Nutrients of Concern: Definition & Dietary Guidelines

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we will learn what nutrients have been identified by the USDA to be nutrients of concern. These can either be nutrients that Americans consume too much of or too little of.

Necessary Nutrients

Did you know that sodium is actually required in order for us to survive? If we don't eat any sodium for just a few days we would begin to feel sick and light headed and after several weeks we could end up in a coma and die. So if sodium is so important that even a few days without it would start causing problems, why are we constantly told to beware of our sodium intake?

There are several necessary nutrients that are needed for our body to properly function. Some of these nutrients don't have much effect if we eat too much (for example vitamin C) but for others, too much can be as severe a problem as too little (such as sodium).

The United States Department of Agriculture publishes Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In these guidelines, we are told how much of each nutrient we need to consume each day. It also examines which nutrients we (as Americans) tend to eat too much of and which nutrients we tend to not consume enough of.

Over-consumed Nutrients

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans concluded that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed (on average) by Americans. This overconsumption is based on the upper limit. The upper limit is the most that should be consumed, and when a person's intake is above the limit we begin to see detrimental effects.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium for active people (who sweat out a lot of sodium each day) is 1500 milligrams. The upper limit is set at 2300 milligrams per day. Above this level, we begin to see issues such as high blood pressure. But on average Americans consume 3400 milligrams of sodium each day! This is 1100 milligrams of extra sodium each day!

Since sodium is consumed well above the upper limit, it is considered an overconsumed nutrient and is a nutrient of concern.

Cheese is often high is saturated fat and sodium

The other overconsumed nutrient of concern is saturated fat. Saturated fat is an interesting nutrient because while we do need fat for energy, we don't necessary need to consume any saturated fat. The upper limit for saturated fat is no more than 10 percent of our calories coming from saturated fat. But 60-90% of Americans have more than 10% of their calories coming from saturated fat! Since it is consumed above the upper limit it is also considered an overconsumed nutrient and a nutrient of concern.

Under-consumed Nutrients

The under-consumed nutrients are: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Iron is an additional under-consumed nutrient for adolescent and pre-menopausal women.

For the amount we are supposed to consume each day there are two definitions, Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and the Adequate Intake (AI). The EAR is used when we haven't been able to determine exactly how much we need each day. An estimate is often used because it would be unethical to make someone consume too many of these vitamins in research because lasting damage could occur. So instead it is estimated based on non-controlled observational studies. For a few vitamins, we have been able to determine an actual AI.

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