number representing the same total calories.
This means you don’t have to change anything about calculating your daily caloric intake or how many calories you need to burn. If you use Calories to read food labels, then you need to use Calories to calculate your energy expenditure while exercising.
If you use Calories to read a food label and then use calories in your weight loss program, you are using two different units of measurement. Always use the same conversion when reading food labels and calculating the energy you need to burn so that you can achieve your goals.
How Do Calories Get Their Energy?
Fat, protein, and carbohydrates are how calories get their energy. These three nutrients make up the energy within a calorie. The total number of calories represents the total amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates within the food item.
On a food label, the Calories listed are determined by the number of nutrients found within the calories. A food calorie is made up of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Manufacturers round food labels to the nearest 1-gram. This means the actual number of fat, protein, and carbohydrates can be slightly different than the food calorie listed on the food label.
When you read the Calories on a food label, you are actually reading the KCal or kilocalories. If you were reading them as individual calorie content, the number would be multiplied by 1,000. When the C is uppercase, it indicates a large calorie. When the c is lowercase, it indicates a small calorie.
Using KCal or kilocalories makes it much easier to determine your daily calorie intake and how many total Calories you should burn on a weight loss plan according to your energy expenditure.