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Making Sense of the DRI

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

Acronym Key:

DRI = Dietary Reference Intakes

EAR = Estimated Average Requirement

RDA = Recommended Dietary Allowance

AI = Adequate Intake

UL = Tolerable Upper Level

What is the DRI?

The DRI, Dietary Reference Intakes, were meant as the expansion of the original RDA (of the U.S.) and the RNI (of Canada). The DRI incorporates the most recent nutrition science and determines reference values for not only for preventing nutritional deficiency but to also prevent disease via nutritional adequacy. Whereas, the RDA was derived to simply prevent nutrition deficiency. The main focus of the DRI is to prevent nutrient deficiency, prevent disease, optimize health, and avoid nutrient toxicity.

The four categories make up the DRI:

EAR - nutritional amount that is sufficient for 50% of healthy individuals

RDA - nutritional amount that is known to prevent nutrient deficiency in 97-98% of healthy population groups

AI - an approximation of nutritional adequacy and used when RDA cannot be verified.

UL - The highest amount of nutrient intake considered safe. Above the UL has increased risk for toxicity.

Is the DRI intended for everyone?

The DRI’s are not intended for everyone. They are standards created for healthy people. They are not created for the acute or chronically ill or the already nutrient deficient or in conditions with increased need of a nutrient.

How are RDA’s calculated?


If there is no EAR then there is no RDA. This calculation assumes statistically normal distribution. (Remember statistics class?)

The EAR is at the mean of normal distribution, and the RDA is 2 standard deviations beyond that.

With the two added statistical deviations, the RDA is likely more than sufficient for most people.

Hope this helps clarify the DRI! Happy studying!


Institute of Medicine. (2006). Dietary reference intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington DC: National Academies Press.


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