When we read the nutrition facts table for a food, there are sometimes figures which are usually referred to as “%NRV*”, and at the end of the table it is stated that NRV means: “*Nutrient Reference Values”. These figures are given in reference to different vitamins and minerals that are part of the nutrients provided by those foods and are given as a percentage of those Nutrient Reference Values
What do the NRVs on food labels mean?
Today we are going to talk in this article about these terms and similar ones found in nutrition labelling and we are going to try to clarify some doubts about them.
- 1 Definition of NRVs
- 2 What are NRVs for?
- 3 Nutrient Reference Values calculated by different Organisations
- 4 NRV table according to different Organisations
- 5 History of NRVs in the European Union
- 6 Nutrition claims and health claims
- 7 What is Significant Quantity and How Does it Affect the Label?
- 8 Maximum Tolerable Intake Level (UL)
- 9 Sources
Definition of NRVs
The definition of NRVs given by the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius in its “Guidelines for Nutrition Labelling” is:
A set of numerical values that are based on scientific data and are used for the purposes of nutrition labelling and relevant claims”.
What are NRVs for?
These numerical values have been calculated in principle to establish nutrient reference intakes in the general population (people aged over 36 months) for use in nutrition labelling of foods to assist consumers in calculating the relative contribution of different nutrients to total healthy dietary intake and also to enable it to be used as a means of comparing nutrient content between different products.
Nutrient Reference Values calculated by different Organisations
These numerical values, in addition to being calculated by FAO/WHO and being used in many countries, have also been calculated by the scientific agencies of many governments or supranational organisations that have established their own Nutrient Reference Values that already take into account country or region-specific factors affecting nutrient absorption, use or nutrient requirements of that population.
This is the case for example in the European Union or the United States. Similarly, in recent years consideration is being given to establishing separate reference values for the labelling of food for specific segments of the general population (for infants, children aged one to three, pregnant women, etc.).
The Codex Alimentarius1 provides in the aforementioned “Guidelines for Nutrition Labelling”, adopted in 1985 and revised and amended many times, the current one being 2016, a table with the “Nutrient Reference Values – Needs” (NRV-N). These refer to NRVs based on population nutrient levels, to differentiate them from other NRVs also discussed, associated with the risk of reduction of diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NRV-ND). This table of NRV-N reflects these values for a list of vitamins and minerals, as well as for proteins.
In the European Union these Nutrient Reference Values are regulated by Regulation (EU) 1169/20112 on the provision of food information to consumers. Annex XIII of this Regulation lists the “Daily Reference Intakes”, both for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and for energy and various macronutrients (total fat, saturated fatty acids, total carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt).
These Daily Reference Intakes, when referring to vitamins and minerals, the Regulation gives them the name of Nutrient Reference Values or NRVs, probably to follow the terminology used by FAO/WHO in the Codex Alimentarius, but when referring to the Daily Reference Intakes of energy and macronutrients, the Regulation simply calls them Reference Intakes (RIs)
In the United States, the so-called Reference Daily Intake (RDI)4 is used, which is the level of daily intake of a nutrient considered sufficient to meet the requirements of 97-98% of healthy individuals in all US demographics.
The RDI is used to determine the Daily Value (DV) of foods, which is printed on nutrition information labels (as a % of Daily Value, % Daily Value) in the United States and Canada. In 2016 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published new lists of RDI values, which should be used by major manufacturers from July 2018.
NRV table according to different Organisations
The table below shows the differences between the lists of nutrient reference values for vitamins and minerals in the European Union, the United States (the values before the 2016 modification and the current values) and the FAO/WHO.
|Nutrient Reference Values for Labelling||European Union (NRV)||United States (RDI)||FAO/OMS (NRV-N)|
|Old RDI (before 2016)||New RDI (from 2016)|
|Vitamin A (μg RAE o RE)||800||900||900||800|
|Vitamin D (μg)||5||10 (400 IU)||20||5|
|Vitamin E (mg)||12||13,6 (30 IU)||15 (33 IU)||–|
|Vitamin C (mg)||80||60||90||100|
|Vitamin K (μg)||75||80||120||60|
|Thiamine (Vit. B1) (mg)||1,1||1,5||1,2||1,2|
|Riboflavin (Vit. B2) (mg)||1,4||1,7||1,3||1,2|
|Niacin (Vit. B3) (mg EN)||16||20||16||15|
|Vitamin B6 (mg)||1,4||2||1,7||1,3|
|Folate (μg EDF)||200||400||400||400|
|Vitamin B12 (μg)||2,5||6||2,4||2,4|
|Iron (mg)||14||18||18||14 – 22|
|Zinc (mg)||10||15||11||11 – 14|
As you can see, there are differences in the nutrient reference values in many cases
Differences between Labels
In some of them there are important differences as in the case of vitamin D or folates for example (which in Europe seem too low compared to the United States and FAO/WHO), which will have to be taken into account when we read an American or European label.
Another difference in indicating these values is that while in Europe these NRV values should be indicated on Food Supplements per daily dose, in the USA the % Daily Values on Dietary Supplements are indicated by ‘Amount Per Serving’, which is the maximum recommended amount per intake, not the daily dose (which only matches when there is a single daily intake).
For all other foods that are not food supplements, the nutrient reference values are indicated, here in Europe, per 100ml or 100g of food, either liquid or solid, and optionally per portion of product.
History of NRVs in the European Union
Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers sets out the Reference Intakes for adults for energy and certain nutrients in Annex XIII: total fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugars, protein, salt, vitamins and minerals.
These NRVs for vitamins and minerals in Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 are the same values as those in Directive 2008/100/EC5 amending Directive 90/496/EEC6 on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs. But in these Directives these reference values were called “Recommended Daily Amounts” (RDA). As these Directives have been repealed by EU Regulation 1169/2011, the RDA name for the reference values for vitamins and minerals is no longer used; the NRV name of the Regulation should be used.
Directive 2008/100/EC is based on the Dietary Reference Values set by the EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 2003 to amend the RDAs set out in Directive 90/496/EC for some nutrients and to introduce new RDAs for some nutrients not previously available.
As these RDA values are the same as the NRV values in the current Regulation, they have remained unchanged since at least 2003 and are somewhat out of date; it would be advisable to update them from the reference values established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for vitamins and minerals in the last years7.
Nutrition claims and health claims
Another important aspect to consider is the relationship between these NRV values and the nutrition and health claims8,9 that can be made on foods incorporating these vitamins and minerals and which appear on many food product labels.
A “Nutrition Claim” is a claim that states, suggests or implies that a food has specific beneficial nutritional properties, such as: “Source of Vitamin C”, “No Fat” or “No Added Sugar”…
What is a Health Claim?
A “Health Claim” is a claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents, and health, such as: “Vitamin C supports the normal formation of collagen for normal cartilage function” or “Selenium supports normal immune system function”…
When can they be used?
Nutrition and health claims are regulated in the European Union and can only be used in the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs if they are authorised and appear on the Union’s lists of authorised claims.
What is Significant Quantity and How Does it Affect the Label?
In order to make a nutrition declaration such as “Source of: (vitamin or mineral)” or a health claim such as those above, the food must contain at least a “Significant Amount” of that vitamin or mineral.
The definition of “Significant Amount” is also taken from EU Regulation 1169/2011, which states that a value of 15% of the NRVs supplied per 100g or 100ml for products other than beverages and foods consisting of a single portion and a value of 7.5% of the NRVs supplied per 100ml for beverages should be considered as a Significant Amount. Although not stated, in food supplements it is understood that these values of 15% or 7.5% should be achieved per daily dose, which is the way to indicate the amounts and NRVs of vitamins and minerals in those products.
Other nutrition or health claims require the amount of vitamins and minerals to be greater than this “Significant Amount” such as the nutrition claim “High in: (vitamin or mineral)” for which twice the significant amount of those nutrients is required.
Maximum Tolerable Intake Level (UL)
Finally, I would like to talk to you about other values related to vitamins and minerals that I think are important for you to know, such as “Niveles máximos de ingesta tolerable” o “Tolerable Upper Intake level” better known as the UL.
What is the Maximum Tolerable Intake Level?
The UL is the highest level of intake of a nutrient at which it is likely that no adverse health effects will be observed in most individuals in the general population. That is, at values above this UL, adverse health effects may be observed in some individuals, so it is not appropriate to exceed these values.
The adverse health effect used to determine the UL varies from nutrient to nutrient. For example, the adverse effect identified for niacin is redness of the face, or for magnesium salts it is diarrhoea.
How is the UL established?
Not all vitamins and minerals have a UL. In some cases the value has not been established. ULs are set when there is a body of solid scientific data. If the scientific data is limited (i.e. there are insufficient or inconclusive studies), then a UL is not established. Therefore, it is important to understand that if there is no UL for a nutrient it may mean that the nutrient is safe at all levels or that there are not enough studies.
Therefore, beware of megadoses of some vitamins and minerals appearing in some food supplements as they may exceed these UL values and be harmful to health. Excess vitamins can lead to hypervitaminosis which, depending on the vitamin, can manifest itself as liver damage, skin disorders, ulcers or gastrointestinal disorders. Excess minerals can also lead to disorders such as liver damage, kidney stones, hypercalcaemia or diarrhoea.
Although the maximum and minimum values of vitamins and minerals in food supplements have not yet been regulated in the European Union, products marketed with values higher than these UL are often withdrawn from the market by health administrations on the basis of the “Precautionary Principle” to avoid such health risks to consumers from these products and are frequently listed in the alert lists of the European Union Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) 10.
The values of the ULs have been issued in the European Union first by the SCF (2000-2003) and then by EFSA (2004-2005). The ULs were assessed for all 13 vitamins (plus B-carotene) and 20 minerals (including boron, silicon, nickel, vanadium and tin), with or without an assigned UL. These BUs were compiled in 2006 by EFSA. The Vitamin D and Calcium ULs were reviewed again in 201211.
Table UL of Vitamins and Minerals
In this table I attach the values of those UL per day dictated by the EFSA in the European Union (EU) and those determined by the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies of the United States of America (USA)12:
|Minerals||UL (UE) Maximum level/Adult||UL (EUA) Maximum level/Adult (17-70 y.)|
|Boron, Boric acid and borate||10 mg||20 mg|
|Calcium||2500 mg||2500 mg|
|Copper||5 mg||10 mg|
|Fluorides||7 mg||10 mg|
|Magnesium (Separable salts)||250 mg||350 mg|
|Molybdenum||0,6 mg||2 mg|
|Selenium||300 µg||400 µg|
|Iodine||600 µg||1100 µg|
|Zinc||25 mg||40 mg|
|Vitamins||UL (UE) Maximum level/Adult||UL (EUA) Maximum level/Adult (17-70 y.)|
|Folic acid/folate||1 mg||1 mg|
|Niacin||Ac. Nicotinic 10 mg (Does not include E,or L); Nicotinamide 900 mg (Does not include E, or L)||35 mg|
|Vitamin A (Retinol and Retinol Esters)||3000 µg; Postmenopause 1500 µg||3000 µg|
|Vitamin B6||25 mg||100 mg|
|Vitamin C||–||2000 mg|
|Vitamin D||100 µg||100 µg|
|Vitamin E||300 mg||1000 mg|
As you can see, there are also differences in the values calculated for these BU between the United States and the European Union (in general there are higher values of BU in the United States than in the European Union), due to the different calculation methodologies and the different levels of precaution that are to be adopted in each site.
Why are UL’s Values Higher than VRN?
These UL values are normally much higher than the NRV values, as some represent values from which adverse effects can already be obtained and the others are the levels considered as daily reference intakes. However, this is not always the case and in some cases the UL values are even lower than the NRVs, which is very strange, as in the case of magnesium (UL= 250 mg; NRV= 375 mg), or in the case of niacin in its version as nicotinic acid (UL= 10 mg; NRV= 16 mg). But everything has its explanation:
In the case of magnesium, this is because the UL values only refer to magnesium ingested in food supplements (in the form of magnesium salts), as it has been shown that these magnesium salts can have adverse laxative effects on these consumers at levels which have been set at 250 mg/day in Europe.
Organic magnesium, on the other hand, which is ingested directly into foods which contain it naturally, does not produce such adverse effects. Therefore, when we consume magnesium as part of food supplements (which come in the form of magnesium salts) we must be careful not to exceed this daily dose of 250 mg/day, so as not to have these adverse laxative effects. The rest of the reference intake for magnesium should be taken from ordinary foods which naturally contain this mineral.
In the case of niacin this explanation is because this vitamin in the form of nicotinic acid produces an effect of vasodilation and reddening (flushing of the skin) when doses greater than 10 mg/day of this substance are taken and which is not produced when niacin is consumed as nicotinamide. In a food supplement, the list of ingredients on the label must indicate which substance has been used to supply niacin (nicotinic acid, nicotinamide or inositol hexanicotinate) for the manufacture of the food supplement.
And that is all. I hope you have enjoyed this information on NRVs
- El Codex Alimentarius o “Código alimentario” fue establecido por la FAO y la Organización Mundial de la Salud en 1963 para elaborar normas alimentarias internacionales armonizadas, que protegen la salud de los consumidores y fomentan prácticas leales en el comercio de los alimentos
- Reglamento (UE) nº 1169/2011 del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, de 25 de octubre de 2011, sobre la información alimentaria facilitada al consumidor y por el que se modifican los Reglamentos (CE) nº 1924/2006 y (CE) nº 1925/2006 del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, y por el que se derogan la Directiva 87/250/CEE de la Comisión, la Directiva 90/496/CEE del Consejo, la Directiva 1999/10/CE de la Comisión, la Directiva 2000/13/CE del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, las Directivas 2002/67/CE, y 2008/5/CE de la Comisión, y el Reglamento (CE) nº 608/2004 de la Comisión Texto pertinente a efectos del EEE (DO L 304 de 22.11.2011, p. 18/63)
- Directiva 2008/100/CE de la Comisión, de 28 de octubre de 2008, por la que se modifica la Directiva 90/496/CEE del Consejo, relativa al etiquetado sobre propiedades nutritivas de los productos alimenticios, en lo que respecta a las cantidades diarias recomendadas, los factores de conversión de la energía y las definiciones (Texto pertinente a efectos del EEE) (DO L 285 de 29.10.2008, p. 9/12)
- Directiva 90/496/CEE del Consejo, de 24 de septiembre de 1990, relativa al etiquetado sobre propiedades nutritivas de los productos alimenticios (DO L 276 de 6.10.1990, p. 40/44)
- García Gabarra A., Castellà Soley M. y Calleja Fernández A. Ingestas de energía y nutrientes recomendadas en la Unión Europea: 2008-2016. Nutr. Hosp. 2017; 34(2):490-498
- Reglamento (CE) 1924/2006, del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo, de 20 de diciembre de 2006, relativo a las declaraciones nutricionales y de propiedades saludables en los alimentos. DOCE L 12, 18.1.2007 (corrección de errores), pp. 3-18
- Reglamento (UE) nº 432/2012 de la Comisión, de 16 de mayo de 2012 , por el que se establece una lista de declaraciones autorizadas de propiedades saludables de los alimentos distintas de las relativas a la reducción del riesgo de enfermedad y al desarrollo y la salud de los niños Texto pertinente a efectos del EEE (DO L 136 de 25.5.2012, p. 1/40)