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Dietary reference values

During the course of week 2 we’ve briefly discussed the difference, or the lack thereof, between the nutrient content of some “traditional” foods versus “superfoods”.

To fully understand what impact could have the difference between the two categories, it could be useful to understand what are our daily micronutrients requirements, and where we can find this information.

In many countries, panels of experts and scientists constantly review the scientific literature and carry out experiments to determine the amounts of nutrient required to prevent a deficiency and, therefore, deficiency-related illnesses.
Some institutions that carry out this task are the European Food Security Agency, or the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the US.

These bodies produce Dietary Reference Values (or similar tables, such as the Dietary Reference Intake or Recommended Daily Allowance), with the aim of indicating the amount of individual nutrients needed to remain in good health.
The tables produced by these agencies report separate values for males and females and for different age groups, as the micronutrient requirements are not constant during our life.

What values are computed?

When possible, scientists compute the average requirement (the level of intake that is adequate for half of the people in a group), the population reference intake (the level that is adequate for almost everybody in the population group), the lower threshold intake (the lower limit under which almost everybody will be unable to maintain a good health), as well as the tolerable upper intake for the different groups of the population.

In particular, the tolerable upper intake refers to the maximum amount of a specific nutrient that can be consumed over a period of time.
Exceeding that limit could lead to unpleasant symptoms, such as the reddening of the skin and sunburn-like symptoms caused by an excess of vitamin B3 (the so-called “niacin flush”), but other conditions (such as excessive intake of vitamins A or D) can lead to more severe conditions.
Knowing that more is not necessarily a good thing when we come to micronutrients, you might ask yourself whether some foods particularly rich in a specific nutrient can pose a health risk, and if superfoods are one of them.

In the next video we will seek to give an answer to these questions - should you be interested in finding the dietary reference values for your age and gender, you can follow these links to learn more:
EFSA dietary reference values
USDA dietary reference intake

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This article is from the free online course:

Superfoods: Myths and Truths

EIT Food