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EFSA sets European dietary reference values for nutrient intakes

EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies has established dietary reference values for the intake of carbohydrates, dietary fibre, fats and water. 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. The opinions published today were adopted by the Panel after consultation with Member States, the scientific community, and other stakeholders. The consultation ensures EFSA has benefited 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.

Dietary reference values indicate the amount of an individual nutrient that people need for good health depending on their age and gender. The European Commission asked EFSA to update previous European advice in this area, taking into account new scientific evidence and recent recommendations issued at national and international level. EFSA delivers today its first opinions on dietary reference values (DRVs) for carbohydrates dietary fibre, fats, and water. These will be followed by opinions on DRVs for vitamins and minerals.

The Panel conclusions are summarised below:

  • The intake of total carbohydrates - including carbohydrates from starchy foods such as potatoes and pasta, and from simple carbohydrates such as sugars - should range from 45 to 60% of the total energy intake for both adults and children.
  • For sugars there is good evidence that frequent consumption of foods high in sugars increases the risk of tooth decay. Data also show links between high intakes of sugars in form of sugar sweetened beverages and weight gain. The Panel however found there was insufficient evidence to set an upper limit for sugars. This is because the possible health effects are mainly related to patterns of food consumption – ie the types of foods consumed and how often they are consumed – rather than a relation to the total intake of sugars itself. Evidence regarding patterns of consumption of sugar-containing foods should be considered by policy makers when making nutrition recommendations and developing food-based dietary guidelines at national level.
  • A daily intake of 25 grams of dietary fibre is adequate for normal bowel function in adults. In addition evidence in adults shows there are health benefits associated with higher intakes of dietary fibre (e.g. reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight maintenance).
  • Evidence is still inconclusive on the role of the glycemic index and glycemic load[1] in maintaining weight and preventing diet-related diseases.
  • Intakes of fats should range between 20 to 35% of the total energy intake, with different values given for infants and young children taking into account their specific developmental needs.
  • There is good evidence that higher intakes of saturated fats and trans fats lead to increased blood cholesterol levels which may contribute to development of heart disease. Limiting the intake of saturated and tran fats, with replacement by mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, should be considered by policy makers when making nutrient recommendations and developing food-based dietary guidelines at national level.
  • A daily intake of 250 mg of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids for adults may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • For water a daily intake of 2.0 litres is considered adequate for women and 2.5 litres for men.

The NDA Panel also published two further opinions, one laying down the general principles for establishing dietary reference values, and another providing advice to policy makers on how to translate nutritional recommendations into messages about foods, called food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs). FBDGs can guide consumers on what to eat and help them make healthy dietary choices.

The opinions published were finalised following comments received between 2008 and 2009 during an on line consultation process.

In September 2009, EFSA also organised a special meeting with nutrition experts from Member States to exchange views on the draft opinions.

Notes to editors

Why carry out this work?
Scientific advice on dietary reference values (DRVs) is an important basis for the actions of the European Union in the field of nutrition. They can be used for instance as a basis for reference values in food labelling. They may be also be used for the assessment and planning of diets and when making nutrient recommendations and developing food-based dietary guidelines.

There was a need to review and update the latest European report on nutrient and energy intakes which was prepared by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 1993. In preparing the opinions published, scientists on EFSA’s NDA Panel took into account new evidence available in this field, and recommendations issued by public health bodies in and outside the EU and by international organisations. EFSA is currently preparing advice on protein and energy and will start its work on vitamins and minerals later in 2010.

What are DRVs?
Dietary reference values (DRVs) indicate the amount of an individual nutrient that people need for good health depending on their age and gender. The opinion on principles for deriving and applying dietary reference values provides definitions for the terminology and concepts underlying DRVs.

What are Food-based Dietary Guidelines?
Food-based dietary guidelines are science-based recommendations for healthy eating. They translate nutritional recommendations into messages about foods.

[1] Tools used to measure and rank the rise in blood sugar levels following consumption of foods containing carbohydrates.

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