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. DRVs can be used for instance as a basis for reference values in food labelling and for establishing food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG). FBDG translate nutritional recommendations into messages about foods and diet, and 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 1993 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

EFSA provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive scientific advice to support EU policy makers in their decision making process in the field of nutrition. EFSA’s advice on nutrient intakes provides an important evidence base to underpin nutritional policies, the setting of diet-related public health targets and the development of consumer information and educational programmes on healthy diets.

In theory

EFSA identifies and reviews scientific studies, including reports of national and international authorities, for possible health effects of a specific nutrient.

 
In practice

Health effects of dietary fibre are identified by reviewing scientific studies.

     
EFSA evaluates evidence for relationships between the intake of a nutrient and defined health outcomes.   The evidence for the relationship between dietary fibre intake and bowel function or diet-related diseases is evaluated.
     
Where nutrient-health relationships are established, EFSA provides scientific advice which may be used by policy makers.   A daily intake of 25 g of dietary fibre is set as a Dietary Reference Value because it is adequate for normal bowel function in adults, while consumption above 25 g dietary fibre per day may reduce risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes and may improve weight maintenance.

How is this advice utilised?

Policy makers, such as Member States authorities, may use such scientific advice (also taking into account food and nutrient intakes and health status of their population) when making nutrient intake recommendations (e.g. setting a recommended daily intake of dietary fibre of 25 g for adults) or when establishing food based dietary guidelines (e.g. recommending regular consumption of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals).

EFSA’s work on DRVs

EFSA has been asked by the European Commission to review and update the reference values for nutrient and energy intakes established in 1993 by the Scientific Committee on Food. In doing so EFSA is taking into account new scientific evidence and recent recommendations issued at national and at international level. In addition, the Commission has also asked EFSA to help public authorities in Member States in translating nutrient-based recommendation into practical food-based dietary guidelines.

In order to ensure a consistent approach throughout, EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) laid down general principles for establishing Dietary Reference Values in an opinion published in March 2010. In addition, the Panel also established DRVs for carbohydrates, dietary fibre, fats and water.

Moreover the Panel published a further opinion on food-based dietary guidelines providing advice to policy makers on how to translate nutritional recommendations into messages about foods.

All draft opinions on DRVs, including those published in March 2010, are subject to public consultation with Member States, the scientific community, and other stakeholders before their finalisation. This ensures that EFSA benefits from the widest range of views to finalise the work and provide the most up-to-date, clear and comprehensive advice to EU decision makers.

Besides, 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 Closed. Opinion published in March 2010.
Guidance for food-based dietary guidelines Closed. Opinion published in March 2010.
DRVs for energy, macronutrients and water  
DRVs for water Closed. Opinion published in March 2010.
DRVs for carbohydrates and dietary fibre Closed. Opinion published in March 2010.
DRVs for fats Closed. Opinion published in March 2010.
DRVs for protein Closed. Opinion published in February 2012.
DRVs for energy Closed. Opinion published in January 2013.
DRVs for micronutrients  
DRVs for fluoride Closed. Opinion published in August 2013.
DRVs for molybdenum Closed. Opinion published in August 2013.
DRVs for vitamin C Closed. Opinion published in November 2013.
DRVs for manganese Closed. Opinion published in November 2013.
DRVs for biotin Closed. Opinion published in February 2014.
DRVs for pantothenic acid Closed. Opinion published in February 2014.
DRVs for iodine Closed. Opinion published in May 2014.
DRVs for niacin Closed. Opinion published in July 2014.
DRVs for zinc Closed. Opinion published October 2014.
DRVs for chromium Closed. Opinion published October 2014.
DRVs for selenium Closed. Opinion published October 2014.
DRVs for folate Closed. Opinion published in November 2014.
DRVs for vitamin A Closed. Opinion published in March 2015.
DRVs for calcium Closed. Opinion published in May 2015.
DRVs for vitamin E (as α-tocopherol) Closed. Opinion published in July 2015.
DRVs for vitamin B12 (cobalamin) Closed. Opinion published in July 2015. 
DRVs for phosphorus Closed. Opinion published in July 2015
DRVs for magnesium Closed. Opinion published in July 2015
DRVs for iron Closed. Opinion published in October 2015
DRVs for copper Closed. Opinion published in October 2015.

 

Topics: Completed work

Completed work
E.g., 06/26/2016
E.g., 06/26/2016
24 June 2016
Scientific Opinion
21 March 2016
External Scientific Report
19 November 2015
News: News in brief
21 October 2015
Scientific Opinion
21 October 2015
Scientific Opinion
28 July 2015
News: News in brief
28 July 2015
Scientific Opinion

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What were EFSA’s conclusions on the link between the consumption of sugars and weight gain?

EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) could not establish a correlation between high intake of sugars from solid foods (mainly added sugars) and weight gain.

However, the Panel did find some evidence that high intake of sugars in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as carbonated soft drinks, might contribute to weight gain. The evidence was considered insufficient to set an upper limit for intake of (added) sugars, but the Panel advised in its opinion that public health bodies in Europe may wish to take this into account when they formulate guidelines for healthy diets and when they give advice to consumers (for example, in relation to the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks).

What were EFSA’s conclusions on the link between the consumption of sugars and tooth decay?

Increased risk of dental caries in children is associated with a frequent (more than about four times daily) intake of cariogenic sugars (mainly sucrose, glucose and fructose) rather than with the total amount of dietary sugars. The evidence indicates that frequent consumption of sweets and confectionery products and sugar-containing drinks is associated with a higher risk of caries.

The available data did not allow an upper limit for sugars to be set on the basis of a risk reduction for dental caries. This is because caries development through the consumption of sucrose and other cariogenic carbohydrates does not depend only on the amount of sugars consumed, but also on the frequency of consumption, and it is influenced by oral hygiene, exposure to fluoride, and other factors. However, EFSA’s NDA Panel advised that the evidence on the relationship between frequency of consumption of sugar-containing foods and dental caries should be considered by the national authorities when developing food-based dietary guidelines and other dietary advice to consumers.

Does EFSA have a role in setting public health goals related to diet?

EFSA is a risk assessment body, which is responsible for providing scientific advice to European Union risk managers upon their request (i.e. the European Commission, European Member States and the European Parliament). EFSA is not responsible for food policy matters or public health policy. More specifically, it is not EFSA’s task to make recommendations to consumers.

GENERAL
Science in support of public health
SPECIFIC
EFSA advises on sugars and health
EFSA identifies and reviews scientific studies, including reports of national and international authorities, for possible health effects of a specific nutrient. Health effects of sugars are identified by reviewing scientific studies.

EFSA evaluates evidence for relationships between the intake of a nutrient and defined health outcomes.

The evidence for the relationship between intake of sugars and risk of dental caries and weight gain is evaluated.

Where nutrient-health relationships are established, EFSA provides scientific advice which may be used by policy makers.

Frequent consumption of sugar-containing foods can increase the risk of dental caries.

The scientific evidence is inconsistent to establish a correlation between high intake of sugars from solid foods (mainly added sugars) and weight gain.

There is however some evidence that high intake of sugars in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages might contribute to weight gain.

If EFSA cannot establish public health goals what is the scope of its scientific advice?

Policy makers, such as Member States authorities, may use EFSA’s scientific advice (also taking into account food and nutrient intakes and health status of their population) when making nutrient intake recommendations (e.g. setting a recommended daily intake of dietary fibre), and when establishing food-based dietary guidelines and related consumer information and education on healthy diets at national level (e.g. recommending regular consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain cereals).