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What are Dietary Reference Values?

There has been much discussion around the difference (or the lack of) between the nutritional content of some “traditional” foods versus “superfoods”. To fully understand what impact these nutritional differences could have, it may be useful to understand what our daily micronutrients requirements are and where we can find this information.

There has been much discussion around the difference (or the lack of) between the nutritional content of some “traditional” foods versus “superfoods”.

To fully understand what impact these nutritional differences could have, it may be useful to understand what our daily micronutrients requirements are, and where we can find this information.

Dietary Reference Values

In many countries, panels of experts and scientists regularly review the scientific literature and carry out experiments relating to recommended nutrient intakes. This helps to determine the amounts of nutrient required to prevent a deficiency and deficiency-related illnesses. Some examples include the European Food Security Agency and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the US.

These bodies produce Dietary Reference Values (also known 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 change over the course of a lifetime.

How are Dietary Reference Values Calculated?

When possible, scientists calculate 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.

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 try 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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