Sodium and potassium content of foods consumed in an Italian population and the impact of adherence to a Mediterranean diet on their intake

Marcella Malavolti, Andronika Naska, Susan J. Fairweather-Tait, Carlotta Malagoli, Luciano Vescovi, Cristina Marchesi, Marco Vinceti, Tommaso Filippini

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High sodium and low potassium intakes are associated with increased levels of blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular diseases. Assessment of habitual dietary habits are helpful to evaluate their intake and adherence to healthy dietary recommendations. In this study, we determined sodium and potassium food-specific content and intake in a Northern Italy community, focusing on the role and contribution of adherence to Mediterranean diet patterns. We collected a
total of 908 food samples and measured sodium and potassium content using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Using a validated semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire, we assessed habitual dietary intake of 719 adult individuals of the Emilia-Romagna region. We then estimated sodium and potassium daily intake for each food based on their relative contribution to the overall diet, and their link to Mediterranean diet patterns. The estimated mean sodium intake was 2.15 g/day, while potassium mean intake was 3.37 g/day. The foods contributing most to sodium intake were cereals (33.2%), meat products (24.5%, especially processed meat), and dairy products (13.6%), and for potassium they were meat (17.1%, especially red and white meat), fresh fruits (15.7%), and vegetables (15.1%). Adherence to a Mediterranean diet had little influence on sodium intake, whereas potassium intake was greatly increased in subjects with higher scores, resulting in a lower sodium/potassium ratio. Although we may have underestimated dietary sodium intake by not including discretionary salt use and there may be some degree of exposure misclassification as a result of changes in food sodium content and dietary habits over time, our study provides an
overview of the contribution of a wide range of foods to the sodium and potassium intake in a Northern Italy community and of the impact of a Mediterranean diet on intake. The mean sodium intake was above the dietary recommendations for adults of 1.5–2 g/day, whilst potassium intake was only slightly lower than the recommended 3.5 g/day. Our findings suggest that higher adherence to Mediterranean diet patterns has limited effect on restricting sodium intake, but may facilitate a higher potassium intake, thereby aiding the achievement of healthy dietary recommendations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13082681
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • Dietary intake
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Salt
  • Public health
  • Sodium-to-potassium ratio

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