Dietary Reference Values

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Dietary Reference Values (DRV) is the name of the nutritional requirements systems used by the United Kingdom Department of Health and the European Union's European Food Safety Authority.

In 1991, the United Kingdom Department of Health published the Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom. This records Dietary Reference Values which recommended nutritional intakes for the UK population. The DRVs can be divided into three types:[1][2]

  • RNI - Reference Nutrient Intake (95% of the population's requirement is met)
  • EAR - Estimated Average Requirement (50% of the population's requirement is met)
  • LRNI - Lower Recommended Nutritional Intake (5% of the population's requirement is met)

RNI is not the same as RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) or GDA, although they are often similar.[3]

Current recommendations[edit]

General advice is given for healthy people using the table. The government recommends that healthy people should eat a diet which contains plenty of starch (rice, bread, pasta and potatoes). It also recommends that a person should eat at least 5 fruit or vegetable portions each day. Meat, fish, eggs and other protein-rich foods should be eaten in moderation. Dairy products should also be moderately consumed. Finally, salt, saturated fat and sugar should be eaten least of all.

This advice is summarized in the eatwell guide.[4]

Note that exceptions to these rules include pregnant women and young children. Additionally, those who have little exposure to sunlight may need to take vitamin D supplementation.

Sources of energy[edit]

The Dietary Reference Values below are specified mainly for adults. They define the proportion of a person's total energy intake which should come from different components of food. These include fat and fatty acids, fibre, starch and sugars. Note that these values do not apply to children, and children younger than five with small appetites should not have such restrictions imposed.[5]

Nutrient Population average % of food energy[5]
Saturated Fatty Acid Not more than 11%
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid 6.5%
Monounsaturated Fatty Acid 13%
Trans fats Not more than 2%
Total Fat Not more than 35%
Non-milk extrinsic sugars Not more than 11%
Intrinsic milk sugars and starch 39%
Total Carbohydrate 50%
Fibre as non-starch polysaccharide 18% [not applicable to children under 5]


The guideline salt intake for adults is about 6 grams of salt (approximately one teaspoon). The Food Standards Agency estimate the average salt intake is about 8.6 grams/day [6] (2008). A high salt diet is likely to increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Age Target salt intake (grams per day)[5][4]
0–6 months Less than 1g
7–12 months 1g
1–3 years 2g
4–6 years 3g
7–10 years 5g
11 years+ 6g

Protein, vitamins and minerals[edit]

Recommendations for protein, vitamins and minerals vary by age. Where different intakes for males and females are recommended, the higher value is identified in the table below to ensure that the greatest daily needs of the group is met:

Nutrient 1-3yrs 4-6yrs 7-10yrs 11-14yrs 15-18yrs Adults 19-50 yrs Adults 50+
Protein 15g 20g 28g 42g 55g 55g 53g
Iron 7 mg 6 mg 9 mg 14.8 mg 14.8 mg 14.8 mg 9 mg
Zinc 5 mg 6.5 mg 7 mg 9 mg 9.5 mg 9.5 mg 9.5 mg
Vitamin A (retinol equivalents) 400mcg 400mcg 500mcg 600mcg 700mcg 700mcg 700mcg
Folate 70mcg 100mcg 150mcg 200mcg 200mcg 200mcg 200mcg
Vitamin C 30 mg 30 mg 30 mg 35 mg 40 mg 40 mg 40 mg

Extension to EU level[edit]

In recent times,[when?] Dietary Reference Values are under the interest of the European Food Safety Authority too, which intend to extend them at the EU level. EFSA is the equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA, and acts as watchdog inside the European market in order to establish a common ground on food safety requirements and nutrition as well.

EFSA met in September 2009 with representative of the Member States in order to gain their views on fats, carbohydrates, fibres and water as well as Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. Furthermore EFSA is searching for comments (Open Consultation) by 15 October, in order to validate its assumptions on the need to have:

  • carbohydrates comprising 45%–60% of the overall daily caloric intake
  • fats being comprised among 20%–35% of the overall caloric intake
  • fibre needs: complying with 25 grams/day

EFSA considers that there are not sufficient data to set DRVs for sugars, and not systematic scientific substantiation linking diseases such as stroke or diabetes (DMT1 or DMT2) to an increased intake of sugars (glycemic load/glycemic index). In any case, there is much literature referring to this link, on journals with very high impact factor and statistically robust design and results

Many problems seem nowadays to derive from having integrated EU level DRV:

  • the presence of a previous EFSA opinion on Food Based Dietary Guidelines, aimed at stressing the need of having only country-based guidelines, against the WHO hypothesis. This is due to very different food patterns, for EFSA, inside Europe.
  • the presence of private scheme such as GDA (Guidelines on Daily Amounts), referring on the same subject (calories from nutrient groups) but casting shadow on the effectiveness of DRVs as public authorities' scheme.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dietary Reference Values of Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom (Report on Health & Social Subjects)
  2. ^ Hauber, U; Bruce, A; Neuhäuser-Berthold, M (1997). "A comparison of dietary reference values for energy of different countries". Z Ernahrungswiss. 36: 394–402. PMID 9467239.
  3. ^ "Food labelling and health claims". British Nutrition Foundation. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  4. ^ a b "The Eatwell Guide". Public Health England (part of UK government). Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ Food Standards Agency. "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Food Standards Agency - UK salt intake levels heading in the right direction".
  • Jenkins, DJ; et al. (Jul 2002). "Glycemic index: overview of implications in health and disease". Am J Clin Nutr. 76 (1): 266S–73S.
  • Schulze, MB; et al. (2004). "Glycemic index, glycemic load, and dietary fiber intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women". Am J Clin Nutr. 80: 348–56.
  • Willett, W; Manson, J; Liu, S (2002). "Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes". Am J Clin Nutr. 76: 274S–80S.
  • Liu, S; Willett, WC; Stampfer, MJ; et al. (2000). "A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. women". Am J Clin Nutr. 71: 1455–61.