The US Food and Drug Administration sets a Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for the essential nutrients to help people manage their nutrition.
The RDI is simply how much of each nutrient is needed each day for healthy adults. It is typically measured and listed using one of three different units: milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or international units (IU). The nutrition labels on foods will list the nutrients they contain, as well as the percentage of your RDI for each particular nutrient.
This information is helpful to ensure that you are not consuming too much or too little of any nutrient in a given day.
One way to figure out what vitamins and supplements to take is to look carefully at the nutritional value of all the foods in your diet and see how close you come to the RDI recommended by the FDA for each essential vitamin and mineral.
If you have a diet that’s particularly low or high in certain foods, you could be getting too much or too little of certain nutrients. For example, vitamin B12 is commonly found in non-vegetarian food sources, so if you’re a vegetarian, you may be getting less than the RDI of that vitamin.
If the RDI represents the low end of the amount you need for a particular nutrient, then the UL (“Upper Limit”) represents the high end. It is only advisable to begin taking a supplement if you are confident that you are not presently meeting the RDI and unlikely to exceed the UL.
In some cases, having too much of an essential vitamin or mineral can be as dangerous as having too little. For example, too much potassium can cause diarrhea, vomiting and an irregular heartbeat. This condition can arise from the overuse of potassium supplements, so be careful when considering any dietary supplements and always be mindful of the upper limits for vitamins and minerals.
With some healthy nutrients, the FDA doesn’t issue clear directions on daily intake, but helpful guidance is available. For example, the USDA recommends eating fish or seafood twice a week, which may be difficult for some people.
However, regular consumption of omega-3 fish oil capsules can provide much of the same benefit. There is also a great deal of emerging science supporting the potential benefits of herbal and antioxidant supplements, which have shown results in certain cases.
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