'Kilocalories' vs 'Calories': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on October 10, 2023

Are you here looking for an explanation of the difference between 'kilocalories' vs. 'calories?' This guide will help!

Are you in a hurry?

Here is a quick overview: 

  • 'Calories' on food labels are given in 1,000 calorie units because a calorie is too small a measurement to apply to nutrition and exercise. 
  • 'Kilocalories' are a measurement of 1,000 calories. 
  • On nutritional labels, 'calories' and 'kilocalories' are used interchangeably, and they basically mean the same thing. 

There is much more to learn about these terms and how to use them correctly. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'Kilocalories' vs. 'Calories?'

  • 'Calories' are measurements of how much energy or heat a food produces when your body oxidizes it. On nutritional labels, 'calories' are given as large calories, which equals 1,000 small calories.
  • Therefore, 'kilocalories' are equal to large calories, and all figures on nutritional labels are given in large calories with the abbreviation Cal. When calories are given in small calories, the cal abbreviation is used.

So, one Cal is equal to one kcal, and one kcal is equal to 1,000 cal. 

However, if you are counting calories, you do not need to convert Cal into kcal because they are the same thing.

Definition of 'Kilocalories': What Does 'Kilocalories' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'kilocalories' is a noun that means:

  • A measurement equal to 1,000 small calories
  • A figure equal to one large calorie

Definition of 'Calories': What Does 'Calories' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'calories' as a noun that means:

  • A small calorie, abbreviated cal, which is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere or around 4.19 joules.
  • A large calorie, abbreviated by Cal, equals the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water. One degree Celsius equals 3.968 Btu, 1,000 calories, or 1 kilocalorie.
  • A figure equivalent to a large calorie that indicates the energy or heat-producing value in food when it is oxidized in the body.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Kilocalories' vs. 'Calories'

Pronunciation is often overlooked. However, it is essential to learn the correct way to say words whether you are an English language learner or a native speaker trying to improve your written and verbal communication skills.

So, here is a guide you can reference for pronouncing 'kilocalories' vs. 'calories.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'kilocalories':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'calories':


When and How to Use 'Calories' vs. 'Kilocalories'

You learned the definitions of calories vs. kilocalories, and you know that on nutritional labels, a Cal is equivalent to a kcal. So, when and how do you use these terms?

Here are some tips:

  • Use 'calories' to indicate the energy created by food when you exercise.

For example, you could say:

When you are training for a marathon, you should increase your calorie intake by 1,000 Cal. 

  • Use 'kilocalories' in place of large calories or Cals. 

So, you could say:

You should intake at least 300 to 400 kilocalories if you eat less than two to four hours before working out. 

  • Use 'calories' when a label lists Cals. 

As an example, I might ask:

Can you tell me how many calories are in that soup? 

  • Use 'kilocalories' if a label uses kcal.

For example, you can say:

I don't think you should eat any more of that cake. The label says it contains 500 kilocalories per serving, and you've already had three servings.

Sample Sentences Using 'Kilocalories' vs. 'Calories'

Here are some sample sentences using 'kilocalories' vs. 'calories.' Reading them will teach you more about these words and help you remember the meaning of each term.


  • If you want to gain weight, you need to consume more calories.
  • Most women should eat a 2,000-calorie diet, and most men should eat a 2,500-calorie diet.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, you either need to increase your physical activity or reduce the calories you eat.
  • Calories show the energy produced when your body breaks down food.
  • If you are watching your calories, you should replace foods high in calories with low-calorie foods, like apples, oats, Greek yogurt, berries, and eggs.


  • Most people never need to use kilocalories.
  • The abbreviation of kilocalories is kcal. 
  • Pregnant women should increase their caloric intake by 400 to 600 kilocalories per day in the second and third trimesters respectively.
  • Do you know how to convert that into kilocalories?
  • There are more kilocalories in goose meat than chicken or turkey.


  • Nutritional labels always list large calories, so you do not have to worry about converting them into kilocalories.
  • One large calorie is equal to one kilocalorie.
  • Nutrition labels utilize kilocalories because it simplifies the process of counting calories.
  • The lesson on converting calories to kilocalories was simple because they are equal.
  • It would be confusing if labels replaced kilocalories with scientific calories because a 300 kilocalorie or Cal meal equals 300,000 cals or scientific calories. 

Recap: 'Kilocalories' vs. 'Calories'

You learned a lot in this guide. So, let's do a quick recap of what you learned about the difference between 'calories' vs. 'kilocalories':

  • 'Calories' are usually shown in 'kilocalories' on labels as indicated by the capital C next to the 'calories' figure on the label. 
  • 'Kilocalories' is a unit of 1,000 'calories.' 
  • You do not need to convert 'calories' on a nutritional label into 'kilocalories' because calories on a label are equivalent to 'kilocalories.' 

It is easy to see why people have a hard time remembering what these terms mean. So, remember that if you ever need a reminder of what 'calories' and 'kilocalories' mean, you can always return to this page to do a quick review of this lesson.

You can also learn about hundreds of other terms like these in the confusing words section here. Each guide contains a brief and detailed explanation of the difference between the words it covers, plus definitions, pronunciations, and usage tips.

So, whether you are an aspiring writer or someone learning English as a new language, they can help you expand your vocabulary and improve your grammar and writing skills.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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