Reference Values Which to Use and When

As mentioned previously, there are two main uses of reference values: to assess diets for adequacy or excess and to plan diets (Figure 1). Although these may seem to be the same, in many ways the best reference values to use in these situations may be quite different from each other on a quantitative basis. In addition, each of these major functions is frequently applied in two different situations: to a group's intake (i.e., the intake of a population or subpopulation) or to an individual's intake.

Using DRIs to plan diets If the goal is to plan a diet or menu for a specific group so that the nutrient intake of all but a small number (e.g., 2 or 3%) in the group will have their needs met, it is not necessary for each person to consume at least the RDA; this actually overstates the need of almost all individuals. It is only necessary that the nutrient be consumed such that the intake of only 2 or 3% would be below the EAR. Thus, the goal would be to have a very low percentage of intakes below the EAR (Figure 4).

On the other hand, if one is planning a diet for the individual, and there is little knowledge about the individual other than his or her gender and age, then one would want to provide what is thought to be adequate for almost everyone in the group, which is the RDA—by definition set at 2 SD above the median or average requirement (EAR)—or the AI.

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