What are calories?

Our bodies get most of their energy from three groups of nutrients (known as “macronutrients”): carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They are called macronutrients because they are found in large quantities in our food. Unlike other nutrients (trace elements or vitamins, for instance), micronutrients contain energy. Alcohol is also a source of energy. Fiber can supply energy too, but not very much.

What do calories measure?

The calorie count tells you how much energy is contained in a food product. The energy in food is sometimes also measured in units called joules. When people talk about calories or joules in connection with nutrition and diet, they really mean kilocalories (thousands of calories) or kilojoules (thousands of joules). The abbreviation for kilocalories is kcal. For kilojoules it’s kJ. Calories can be converted into joules – and vice versa – as follows:

  • 1 kcal is equal to around 4.2 kJ.
  • 10 kJ is equal to around 2.4 kcal.

Micronutrients, alcohol and fiber provide the body with various amounts of energy:

  • Carbohydrates: 4 kcal per gram (17 kJ per gram)
  • Proteins: 4 kcal per gram (17 kJ per gram)
  • Fats: 9 kcal per gram (38 kJ per gram)
  • Alcohol: 7 kcal per gram (29 kJ per gram)
  • Fiber: 2 kcal per gram (8 kJ per gram)

These are averages. The amount of energy your body can actually use depends on various factors.

What is the difference between total potential energy and physiologically available energy?

Total potential energy is the complete amount of energy found in a food product. Scientists calculate it by burning the product in a lab.

Our bodies “burn” food products too. But they can’t consume all the energy because they need some of it to be able to digest the food. A small part of the total energy also passes straight through as waste. The energy that our bodies can extract from a food product is what is known as the “physiologically available energy.” It is slightly lower than the total potential energy.

The exact amount depends on the structure and composition of the food product, how it was prepared and the person’s gut flora. It varies from person to person and is linked to eating habits.

How many calories are there in food products?

Calorie charts can help you get an idea of the energy food products supply. But the information isn’t 100% accurate – partly because food products aren’t always the same. For instance, the nutrient content in fruit and vegetables can differ depending on variety, weather, soil and ripeness.

The figures in the following tables are rounded averages.

Fats, oils

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams
Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Butter 740 20 g 150
Low-fat margarine 360 20 g 70
Margarine 710 20 g 140
Reduced-fat margarine, 65% fat 580 20 g
Mayonnaise 745 25 g
Oils, e.g. Rapeseed (canola) oil, olive oil 880 1 tablespoon (12 g) 105

Bread, breakfast products

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Cereal flakes 355 50 g 180
Rye bread 225
45 g (1 slice) 100
Muesli 345 50 g 170
Whole grain bread 200 50 g (1 slice) 100
White bread 240 30 g (1 slice) 70

Lettuce, vegetables, herbs

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Cucumber 10 150 g 20
Cabbage varieties like broccoli, kohlrabi (raw or cooked) 25 150 g 40
Herbs 50 1 g < 1
Carrots (raw or cooked) 30 150 g 50
Bell pepper 20 150 g 30
Lettuce 10 50 g 5
Tomatoes 15 80 g 15
Zucchini 20 150 g 35

Dairy milk/products, cheese

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Cream cheese 340 30 g 100
Yogurt 1.5% fat 50 200 ml (1 pot) 100
Yogurt 3.5 % fat 70 200 ml (1 pot) 140
Dairy milk 1.5% fat 50 200 ml (1 glass) 100
Dairy milk 3.5 % fat 65 200 ml (1 glass) 130
Low-fat quark (curd) cheese (< 10% fat in dry matter) 75 30 g 20
Parmesan cheese 400 30 g 120
Quark (curd) cheese (minimum 20% fat in dry matter) 110 30 g 30
Quark (curd) cheese (minimum) 45 % fat in dry matter) 160 30 g 50
Hard cheese like Gouda, Edam or Tilsit 355 30 g 105
Soft cheese like Camembert 275 30 g 80

Side dishes

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Chicken egg 140 60 g 80
Potatoes, boiled 70 250 g 175
Potatoes, peeled, raw 75 200 g 145
Pasta (without eggs), raw 360 50 g 175
Pasta, boiled 140 200 g 280
Rice, boiled 130 180 g 225
Rice, raw 350 60 g 210

Meat, sausage, fish

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical serving size Kilocalories per serving
Meat 270 150 g 400
Pork/bologna sausage 300 30 g 90
Cod, cooked without fat 70 150 g 100
Boiled ham 120 30 g 36
Salmon, cooked 165 150 g 245
Liver pâté, fine 335 30 g 100
Salami 375 30 g 115
Dry-cured ham 300 30 g 90
Sausage 370 30 g 110

Fruits and nuts

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical portion size Kilocalories per serving
Berries like strawberries 30 125 g 40
Nuts 575 60 g 345
Raw fruit like apples or cherries 60 125 g
Grapes 70 125 g 90

Candy, cookies, pastries

Food product Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical portion size Kilocalories per serving
Butter cookie 435 20 g (4 cookies) 85
Gummy bears 360 15 g 50
Potato chips 555 25 g 140
Fruit pie 230 150 g 350
Shortbread cookies 490 50 g 250
(Milk) chocolate 535 20 g (1 bar) 110
Streusel cake (yeast-based cake topped with crumble)
380 100 g 380
Cake 280 150 g 330

Soft drinks and alcohol

Drink Kilocalories per 100 grams Typical portion size Kilocalories per serving
Apple juice 55 200 ml (1 glass) 115
Apple spritzer 35 200 ml (1 glass) 65
Beer 42 330 ml (1 larger "pilsner" glass) 140
Cola 45 200 ml (1 glass) 95
Coffee (no milk or sugar) 2 150 ml (1 coffee cup) 3
Latte macchiato 45 250 ml (large cup) 110
Orange juice 45 200 ml (1 glass) 85
Orange spritzer 25 200 ml (1 glass) 50
Spirits 230 2 cl (1 small shot glass) 45
Water - - -
Wine 75 125 ml (1 small wine glass)

What information has to be included on food packaging?

In the European Union, the labeling on packaged food has to show the energy per 100 grams or 100 milliliters. Manufacturers have to include information about the fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt contained in the product too.

The label often also says how many calories there are in one serving. If it does, it’s a good idea to check the size of the serving. Sometimes it’s smaller than what you’d normally eat – half a frozen pizza, for example. Or much smaller than the serving shown on the packaging.

But you can get a good feel for how many calories there are in something (a cup of rice, for example) by weighing the servings you eat.

Amtsblatt der Europäischen Union. VERORDNUNG (EU) Nr. 1169/2011 des europäischen Parlments und des europäischen Rates vom 25. Oktober 2011 betreffend die Information der Verbraucher über Lebensmittel. 2011.

Bundesinstitut für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL). Bundeslebensmittelschlüssel. 2022.

Hall KD, Heymsfield SB, Kemnitz JW et al. Energy balance and its components: implications for body weight regulation. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(4): 989-994.

Max Rubner-Institut (MRI). Bombenkalorimetrie und Nährwertkennzeichnung: Wie viel Energie liefern Lebensmittel? 2022.

Pschyrembel Online. 2022.

Verbraucherzentrale. Ermittlung der Nährwerte (Portal Lebensmittelklarheit). 2019.

Verbraucherzentrale. Wie wird der Energiegehalt von Lebensmitteln berechnet? (Portal Lebensmittelklarheit). 2019.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Created on November 22, 2022

Next planned update: 2025


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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