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Profiling Our Nutrient Needs for Better Health

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Having the right set of tools can make all the difference when trying to get something done.

Such was the case when ARS nutrition researchers in Beltsville, MD, combined seven different analytical methods to resolve conflicting information about vitamin D levels needed for a healthy diet.

About a decade ago, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) became concerned about conflicting information regarding vitamin D and decided to update the standard reference values, known as the “Dietary Reference Intakes” (DRIs), which spell out how much vitamin D we need to stay healthy. Vitamin D is often added to milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice, cheeses, and other foods.

Researchers soon discovered that different studies were coming up with different vitamin D levels in the same foods. ARS researchers identified shortcomings in analytical methods used and resolved them by developing an approach that uses several scientific instruments to come up with a more definitive profile of a nutrient—one that includes the nutrient’s molecular structure and shows how readily our bodies will absorb it.

Based on the approach, NAS updated the DRIs for vitamin D, and to this day, the methods developed by ARS are the reason why scientists can say with certainty that the amount of vitamin D in a fortified serving of milk, cheese, or other food product is at a level where it should be.