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Food nutrition label
Dietary reference intake (DRI) is a set of guidelines that the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine created in the 1990s for the United States government. These guidelines incorporate:

  • Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or an adequate intake (AI)
  • Tolerable upper intake level (UL)

RDAs and AIs tell you the amount of that nutrient you should try to get each day. These values are based on scientific evidence. The amount of evidence will determine whether an RDA or an AI is given for a specific nutrient.


RDA is the average daily dietary intake level that meets the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people in a specific life stage and gender group. The RDA is based on the estimated average requirement (EAR), which is calculated from scientific evidence.


When there is not enough scientific evidence about a specific nutrient to calculate an EAR (and therefore an RDA), an AI is estimated instead. The AI for children and adults is expected to meet or exceed the nutrient needs of all members of a specific healthy population.

The AI is based on the scientific research available. But it is an indication that more research is needed to determine, with some degree of confidence, the necessary amount of a specific nutrient. When more research is done, it should be possible to replace AI estimates with RDAs.


UL is the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risks of adverse health effects in almost all people in the specified life stage group. The UL is not a recommended level of intake. There is no established benefit for healthy people if they consume a nutrient in amounts above the RDA or AI.

Keep in Mind

These recommendations are for healthy people. People with diseases or conditions that affect their nutrient intake should work with their doctor or a dietitian to determine their specific nutrient needs.

For more information about DRIs, visit the US Department of Agricultures's Food and Nutrition Education Program.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

US Department of Agriculture


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


Dietary reference intakes. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Updated March 12, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2014.

Smart nutrition 101: commonly asked questions. website. Available at: Updated March 11, 2014. Accessed March 13, 2014.

Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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