Expert Nutrition

Meeting Recommended Dietary Intake's

In this section we will discuss recommended dietary intakes and how we can meet those recommendations to achieve health benefits. Doctors have known for hundreds of years that our diet plays a significant role in the health of an individual. In modern times this is supported by very strong evidence that shows that diet can not only reduce, but also increase the risk of various diseases. For this reason across the world there is a number of governing health bodies which set guidelines to help individuals meet adequate dietary intakes of certain nutrients which are known to provide health benefits (eg fruits and vegetables), as well as toxicity levels set for those that pose a health risk (eg alcohol).

In Australia we make reference to the Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI’s) set by the National Health and Medical Research Council, in American they use the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI’s) set by the Food and Nutrition Board (Institute of Medicine) and in the UK they use values set by the Dept. of Health. Regardless of where you live or what system you use the reference values for recommended dietary intakes are pretty much the same everywhere with only minor discrepancies throughout. So, what is required for us to meet these guidelines? Is our diet alone sufficient? Let’s review what the research has to say.

Is it possible to get adequate nutrition from our diet alone?

Regardless of whether you live in American, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe it doesn’t really matter, the short answer to this is ‘Yes', we can actually obtain 100% of recommended dietary intakes through a healthy diet and by regularly consuming a variety of different food sources. Therefore your goal should always be to eat a healthy diet that helps you meet these guidelines. But before you go making any big assumptions based around this one paragraph, let us now ask another question. Although it is possible to meet recommended dietary intakes through our diet alone, how many of us actually do?

To start with, let’s review the recommended dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables which the National Health and Medical Research Council refers to as “protective foods”. Research has consistently shown that fruit and vegetable consumption is strongly linked to the prevention of chronic disease and to better health. Guidelines suggest that we need to consume 2-4 serves of fruit and 5-8 serves of vegetables everyday in order for us to meet recommended dietary intakes of most nutrients including vitamins, minerals antioxidants and fibre.

Analysis of data from the 2004–05 Australian National Health Survey shows that 85.7% of people aged 18 years or over did not usually consume five serves of vegetables per day, while 46.0% did not consume two serves of fruit. The study concluded that although there are concerns about the over consumption of food in Australia contributing to a rapid increase in overweight and obesity, Australians as a population fall short of meeting basic dietary requirements needed to help prevent numerous diseases. These claims have been supported by The Cancer Council of Australia who suggest 25% of cancers in Australia could have been prevented through better diet (including reducing alcohol consumption) and exercise.

Australians are not alone, a study in American conducted by the USDA surveyed approximately 21,500 people and discovered that only 3 percent of American’s ate a healthy, balanced diet. More concerning was the fact that not 1 single person met the Recommended Daily Allowances for the 10 most important vitamins and minerals regularly.

The good news is that although many people fall short of meeting the recommended dietary intakes for common vitamin and minerals, traditional nutrient deficiency diseases such as scurvy and rickets are now rare. In modern times however they have been replaced with chronic degenerative diseases such cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and macular degeneration, which take can take many years to develop and are all largely influenced by lifestyle factors such as our diet. So although our current diet might be sufficient to prevent traditional nutrient deficiency diseases such as scurvy, it is probably not sufficient for optimal health and to help protect against chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

“Ageing is not a disease. Nor are the so called diseases of ageing - cancer, heart disease, arthritis and senility the inevitable consequences of ageing” - Mark Wahlqvist

It is important to clarify that we are not saying that all individuals are not meeting the recommended guidelines, in fact some individuals do the exact opposite and go to extremes to ensure that they do, but as a population the western world on average does not meet the recommended dietary intake's which are set to be protective of health.

What can we do about it? The first and most important thing to do, is to review your current diet and look for ways to improve it, primarily focusing on increasing the number of plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, cereals, rice etc. while trying to reduce the amount of saturated fats, added sugar, additional salt and alcohol.The Healthy Tips chapter can help you to look at practical ways to improve your diet. You may also wish to consider additional support through the use of nutritional supplements.

In summery, although it is possible to meet the recommended dietary intake of most nutrients through diet alone, reality is, that only a small percentage of people actually do. The majority of the population unfortunately are at risk of poor health due to failing to meet the nutrient requirements that are known to be protective to health.

The next few pages will discuss whether nutritional supplements provide any health benefit and whether they can help us to meet recommended dietary intake's?

1. Australia Institute of Health and Welfare 2006. Australia’s Health 2006 AIHW cat no. AUS 73. Canberra AIHW.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Department of Health and Ageing. Canberra 2006
3. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1997.
4. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington DC, National Academy Press, 1998a.
5. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes. A risk assessment model for establishing upper intake level for nutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998b.
6. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000a.
7. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes. Applications in dietary assessment. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000b.
8. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
9. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.
10. Food and Nutrition Board: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride and sulfate. Panel on the dietary reference intakes for electrolytes and water. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press, 2004.
11. Department of Health. Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients in the United Kingdom. Report of the panel on Dietary Reference Values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. London: HMSO, 1991.
12. National Health and Medical Research Council. Food for Health: Dietary guidelines for Australians, a guide to healthy eating. Dept. of Health and Ageing, Canberra.
13. The Cancer Council, Australia Webpage. Cancer prevention and early detection., sited 1st Feb 2007
14. USDA. Food Consumption Survey. Dept of Agriculture Washington, DC 1982.
15.Wahlqvist, M.L., et al. Australia and New Zealand: Food and Nutrition. 2nd Ed. Allen and Unwin, Sydney; 2002, pp 345.

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