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U.S. Food and Drug Administration

 FDA Consumer, May 1993

'Daily Values' Encourage Healthy Diet
Table of Contents

by Paula Kurtzweil

If you haven't added "DV" to your vocabulary yet, you probably will before long.

It stands for Daily Value, a new dietary reference value to help consumers use food label information to plan a healthy overall diet.

DVs actually comprise two sets of reference values for nutrients: Daily Reference Values, or DRVs, and Reference Daily Intakes, or RDIs. But these two sets are "behind the scenes" in food labeling; only the Daily Value term will appear on the label to make label reading less confusing.

In fact, said Christine Lewis, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and director of the division of technical evaluation in FDA's Office of Food Labeling, the Daily Value term is the only one of the terms that will be used in the government's food labeling education campaign. "The DV term is the one we expect consumers and professionals to use," she said.

FDA-regulated products must begin using the Daily Value as the basis for declaring nutrient content by May 8, 1994. U.S. Department of Agriculture-regulated products--meat and poultry--have until July 6, 1994.

The move to Daily Values is due in large part to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. Among other things, the law requires nutrition label information to be conveyed in a way that enables the public to observe and comprehend the information readily and to understand its relative significance in the context of a total daily diet.

According to Lewis, the DV does that in two ways: First, it serves as a basis for declaring on the label the percent of the Daily Value for each nutrient that a serving of the food provides.

For example, the Daily Value for fat, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, is 65 grams (g). A food that has 13 g of fat per serving would state on the label that the "percent Daily Value" for fat is 20 percent.

Second, it provides a basis for thresholds that define descriptive words for nutrient content, called descriptors, such as "high fiber" and "low fat." For example, the descriptor "high fiber" can be used if a serving of food provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for fiber--that is, 5 g or more.

What it is not intended to do is tell people what amounts of nutrients they should eat every day.

"They're not recommended intakes," Lewis said. "They're really just reference points to help people get some kind of perspective on what their overall daily dietary needs should be."

New References

Although they won't show up on the label, DRVs and RDIs have an important regulatory role. They serve as the basis for calculating percent Daily Values.

DRVs are for nutrients for which no set of standards previously existed, such as fat and cholesterol. RDIs, on the other hand, replace the term "U.S. RDAs" (Recommended Daily Allowances), which were introduced in 1973 as a reference value for vitamins, minerals and protein in voluntary nutrition labeling. Despite the name change, the actual values (except the value for protein) will remain the same--at least for the time being. FDA will consider revising these values in the near future.

U.S. RDAs should not be confused with RDAs. The latter are short for Recommended Dietary Allowances, which are set by the National Academy of Sciences. FDA used the RDAs as the basis for setting U.S. RDAs (now called RDIs).

The confusion caused by the similarity of those terms was one of the reasons for the switch to RDI.

"The comments we received about the proposed name change generally agreed that there was a need to change the terminology," Lewis said. "People reported that it caused problems both in consumer education and with professional communication."


DRVs for the energy-producing nutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and fiber) are based on the number of calories consumed per day. For labeling purposes, 2,000 calories has been established as the reference for calculating percent Daily Values. This level was chosen, in part, because many health experts say it approximates the maintenance calorie requirements of the group most often targeted for weight reduction: postmenopausal women.

Also, unlike the 2,350-calorie reference that FDA used in its proposal, 2,000 calories is a rounded number, which makes it easier for consumers to calculate their individual nutrient needs.

The label will include--at least on larger packages--a footnote on the nutrition panel in which daily values for selected nutrients for both a 2,000- and a 2,500-calorie diet are listed. Manufacturers have the option of listing daily values for other calorie levels, if label space allows and as long as the Daily Values for the other two levels are listed, too.

Whatever the calorie level, DRVs for the energy-producing nutrients are always calculated as follows:

  • fat based on 30 percent of calories
  • saturated fat based on 10 percent of calories
  • carbohydrate based on 60 percent of calories
  • protein based on 10 percent of calories. (The DRV for protein applies only to adults and children over 4. RDIs for protein for special groups have been established.)
  • fiber based on 11.5 g of fiber per 1,000 calories.
Thus, someone who consumes 3,000 calories a day--a teenage boy, for example--would have a recommended intake for fat of 100 g or less per day. [0.30 times 3,000 = 900; 900 (calories) divided by 9 (calories per g of fat) = 100 g]. See the calories table for an illustration of how to apply the nutrition label information to your individual needs.

The DRVs for cholesterol, sodium and potassium, which do not contribute calories, remain the same whatever the calorie level.

Because of the links between certain nutrients and certain diseases, DRVs for some nutrients represent the uppermost limit that is considered desirable. Eating too much fat or cholesterol, for example, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Too much sodium can heighten the risk of high blood pressure in some people.

Therefore, the label will show DVs as follows:

Daily Reference Values (DRVs)*
*Based on 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
  Calories: 2000 2500
Total fat less than 65 g 80 g
  Sat fat less than 20 g 25 g
Cholesterol less than 300 mg 300 mg
Sodium less than 2400 mg 2400 mg
Potassium less than 3500 mg  
Total carbohydrate 300 g 375 g
Dietary fiber 25 g 30 g
Protein** 50 g  
  **DRV for protein does not apply to certain populations; Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for protein has been established for these groups: children 1 to 4 years: 16 g; infants under 1 year: 14 g; pregnant women: 60 g; nursing mothers: 65 g.

RDIs Replace U.S. RDAs

Unlike DRVs, which are a new concept, many consumers may already have a good idea of what the RDIs are. That's because the RDIs (the former U.S. RDAs used by FDA) have been around for almost 20 years as the established estimated values for vitamins, minerals and protein.

Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs)*
Nutrient Amount
Vitamin A 5000 IU
Vitamin C 60 mg
Thiamin 1.5 mg
Riboflavin 1.7 mg
Niacin 20 mg
Calcium 1.0 g
Iron 18 mg
Vitamin D 400 IU
Vitamin E 30 IU
Vitamin B6 2.0 mg
Folic acid 0.4 mg
Vitamin B126 mcg
Phosphorus 1.0 g
Iodine 150 mcg
Magnesium 400 mg
Zinc 15 mg
Copper 2 mg
Biotin 0.3 mg
Pantothenic acid 10 mg
*Based on National Academy of Sciences'
1968 Recommended Dietary Allowances.

The provisions of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act and the Dietary Supplement Act of 1992 require FDA to retain these estimated values for at least another year.

Although consumers will continue to see vitamins and minerals expressed as percentages on the label, these percentages now refer to the Daily Values.

Getting to Know DVs

Like any new concept, DVs may take some getting used to but, through education and practice, FDA and USDA believe it soon will become second nature to many consumers.

"As more and more new labels make their way into the marketplace," Lewis said, "people will gradually become familiar with the DV term and be able to use the information effectively."

"I think consumers are going to find it very helpful," she said.

Paula Kurtzweil is a member of FDA's public affairs staff.







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