Observational studies have suggested that the intake of flavonoids is associated with a decreased risk of CVD. However, the results of these studies remain controversial. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the association between dietary flavonoid intake and CVD risk by conducting a systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Electronic reference databases were searched to identify studies that met the pre-stated inclusion criteria. The studies were assessed for eligibility and data were extracted by two authors independently. For each study, relative risks (RR) and 95 % CI were extracted and pooled using either a fixed-effects or a random-effects model. Generalised least-squares trend estimation analysis was used to evaluate dose–response relationships. The inclusion criteria were met by fourteen prospective cohort studies. The intakes of anthocyanidins (RR 0·89, 95 % CI 0·83, 0·96), proanthocyanidins (RR 0·90, 95 % CI 0·82, 0·98), flavones (RR 0·88, 95 % CI 0·82, 0·96), flavanones (RR 0·88, 95 % CI 0·82, 0·96) and flavan-3-ols (RR 0·87, 95 % CI 0·80, 0·95) were inversely associated with the risk of CVD when comparing the highest and lowest categories of intake. A similar association was observed for flavonol intake and CVD risk. Sensitivity and subgroup analyses further supported this association. The summary RR for CVD for every 10 mg/d increment in flavonol intake was 0·95 (95 % CI 0·91, 0·99). The present systematic review suggests that the dietary intakes of six classes of flavonoids, namely flavonols, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins, flavones, flavanones and flavan-3-ols, significantly decrease the risk of CVD.