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What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance?

Nicole Madison
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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The recommended dietary allowance, also known as RDA, is an estimation of the amount of a particular vitamin or nutrient the average person needs on a daily basis. This estimation is provided by the United States Food and Nutrition Board. The estimation provided for each nutrient is the amount scientists believe the body needs for the overall maintenance of good health. Often, people refer to the recommended dietary allowance as the recommended daily allowance instead.

The recommended dietary allowance isn’t intended to provide estimations of nutrient levels needed to treat disease or cure medical conditions. Instead, it is intended to provide a guideline people can use when consuming nutrients for optimal health. For example, a person may consume the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C in order to protect his overall health.

Some people may consume more of a particular nutrient than the recommended dietary allowance suggests in an effort to treat or prevent particular illnesses. For example, a person may take a high-dose supplement of vitamin C in an effort to develop fewer respiratory illnesses or even to prevent cancer. There have been many research studies that have shown that eating significant amounts of particular nutrients may lower a person's risk of developing a disease or even help to relieve symptoms if a person has been diagnosed with an illness.

The recommended dietary allowance doesn’t take into consideration any health problems or stresses that may increase a person’s requirements for a particular nutrient. For example, an individual with a chronic illness may need more of a particular vitamin. Likewise, an individual who doesn’t get enough sleep or is under emotional strain may need more as well. These and other factors are not a part of the recommended dietary allowance estimation. Instead, the estimation is based on the amounts scientist think most healthy people of a particular age and gender group will need daily.

When an individual notes a recommended dietary allowance of a food or supplement, he should know that the amount listed won’t necessarily meet the needs of every person. A child, for example, may have less need for certain vitamins than an adult or senior citizen does. This is not always the case, however, as children may need more of other nutrients to aid their bodies in growth and development. Likewise, each gender may have a different requirement for the same nutrient. In many cases, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers also have an increased need for certain nutrients.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Oct 18, 2014

The recommended dietary allowance is basically the minimum amount one should be getting. This is what's needed for the body to function well. Our body doesn't rely on every nutrient equally. Some are needed in small amounts, others in larger amounts. So every nutrient's recommended dietary allowance is different.

I always look this up before starting on a vitamin or mineral regimen.

By fify — On Oct 17, 2014

@discographer-- I don't think that's a good idea. Despite what most people think, it is possible to take too much of a vitamin. Any vitamin or mineral in very high doses will be toxic for the body. So unless a doctor prescribes higher doses of a vitamin or mineral due to a specific health condition, then it's a good idea to stay close to the recommended dietary allowance.

For most people on a healthy, balanced diet, there is no need for additional supplements. Of course, there are health conditions that limit the absorption of vitamins in the body. In these cases, it's necessary to supplement. But the doses should be determined after a blood test to find out current levels in the blood first. It's not a good idea to do guesswork.

By discographer — On Oct 17, 2014

Okay, so should we always take more than the recommended dietary allowance for a vitamin?

Right now, I think I'm getting the recommended dietary allowance of most vitamins. But in order to avoid getting sick, do I need to take more? How much more?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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