May 23, 2012 By

By Heather Van Blarcom
General Counsel & Senior Regulatory Specialist for Dietary Supplements

If you’re like me, you don’t particularly like running on empty. However, if the FDA revises the nutritional Daily Values (“DVs”) as they are expected to do later this year, you may be running closer to empty than you think and not even realize it. Now more than ever, you need to know what nutrients you are getting from the foods and supplements you consume.

If you wanted to learn more about the nutrients in a food or dietary supplement, you simply have to turn the product over and scan the percentages of Daily Values listed on the Nutrition Facts or Supplement Facts panel. The DV percentages on a label reflect recommended daily consumption levels established by the FDA, which are based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. They have always been based on the Highest Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) which is the average daily dietary intake of a nutrient that is sufficient to meet the requirements of nearly all healthy persons. Now, if the change is adopted by the FDA, the DVs will be based on the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR), which is the amount of a nutrient that is estimated to meet the requirements of only half of all healthy individuals in the population. Basing Daily Values on EAR’s, instead of RDA’s, will likely confuse the average consumer into believing that the same amount of a given nutrient in a product satisfies a higher percentage of their daily need for that particular nutrient than it actually does. If enacted, a legitimate concern is that only half of the people in this country will be assured they are getting adequate nutrition while the remainder will incorrectly think they are consuming adequate levels of nutrients..

I think almost everyone would agree that DVs need to be updated to reflect current science as the benefits of many nutrients are better understood today than they were when the DVs were established in 1968. However, shouldn’t they at least represent the goal of optimal nutrition for most Americans? Going by the EAR’s, all of the numbers would be pushed down thereby making less healthy foods appear to be more healthy. For example, the FDA allows foods with 10 percent and 20 percent of a DV to be called a “good” and “excellent” source of that nutrient. With lower DVs, less-nutritious foods could now make those claims. The proposed new values would focus merely on preventing nutrient deficiencies rather than focusing on the nutrient optimization necessary to achieve optimal health benefits.

As people are struggling to stay healthy, why set the bar at barely above minimum?

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