Dietary Reference Intakes
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Dietary Reference Intakes

Food nutrition label Dietary reference intakes (DRIs) are the government's recommendations for the levels of each nutrient that Americans need for good health. The DRIs replace the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) that have been issued every four years by the government since 1941. The new DRIs may seem a bit more complicated than the RDAs, but this guide will help you understand them.

Each nutrient has two values that are of interest to the average person:

  1. Either a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or an adequate intake (AI)
  2. A tolerable upper intake level (UL)

RDAs and AIs tell you the amount of that nutrient you should strive for each day. These values are based on scientific evidence, and the amount of evidence will determine whether an RDA or an AI is given for a specific nutrient.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)—the average daily dietary intake level that meets the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy people in a specific life stage and gender group. The RDA is derived from the estimated average requirement (EAR), which is calculated from scientific evidence.

Adequate Intake (AI)—when there is not enough scientific evidence about a specific nutrient to calculate an EAR (and therefore and RDA), an AI is estimated instead. The AI for children and adults is expected to meet or exceed the nutrient needs of essentially all members of a specific healthy population.

The AI is based on the scientific research available, but it is an indication that more research is needed to determine, with some degree of confidence, the necessary amount of a specific nutrient. When more research is done, it should be possible to replace AI estimates with RDAs.

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)—the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risks of adverse health effects in almost all people in the specified life stage group. The UL is not a recommended level of intake. There is no established benefit for healthy people if they consume a nutrient in amounts above the RDA or AI.

Keep in Mind

These recommendations are for healthy people. People with diseases or conditions that affect their nutrient intake should work with their doctor or a dietitian to determine their specific nutrient needs.


American Dietetic Association

Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), USDA


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


Food and Nutrition Information Center, USDA.

Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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