Dietary Reference Intakes

Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) are a set of nutrient reference values. They are used to help people select healthful diets, set national nutrition policy, and establish safe upper limits of intake. DRIs include four sets of nutrient standards: Estimated Average Requirement (EAR), Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), Adequate Intake (AI), and Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). Starting in the mid-1990s, DRIs began to replace RDAs and Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Canadians, which had been the standards for the United States and for Canada, respectively.

Each component of the DRIs has a unique purpose. The EARs are average nutrient requirements for a population group (e.g., females ages 19–30). They are used in nutrition research and to set nutrition policy. RDA values are based on the EARs. RDA values represent a level of nutrient intake that would meet the needs of about 97 percent of people in a particular group.

If there is not enough information to set RDA values, then an AI may be established for that nutrient. The AI is based on information about average intake of the nutrient by a healthy group of people. RDA and AI are both used to plan healthful diets for individuals.

Not only is it important to know how much of a nutrient is needed for good health, it is also critical to know how much of a nutrient is too much. The UL is the highest intake of a nutrient that does not pose a threat to health for most people. Intake higher than the UL can cause adverse health effects, especially over time.

SEE ALSO Dietary Assessment ; Recommended Dietary Allowances ; Nutrients .

Linda Benjamin Bobroff


Insel, Paul; Turner, R. Elaine; and Ross, Don (2001). Nutrition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Sizer, Frances, and Whitney, Eleanor (2000). Nutrition Concepts and Controversies, 8th edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Internet Resource

Food and Nutrition Information Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)." Available from <>

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