I was sitting in on a Sports Nutrition class this morning, and was reminded of how complicated some of the terms and abbreviations used in nutrition recommendations are. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to outline and explain a few terms. I’ll quote the textbook definition, and then try to explain it in even more simple and easy-to-understand words. I hope this helps you to make sense of out of some of the alphabet soup! AI: Adequate Intake.
“The average daily amount of a nutrient that appears sufficient to maintain a specified criterion”.
The AI is basically the same as the RDA, except that a specific value cannot been determined for that particular nutrient. The AI is a very educated guess. Well-known nutrients that have an AI are Vitamins D and K.
AMDR: Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range
This is a reference for the appropriate percentage of daily calories that should come from each of the macronutrient categories (carbohydrate, fat, and protein).
- 45-65% calories from carbohydrate
- 20-35% calories from fat
- 10-35% calories from protein
This amount can vary from person to person. For example, an endurance athlete would want to take in a percentage of calories from carbohydrates towards the upper end of that range, since carbohydrates are the fuel for activity.
DRI: Dietary Reference Intakes
“A set of nutrient intake values for healthy people in the US and Canada. These values are used for planning and assessing diets and include EAR, RDA, AI, and UL.”
So, DRIs is the larger category of references discussed in the rest of this post.
EAR: Estimated Average Requirement
“The average daily amount of a nutrient that will maintain a specific biochemical or physiological function in half the healthy people of a given age and gender group.”
You probably won’t come across this term too much, but it’s simply an estimate of what a typical individual needs. However, since this recommendation is not sufficient for potentially up to half of a population, nutrition guidelines typically use the RDA.
RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowance
“The average daily amount of a nutrient considered adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy people; a goal for dietary intake by individuals.”
In other words, if over the course of time you meet the RDA of the various nutrients, you’re almost certainly consuming enough for your body’s needs. I assume that the average individual is familiar with this term, and would likely equate it with the % Daily Value that is written on the nutrition facts label of the foods that you buy. The Daily Values used on labels are based on a 2000 calorie diet, partially derived from values from the 1968 RDAs. Since 1997, RDAs that reflect newer scientific research have been released, and efforts are being made to update the daily values on food labels.
UL: Tolerable Upper Level
“The maximum daily amount of a nutrient that appears safe for most healthy people and beyond which there is an increased risk of adverse health effects.”
Yes- it’s not a beneficial thing to consume nutrition supplements that claim to contain “300% of your Daily Value!” If they are water soluble, your body will simply excrete the excess vitamins, and if they are fat soluble you could easily approach toxic levels.
To help illustrate some of these points, I’m going to borrow Figure 1-6 from “Understanding Nutrition: 11th Edition” by Whitney and Rolfes.