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The purpose of nutrient recommendations

What are nutrient recommendations, what is their purpose and who are they important for? This article provides key facts on nutrient recommendations.

Nutrient recommendations or standards are a set of nutrient intake values which define the amount of nutrients that need to be consumed to best support health.

Most countries have a set of reference values for each nutrient and together these make up their nutrient recommendations.

Establishing nutrient recommendations – based on the best scientific evidence at the time

These science-based nutrient recommendations are developed by an expert group appointed to review and update their country’s nutrient recommendations.

Research in nutrition is continual. So, the role of this expert group is to review the large amount of research available at the time of the review, to determine requirements for each nutrient and how much is needed in the diet. These recommendations are usually reviewed and updated over time, as the body of research becomes more substantial. This is an ongoing process!

Age and gender groupings

Research shows that everyone is unique and has their own set of requirements for nutrients, based on several factors, such as physical activity level, dietary habits and genetics. Additionally, nutrient requirements change as we progress across the life stages and can vary between genders. To accommodate this, nutrient recommendations are usually clustered across different age and gender groupings.

Target audience

Nutrient recommendations apply to healthy people and may not be appropriate for those with special nutritional requirements – such as pre-term infants, people with conditions or diseases, or specific genetic profiles that may alter their requirements.

What is the purpose and who uses nutrient recommendations?

Nutrient recommendations or reference values have many purposes. They provide a tool which can be used by nutrition and health professionals to assess the nutritional quality of diets of healthy individuals and groups of people, as well as create diets and guidelines. Food industry and researchers also use nutrient recommendations in relation to dietary modelling and/or food labelling requirements. These are useful to food legislators and policy makers and all others interested in food, nutrition, and health!

Fast facts on nutrient recommendations (nutrient reference or intake values)

  • Provide a set of nutrient intake values
  • Generally, provide a set of reference values for each nutrient
  • Define the amount of nutrients that need to be consumed to best support health.
  • Are expressed on a per day basis, but should apply to intakes assessed over a period of about 3 to 4 days (some variations on this fact between countries)
  • Used to plan and assess diets of healthy people
  • Are translated into more user-friendly food and lifestyle patterns for the community.

Most countries have at least 2 categories of nutrient reference values. Generally, nutrient recommendations can be categorised as those which address:

1. Adequate physiological function and prevention of deficiency disease.

These promote optimal physiological function, prevent nutrient deficiencies and adverse reactions (due to exceeding an upper intake level).

2. The issue of minimising the risk of non-communicable disease (diet-related chronic disease)

These aim to optimise health and wellbeing and decrease risk of diet-related chronic disease (or non-communicable diseases), such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

What are the nutrient recommendations in your country? Do they differ from anything explained here? If so, why do you think these differences exist?
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