Daily Value: What Is It?
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | August 24, 2004

One of the most frequently asked questions at Better Life Unlimited goes something like this:

“I was reading the Nutrition Facts on a food product I want to drink (or eat). It said the food contained 3,000% of the Daily Value for a specific nutrient. What does the Daily Value mean? Would that mean it’s too much of that nutrient?”

This Newsletter will answer those questions.

The Daily Value was designed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help consumers better understand what nutrients are contained in the foods they’re eating. This is especially important for people seeking to lower their risk for heart disease and diabetes; they can easily check to see how much fat or carbohydrate is contained in each serving of food they are eating. While it’s easy to count grams of fat or protein, the purpose of the Daily Value (DV) is less clear.

The DV actually refers to two separate sets of values. The first set focuses on eight specific nutrients that may be in the food. Referring to Figure 1, the nutrients begin with Total Fat and end with Protein. The quantity of each nutrient contained in the food is listed. In addition, a % Daily Value for each nutrient is also given. This is where it gets fuzzy: the percentage of what? It’s the percentage of that nutrient found in that serving for someone on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. Even explained it still sounds confusing. The logical question is “What if I’m eating 1,500 calories or 2,500 calories per day?” Then the % DV would be different, rendering the percentages meaningless for you.

An alternative way of presenting the information can be found in Figure 2. For each nutrient, the actual quantity Per Serving and Per Day can be found--again--based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day. It’s easier to add 25% to a number if you were eating 2,500 calories per day than it is to figure out the percentage of a percentage. (Anyone in Washington reading this?)

The second use of the DV refers to the Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs). These are reference values for 19 vitamins and minerals and are based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). These percentages are found below the line under Protein on the label. Figure 1 includes only four vitamins and minerals because those are the only ones required to be on the label by the U.S. government. The remaining 15 are optional unless a health claim is made for the nutrient or the food is enriched with that nutrient.

The problem is that the values are a percentage rather than the actual amount of the vitamin or mineral. In order to be meaningful, you’d have to know what RDI is. Again, in Figure 2, the Per Serving and Per Day quantities are listed. While that’s a step in the right direction, the DRIs vary by age and gender. However, if a conservative amount were used, it would at least give some basis for quantifying actual amounts, not percentages.

The second part of the question “Is that too much of a vitamin or mineral?” is more complicated. While most nutrients have Upper Limits set by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, some do not. For example, vitamin B12 and the mineral chromium are examples of nutrients that do not have an Upper Limit--there are few if any adverse effects reported with these nutrients at any quantities. In general, water-soluble vitamins (Bs and C) can be higher than the Upper Limits because the amount absorbed is reduced when you eat more of them. For fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, A, and K) and for most minerals, it’s better to be conservative. But keep in mind that the DRIs are usually very conservative and set very low.

Should you avoid foods that exceed the Daily Value? No--but remember they should be part of a diet that includes a variety of foods to balance your nutritional intake. Too much of any single nutrient can present the body with challenges. Variety is the spice of life--that’s the better life way.

Daily Value: What Is It? Daily Value: What Is It?


Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services and the Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Explanation of the Nutrition Facts labeling system
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