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DRI, EAR, RDA, AI, UL: Making Sense of This Alphabet Soup

Devaney, Barbara L. PhD; Barr, Susan I. PhD, RDN

Nutrient Standards

The new Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) are a set of four nutrient-based reference values that replace the former Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) in the United States and Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) in Canada. The DRIs differ from the former RDAs and RNIs in that, in addition to preventing nutritional deficiency, the new reference values also aim to improve the long-term health and well-being of a population by reducing the risk of chronic disease through nutrition.

Nutrients are now assigned either an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) or an Adequate Intake (AI) value for each life stage category. Most nutrients also have a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) to prevent the risk of adverse effects from excessive nutrient intakes.

The new RDAs and AIs will serve as intake goals for the families that you see each day in your practice. The ULs should be used to urge caution in the consumption of nutrient supplements that could lead to excessive nutrient intakes. The EARs will be used by nutrition researchers to assess the nutrient adequacy of groups (identifying specific nutrients that may be lacking), and will provide the basis for nutrition education programs and materials that will help address nutrient deficiencies.

Barbara Devaney, PhD, is an economist and senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, New Jersey. She has worked on numerous evaluations of food and nutrition assistance programs, including the school nutrition programs, the Food Stamp Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Subcommittee on Interpretation and Uses of the Dietary Reference Intakes.

Susan Barr, PhD, RDN, obtained her PhD in Human Nutrition from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. She is Professor and Graduate Advisor in Nutrition at the University of British Columbia, where she teaches and conducts research. She currently chairs the Institute of Medicine’s Subcommittee on Interpretation and Uses of the Dietary Reference Intakes.

Reprinted from Pediatric Basics 97 (2002):2–9. Courtesy of Pediatric Basics, Vol. 97 © 2002 Gerber Products Company.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.