What Does “% Daily Value” Mean on a Food or Supplement Label?

What Does “% Daily Value” Mean on a Food or Supplement Label?

After the list of ingredients, the most useful information on the Nutrition Facts panel of foods, beverages, vitamins, and supplements is the % Daily Value. Think of it — does knowing a product contains 150 milligrams of magnesium mean anything to you? Probably not. But knowing that’s 38% of the Daily Value helps you understand you’re getting a significant amount of this nutrient per serving, while you’re still going to need more.

This little tidbit of context makes a world of difference in helping you eat healthy. But why is this number sometimes over 100%? And how can one Daily Value apply to the whole population? These are the types of questions we get regarding the Daily Values on our Health & Wellness products, so today we’d like to answer the question: What does % Daily Value mean?

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The facts box above illustrates how %Daily Value is listed. At the bottom right, you'll see an asterisk noting %DV for a few of these ingredients is not yet established.

What is the % Daily Value and how is it determined?

In a nutshell, the % Daily Value is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food and are based on the Dietary Reference Intake guidelines established by the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The current Dietary Reference Intake recommendation is determined by weighing the following factors:

  • Estimated Average Requirement (EAR)  The amount of a nutrient that is estimated to meet the requirement of half of all healthy individuals in a given group.

  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)  The average daily dietary intake of a nutrient that is sufficient to meet the requirement of nearly all (97-98%) healthy persons. This is the number to be used as a goal for individuals. It is calculated from the EAR.

  • Adequate Intake (AI)  Only established when an EAR (and thus an RDA) cannot be determined because the data are not clear-cut enough; a nutrient has either an RDA or an AI.

  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)  The highest continuing daily intake of a nutrient that is likely to pose no risks of adverse health effects for almost all individuals.

Generally, the Daily Values chosen for nutrient labels are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults  except for when they aren’t. Sometimes — particularly when it comes to critical nutrients  they reflect the needs of a population sub-group that requires more. For example, the RDA for iron is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women. The Daily Value for iron is set at 18 mg to address the needs of women, but it means men could be consuming too much if they’re targeting the general 100% Daily Value.

Confusing, yes? That’s what happens when you attempt to create a one-size-fits-all recommendation when one size doesn’t fit all.

Should you aim for 100% of the Daily Value of all nutrients?

Let’s say the Daily Values are in your favor and you feel they adequately represent your health needs. Then, at first glance, everything is pretty straightforward. If a food only has 50% of a nutrient, you’re going to have to eat two servings or select another source to get 100% of that nutrient. It’s just basic math. Except that it isn’t because all nutrients are not created equal.

Here’s how it breaks down according to Richard Perlmutter, M.S., owner of Abington Nutrition Services LLC, which prepares nutrition labels:

Public health officials have divided the Nutrition Facts nutrients into three categories nutrients to encourage, nutrients to limit, and nutrients without comment. With each, the %DV has a unique significance.

Surprisingly, the Nutrition Facts panel makes no mention of the three categories of nutrients. One must refer to supporting material provided by the federal Food and Drug Administration to learn about these categories and the differing interpretations of 100% DV.

Nutrients to encourage: These are dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and the minerals calcium and iron. There are also others. But unlike these five, they are not required in Nutrition Facts. They are listed on a voluntary basis.

In general, the American public does not get enough of the nutrients to encourage. The 100% Daily Value is more than what most people consume. The 100% Daily Value amount is a goal, an encouragement to increase the intake of each of these nutrients.

Nutrients to limit: These are total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. For these nutrients, the 100% DV is an approximate upper limit of safe consumption. However it is better to have less. Because trans fat has zero nutritional desirability, no %DV is assigned to it.

Nutrients without comment: There are three total carbohydrate, sugars, and protein. The 100% DV is always shown for total carbohydrate and occasionally shown for protein. There is no %DV for sugars.

Within reason, consuming more or less carbohydrate or protein is not regarded as a health concern for most people. With the heightened awareness of obesity, consumption of added sugars in processed foods and beverages is a public health concern. A 100% Daily Value for added sugars — which excludes the natural sugars in fruits, dairy foods, and some vegetables — is being considered for inclusion in Nutrition Facts.

Why are Daily Values sometimes over 100%?

Sometimes you’ll see a nutrient listed that exceeds the established Daily Value and to know exactly why a manufacturer would choose to do that, you’ll have to ask. But oftentimes it’s because nutrition is a controversial science and there’s no unified consensus on what’s best for public health. And recommendations can vary widely between credible institutions and experts. Let’s look at vitamin D as an example:

Since the FDA is the regulatory body that oversees Nutrition Fact labels, manufacturers must abide by FDA established Daily Values regardless if they agree with them or not.

It's interesting to note, too, that many foods naturally have more than 100% of the Daily Value. For example, the RDA for vitamin C for a woman is 75 mg, but just a half cup of raw, sweet red pepper has 95 mg. Consider how much more you'll ingest if you drink a glass of orange juice, eat a spinach salad, and take a supplement. But that kind of diet would be highly encouraged — and this is one reason many nutritionists argue for higher RDAs and Daily Values. They were originally established in order to avoid deficiencies, not to promote optimal health. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, founder and director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, “RDAs do define the levels of nutrients we need to prevent full-blown deficiency diseases. But they don’t reflect the modern scientific understanding of what nutrient levels promote optimal health, not merely the absence of major disease.”

What does all of this mean for you?

 All in all, it means that Daily Values are useful for helping you understand the nutritional level of a specific product. But it’s just the starting point and finding what’s right for you or your child will take a little more due diligence. Lucky for you, we’ve tried to ease that burden a little bit by assembling a renowned team of expert medical advisors to help create the formulas for our Health & Wellness products. We’ve done enormous amounts of research, so you don’t have to. And we turn to the latest science to tailor our formulations so we’re going above and beyond basic recommended daily values. Not simply avoiding deficiencies, but promoting optimal health.

We are on a mission to make nutrition easier than ever! Check out our Health & Wellness products and let us know if you have any questions!

This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.