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Table of Contents > Articles > The New and Improved Dietary ...
The New and Improved Dietary Guidelines

Everyone knows about the government's Recommended Daily Allowances of vitamins and minerals, or RDAs. It's impossible not to. They've been around since 1943 and they appear on everything from cereal boxes to soda cans. However, RDAs do not represent the nutrient levels needed to promote optimal health. The National Research Council acknowledged this in 1989 when it published the 10th edition of Recommended Dietary Allowances. In 2000, the RDAs are being closely examined and new recommendations are being made for the first time.

What was wrong with the RDAs?

Well, first a little history. The RDAs were created during World War II. They were developed largely in response to the malnutrition of the men entering the army. President Roosevelt signed an executive order: manufacturers were now required to enrich foods made from wheat, corn, or rice flour with B vitamins and iron. And at the height of World War II, the Recommended Dietary Allowances were published. The goal of the RDAs was to estimate nutritional requirements for preventing basic deficiency diseases. The recommendations were also meant to be applied as general guidelines for groups, not the gold standard for individuals.

Research, led by the American Heart Association in the 1960s, has solidly demonstrated the links between diet and disease. It was already known that deficiency in certain nutrients results in disease. Studies went on to show clearly that increased intake of certain nutrients actually helps to prevent some chronic illnesses. Because of this research and because the RDAs were being used for purposes other than those for which they were created, new recommendations were in order.

What are the new guidelines?

The new guidelines are called Dietary Reference Intakes, or DRIs. They are being developed with individuals in mind. They are also concerned about the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The DRIs are based on several factors. These include the level of a nutrient needed to meet the needs of a healthy individual and the level at which a nutrient will produce harmful side effects. The DRIs also consider the source of the nutrient--for example, often the body is better able to use nutrients supplied in food than by supplements. The new DRIs take age and gender into consideration as well.

Where can I get information on the DRIs?

Only DRIs for certain nutrients are currently available. The Food and Nutrition board has published information on the DRIs for calcium, folic acid, the B vitamins, and related nutrients. Recommendations for antioxidants will be available soon as well. You can receive information from the National Academy Press (call 888-624-8373 or visit their Web site at

The FDA will not require manufacturers to change food and supplement labels to reflect the new levels until DRIs have been established for all nutrients. All DRIs are expected to be determined within 1 to 2 years.

The bottom line

All in all, the new DRIs are much better standards for people wanting to know what is needed for optimal health. However, it's important to note that the DRIs do not consider environmental factors (for example, city smog) or lifestyle choices (such as smoking) that can destroy nutrients. They also do not reflect the nutrient levels that may be helpful in combating serious disease.


Baily LB, Gregory JF. Folate metabolism and requirements. J Nutr. 1999;129(4):779-782.

Challem JJ. Toward a new definition of essential nutrients: is it now time for a third 'vitamin' paradigm? Med Hypotheses. 1999;52(5):417-422.

Lachance PA. International perspective: base, need, and application of recommended dietary allowances. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(4):S2-S4.

National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances. Reprint series 115. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1943.

National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances. 10th ed. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1989.

Rosenberg IH. Nutrient requirements for optimal health: what does that mean? J Nutr. 1994;124(suppl 9):S1777-S1779.

Yates AA, Schlicker SA, Suitor CW. Dietary Reference Intakes: the new basis for recommendations for calcium and related nutrients, B vitamins, and choline. J Amer Diet Assn. 1998;98(6):699-706.

Review Date: April 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

Macular Degeneration
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
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