Q. I’ve seen menus and nutrition labels in Japan touting the number of “kcal” in the food. Is a kcal the same as a calorie? What’s up with that?
A. The abbreviation “kcal” is commonly used in Japan and other countries using the metric system, but it is indeed the same as a “cal” — the dreaded calorie. When American nutrition labels and dietitians use the handy term “calorie,” they’re actually just shortening the word “kilocalorie.” So that one calorie in Pepsi One? It’s 1,000 calories, actually, if you want to get all scientific about it. The marketers, however, would prefer you didn’t. It’s all talking about the same thing, but 1,000 just sounds … fattening.
But a calorie (or kilocalorie, whatever) isn’t such a scary little guy. It’s just the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. For non-science lab purposes, it’s also the amount of energy contained within the chemical bonds of a food. And energy is our friend. It’s just when you have too much of that energy — more calories than your body needs — that the humble calorie turns unfriendly.
Luckily, there are plenty of fun ways to burn off excess calories. Like karaoke! In the late 1990s, a Japanese company incorporated software into karaoke machines that calculates the number of calories a crooner burns by belting out a song. The figures are based on the volume and pitch of singing required for the song, as well as the song’s tempo and duration. A spirited rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way,” for example, should melt away 15.6 kcal, according to the software. The Beatles’ “Let It Be” burns 11.4 kcal. If you really rock out, though, you might shed more calories. But then again, if you require liquid courage to rock out, well, never mind. The average 12-oz. beer contains 153 kcal.
Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E–mail Stacy Chandler at: email@example.com