The RDA for a nutrient is a value to be used as a goal for dietary intake by healthy individuals. The RDA is not intended to be used to assess the diets of either individuals or groups or to plan diets for groups.
The Adequate Intake (AI) is set instead of an RDA if sufficient scientific evidence is not available to calculate an EAR. The AI is based on observed or experimentally determined estimates of nutrient intake by a group (or groups) of healthy people. For example, the AI for young infants, for whom human milk is the recommended sole source of food for the first 4 to 6 months, is based on the daily mean nutrient intake supplied by human milk for healthy, full-term infants who are exclusively breastfed. The main intended use of the AI is as a goal for the nutrient intake of individuals. Other uses of AIs will be considered by another expert group.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals in the general population. As intake increases above the UL, the risk of adverse effects increases. The term tolerable intake was chosen to avoid implying a possible beneficial effect. Instead, the term is intended to connote a level of intake that can, with high probability, be tolerated biologically. The UL is not intended to be a recommended level of intake. There is no established benefit for healthy individuals if they consume nutrient intakes above the RDA or AI.
ULs are useful because of the increased interest in and availability of fortified foods and the increased use of dietary supplements. ULs are based on total intake of a nutrient from food, water, and supplements if adverse effects have been associated with total intake. However, if adverse effects have been associated with intake from supplements or food fortificants only, the UL is based on nutrient intake from those sources only, not on total intake. The UL applies to chronic daily use.
For many nutrients, there are insufficient data on which to develop a UL. This does not mean that there is no potential for adverse effects resulting from high intake. When data about adverse effects are extremely limited, extra caution may be warranted.