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Dietary reference values and dietary guidelines

Dietary reference values and dietary guidelines

A balanced diet is one that provides adequate amounts of energy and nutrients for health and well-being. Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) are the complete set of nutrient recommendations and reference values, such as population reference intakes, the average requirement, adequate intake level and the lower threshold intake. They are used for the assessment and planning of diets both at the population and individual level, as well as a basis for reference values in food labelling. DRVs are also used for establishing food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG), which translate nutritional recommendations into messages about foods and diet. FBDG can guide consumers on what to eat and help them make healthy dietary choices.

EU framework

The scientific advice on nutrient intakes is the basis for Community action in the field of nutrition. For example such advice has been used by policy makers for decisions on food labelling. At EU level, the 1992 opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) on the nutrient and energy intakes for the European Community provided reference intakes for energy and certain nutrients. There is now a need for this advice to be reviewed and updated to ensure that the Community action in the area of nutrition is underpinned by the latest available knowledge.

Scientific advice in this field is also available from other sources. Scientific advisory bodies in Member States have provided advice on nutrient intakes. International organisations such as the World Health Organisation have published recommended intakes for certain nutrients and dietary components. Taken together these reports suggest a growing degree of consensus, but there are variations on some issues.

EFSA' s role and activities

In this context, EFSA has been asked by the European Commission to review and update the earlier recommendations for nutrients and energy of the Scientific Committee on Food. Providing the latest scientific advice, EFSA will support EU policy makers in their decision making process in the field of nutrition. In addition, the Commission has also asked EFSA to help public authorities in Member States in translating nutrient based recommendation into practical food-based guidelines.

EFSA expects to deliver the first part of its work related to macronutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates, by 2009. Public consultations are foreseen for energy and proteins in spring 2010. Work on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is due to start in 2010.

All draft opinions on DRVs will be subject to public consultation before their finalisation, in line with EFSA’s policy on openness and transparency.

In order to ensure a consistent approach throughout the work, EFSA has first laid down the general principles for establishing dietary reference values, as well as the life stage, age and sex groups that will be considered in the setting of DRVs for energy and nutrients. Moreover, although not specifically asked by the Commission, the NDA Panel decided to identify dietary reference values of water. Adequate hydratation indeed is considered essential for ensuring nutritional balance.

EFSA has also launched a public consultation to a draft scientific opinion on Food-Based dietary Guidelines. This draft opinion focuses on the scientific process underlying the development of FBDG in the EU and summarises steps for their implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Finally, EFSA has also provided scientific advice on the setting of tolerable upper levels of intakes (UL) for vitamins and minerals. These DRVs represent the highest level of daily intake of a nutrient that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects. The UL set by EFSA will support the European Commission and Member States in the establishment of maximum levels of nutrients authorised in fortified foods and food supplements.

Overview of public consultations related to DRVs:

Opinions Status of the public consultation
General principles for setting DRVs August 2008 – December 2008;
National expert meeting: September 2009
DRVs for water August 2008 – December 2008;
National expert meeting: September 2009
Guidance for food-based dietary guidelines August 2008 – December 2008;
National expert meeting: September 2009
DRVs for carbohydrates and dietary fibre August 2009 – October 2009;
National expert meeting: September 2009
DRVs for fats August 2009 – October 2009;
National expert meeting: September 2009
DRVs for proteins Foreseen in spring 2010
DRVs for energy Foreseen in spring 2010
DRVs for micronutrients Scheduled to start in 2010


Events & Meetings