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Nutritional Requirements


Shilpa N Bhupathiraju

, PhD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital;

Frank Hu

, MD, MPH, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2023
Topic Resources

Good nutrition aims to achieve and maintain a desirable body composition and high potential for physical and mental work. Balancing energy intake with energy expenditure is necessary for a desirable body weight. Energy expenditure depends on age, sex, weight (see table ), and metabolic and physical activity. If energy intake exceeds expenditure, weight is gained. If energy intake is less than expenditure, weight is lost.

Daily dietary requirements for essential nutrients also depend on age, sex, weight, and metabolic and physical activity. Every 5 years, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues the dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for protein, energy, and some vitamins and minerals (see also tables , , and ). For vitamins and minerals about which less is known, safe and adequate daily dietary intakes are estimated.

The USDA publishes MyPlate, which helps people develop a healthy eating style and make healthy food choices that suit their individual needs. The recommendations are individualized based on age, sex, and physical activity.


Generally, the recommended intake decreases with aging because physical activity tends to decrease, resulting in less energy expended.

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage

  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural tradition, and budgetary considerations

  • Focus on meeting food-group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits

  • Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages

Adequate fluid intake is also important.

The acceptable macronutrient distribution range for fat is 20 to 35% of total caloric intake, and saturated fatty acids should constitute < 7%. Excess intake of saturated fats contributes to atherosclerosis. Substituting polyunsaturated fatty acids for saturated fats can decrease the risk of atherosclerosis.

Routine use of nutritional supplements is not necessary or beneficial; some supplements can be harmful. For example, excess vitamin A Vitamin A Toxicity Vitamin A toxicity can be acute (usually due to accidental ingestion by children) or chronic. Both types usually cause headache and increased intracranial pressure. Acute toxicity causes nausea... read more can lead to hypervitaminosis A, with headaches, osteoporosis, and rash.


Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
A Mulsin, A-Caro-25, Aquasol A, Dofsol-A
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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