Understanding the nutrition content of foods can be confusing, as there are many different labels. Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has created daily nutritional requirements called daily values. Daily values are an easy way to figure out if you're obtaining sufficient micronutrients and macronutrients in your daily diet.
Labels for Daily Nutritional Needs
When you're reading about nutrition, you'll often see a variety of terms used to refer to your daily nutritional needs. These terms are issued by multiple bodies, including the Food and Nutrition Board or the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. A few common labels you may have seen on nutritional information include:
- Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)
- DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes)
- Adequate Intake (AI)
- Daily Value (DV)
All of these terms are useful ways to provide you with nutrition facts, but they're not always the same. For instance, RDA and AI can vary based on factors like age and gender. Other labels, like DV, are less complicated.
DVs are what you'll often find on the back food label, listed in percentages (if not, you can also calculate these percentages easily). The DV shows the nutrients in a food, whether it's a frozen pizza or a box of rice. According to the Mayo Clinic, a food is considered low in nutrients if it has 5 percent or less of DVs, and rich in nutrients it has 20 percent or more of DVs.
DVs on Food Labels
- Total fat, as well as specific amounts of saturated fat and trans fat
- Total carbohydrates, as well as specific amounts of fiber and sugars
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Depending on the food, Nutrition Facts labels may also list specific types of fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, specific types of fiber, like soluble and insoluble fiber, and other important vitamins and minerals.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that you get 100 percent of the DV for dietary fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. You should try to minimize your consumption of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.
Daily Nutritional Requirements for Micronutrients
The FDA sets individual daily nutrition requirements for vitamins and minerals, which are classed as micronutrients. All of these micronutrients are important to maintain good health. Certain micronutrients, like vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc are also known for being helpful for your immune system. The DVs for vitamins are:
- 5,000 international units of vitamin A
- 1.5 milligrams of thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 1.7 milligrams of riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 20 milligrams of niacin (vitamin B3)
- 10 milligrams of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- 2 milligrams of vitamin B6
- 300 micrograms of biotin (vitamin B7)
- 400 micrograms of folate (vitamin B9)
- 6 micrograms of vitamin B12
- 60 milligrams of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin D
- 30 international units of vitamin E
- 80 micrograms of vitamin K
The DVs for minerals are:
- 1,000 milligrams of calcium
- 3,400 milligrams of chloride
- 120 micrograms of chromium
- 2 milligrams of copper
- 150 micrograms of iodine
- 18 milligrams of iron
- 400 milligrams of magnesium
- 2 milligrams of manganese
- 75 micrograms of molybdenum
- 1,000 milligrams of phosphorus
- 3,500 milligrams of potassium
- 70 micrograms of selenium
- 2,400 milligrams of sodium
- 15 milligrams of zinc
Many vitamins and minerals are considered essential, which means that your body can't produce them, and you need to obtain them from food or supplements. Consuming enough micronutrients can prevent nutrient deficiencies and resulting diseases, like scurvy.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, you should keep an eye on your consumption of certain micronutrients, like calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin D, as most people don't get enough of these nutrients in their diet.
The only micronutrient you want to regularly limit is sodium. It's easy to consume too much sodium, as it's usually added to foods in the form of salt. You can also find it in cured meats, snacks and processed foods. Eating too many sodium-rich foods can increase your risk of digestive system issues, like gastric cancer.
Daily Nutritional Requirements for Macronutrients
In addition to creating DVs for all the vitamins and minerals people ingest, the FDA has also created DVs for the three essential macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. There are also DVs for specific subtypes of macronutrients. These DVs include:
- Total fat: The DV for total fat consumption is 65 grams per day. Within this amount of total fat are monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fat. The DV for saturated fat is less than 20 grams per day. There's no DV for trans fat, but the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming as little as possible. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which include essential fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are the healthy fats that should make up the majority of your fat consumption.
- Total carbohydrates: The DV for total carbohydrate consumption is 300 grams per day. Within this amount of total carbohydrates are also sugars, sugar alcohols, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Sugars can refer to natural sugars, like in fruit, or added sugars, such as those in candies and desserts. There's no DV for sugars or sugar alcohols, but the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 10 percent or less of your daily calories from added sugars. The DV for dietary fiber, which refers to both soluble and insoluble fiber, is 25 grams.
- Protein: The DV for protein is 50 grams.
Finally, there's also cholesterol. This isn't a macronutrient, but it's usually associated with protein and fat, especially saturated fat. Essentially, cholesterol is associated with animal products. For a long time, the DV for cholesterol was listed as less than 300 milligrams per day. While the FDA's website still lists this information, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed this limitation in 2015. This limitation changed to simply recommend consuming as little as possible while following a healthy diet.
- Food and Drug Administration: Cholesterol
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: New Dietary Guidelines Remove Restriction on Total Fat and Set Limit for Added Sugars but Censor Conclusions of the Scientific Advisory Committee
- Food and Drug Administration: Protein
- Food and Drug Administration: Dietary Fiber
- Food and Drug Administration: Sugar
- Food and Drug Administration: Total Carbohydrates
- Food and Drug Administration: Trans Fat
- Food and Drug Administration: Saturated Fat
- Food and Drug Administration: Total Fat
- Journal of Epidemiology: Salty Food Preference and Intake and Risk of Gastric Cancer: The JACC Study
- Food and Drug Administration: Vitamins and Minerals Chart
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Severe Scurvy: An Underestimated Disease
- Harvard Health Publishing: Micronutrients Have Major Impact on Health: Foods to Boost Your Immune System and Increase Vitamin and Mineral Intake
- Food and Drug Administration: Nutrients
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy Lifestyle: Nutrition and Healthy Eating: What Do the Daily Value Numbers Mean on Food Labels?
- NIH: Dietary Supplement Label Database
- NIH: Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)
- Food and Drug Administration: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns: Key Recommendations: Components of Healthy Eating Patterns