The general term “nutritional reference” brings together a set of of dietary nutrient intake values which vary according to age and sex but also according to the level of physical activity, physiological state (such as pregnancy) or even eating habits.
Define food consumption benchmarks ”
These measures are very useful because they are intended to become the benchmarks for professionals in the nutrition and health sector. In particular, specialists in nutrition and dietetics, to develop a varied and balanced diet therefore covering the needs of different population groups (infants, children, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, seniors) as part of individualized preventive dietary monitoring or therapeutic support.
“These nutritional references can also be used for public health purposes by the health authorities, in particular to estimate the proportion of individuals who do not consume enough (insufficient) or too many vitamins or minerals or to define benchmarks for food consumption ”, explains ANSES, responsible for updating them. However, its latest update led it to alert on the importance of two vitamins that the public is more likely to have a deficiency: vitamin D and vitamin B9. Its report specifies that in 2019, more than 70% of French adults still had an insufficient intake of vitamin D, or even a deficiency in 6.5% of cases.
UV and diet to cover vitamin D needs
However, a deficiency in vitamin D leads to a decrease bone mineral density and predisposes the elderly, especially postmenopausal women, to osteoporosis which may put them at an increased risk of fracture. “Given the great variability of the need for vitamin D depending on the individual (in particular because of the age and the color of the skin), the time spent outdoors and the latitude of the place of life, a an individualized approach to covering the need should be favored. », Specifies ANSES. According to her, various management measures could be considered: an enrichment of foodstuffs with vitamin D piloted by the public authorities or even a personalized supplement through the health care system.
But the Agency recalls that the coverage of vitamin D requirements can be assured in the first place by exposure to the sun. Indeed, exposure to the sun for 15 to 20 minutes in the late morning or in the afternoon allows the body to have a sufficient daily intake of vitamin D. The reason is simple: in humans, vitamin D is also synthesized endogenously by the deep cells of the epidermis under the direct action ultraviolet radiation (UV-B). But this synthesis depends on many factors, in particular the latitude of the place of life, the season (summer VS winter), the age, the pigmentation of the skin, the clothes worn and the use of sunscreen.
That is why the consumption offoods rich in vitamin D as fatty fish (herring, sardines, salmon, mackerel), mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and morels), dairy products enriched with vitamin D, egg yolk, dark chocolate, butter and margarines is recommended.
Sufficient vitamin B9 intake not just for pregnant women
With regard to vitamin B9 (another name for the‘folic acid), the main health issue is the prevention of neural tube closure abnormalities, birth defects that occur during the first month after conception. This is an incomplete development of the spine (spina bifida) more or less severe, or even an absence of cranial vault (anencephaly).
A folic acid supplementation during the preconception period plays a well-established protective role, which has given rise to numerous recommendations. However, ANSES considers that this issue should only be considered at the time of the preconception period does not seem sufficiently protective with regard to unplanned pregnancies. “Covering the vitamin B9 needs of the female population likely to become pregnant should be given special attention. Indeed, to prevent any risk of malformation of the unborn child, it is essential to ensure sufficient vitamin B9 intake for any woman who could become pregnant, ”she notes.
She adds that “this approach is protective because it makes it possible to take into account cases unplanned pregnancies “. The Agency has adopted the values of the European Food Safety Authority, and stresses that a satisfactory intake of 600 µg EFA / d must apply to women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant but that during periods of 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy, it cannot be ruled out that a lower intake may be satisfactory. To note that vitamin B9 requirements can especially be covered by the consumption of legumes, green leafy vegetables, yeast flakes, wheat germ or egg yolk, which can be very good sources.