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What Does “Percent Daily Value” Actually Mean?

You see nutrition labels everywhere -- from the wrappers of snack bars to supplements like Binto.

You already know what the number of calories, as well as grams of fat, carbs, and protein mean.

But what about those daily value percentages next to certain nutrients? Or recommended dietary allowances? We break down which numbers you actually need to care about -- and why.

RDAs and DVs and AIs -- oh my!

According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance (or RDA) is the average daily intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people -- meaning 97 to 98% of us. (They are also known as dietary reference intakes, or DRI). 

If not enough scientific research is available on a nutrient, AIs (Adequate Intakes) are the best estimate of intakes assumed to be adequate in apparently healthy individuals.These guidelines are established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many foods and supplements also carry “Daily Value” percentages, or % DV, on their labels. This number shows you how much -- or what percentage -- one serving of a food or product contributes to reaching your daily value of a nutrient. These are determined by another governing body, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. Percent DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults.

For example, Binto’s Bare Essentials multivitamin provides 15% of your DV of calcium, which is 15% of your daily goal of calcium. It also contains 125% of your DV of vitamin D, 120% of your DV of vitamin B12, 500% of your DV of biotin (more on why that sounds so high later!), and a whole bunch of other goodness. (Learn more about our ingredients here.)

Daily values can also help you determine whether a product or food is low or high in a specific nutrient. Generally, five percent or less of a nutrient means low, while 20 percent or more of a nutrient is high.

Is More Than 100% Daily Value Too Much?

Unfortunately, there's a catch (there's always a catch). While DVs are based on “healthy adults,” this clearly means something different from person to person.

Traditionally, 100% DV has been based on the "amount required to prevent clinical vitamin and mineral deficiencies in healthy 25-year-old men who are 5'9" and 145 lbs." Obviously, that excludes a whole bunch of other people -- not to mention that the average 25-year-old male Americans now weighs 195!

In other words, when you see a label that lists 100% daily value of Vitamin C, this basically just means that this is the amount of Vitamin C needed to prevent scurvy in most 25-year-old healthy males that are 5'9" and 145 lbs. Not exactly the standard that most of us want to hold to.

That’s why you’ll often see supplements that contain much more than the 100% DV -- such as 400% or 500% of your DV. While that may seem a bit excessive, there are actually benefits when going over the 100% DV.

For many nutrients you actually need to go over the 100% DV in order to raise your blood levels enough for them to have an effect -- especially water-soluble B vitamins. As Nurse Suzie explains, “It’s okay to get more than 100% of your DV for certain vitamins, especially if you’re low in that nutrient."

Still, there are some nutrients to avoid getting too much of, especially the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. (You’ll just pee out the excess of any water-soluble vitamins, like the B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and biotin.) Toxicity issues typically only occur with extremely high doses in otherwise healthy individuals, however.  

Just make sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement, or ask your Binto nurse if you have any questions about your current supplement routine.

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