Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are growing contributors to global disease burdens, with epidemics of CVD advancing across many regions of the world which are experiencing a rapid health transition. Diet and nutrition have been extensively investigated as risk factors for major cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke and are also linked to other cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. The interpretation of evidence needs to involve a critical appraisal of methodological issues related to measurement of exposures, nature of outcome variables, types of research design and careful separation of cause, consequence and confounding as the basis for observed associations.
Adequate evidence is available, from studies conducted within and across populations, to link several nutrients, minerals, food groups and dietary patterns with an increased or decreased risk of CVD. Dietary fats associated with an increased risk of CHD include trans–fats and saturated fats, while polyunsaturated fats are known to be protective. Dietary sodium is associated with elevation of blood pressure, while dietary potassium lowers the risk of hypertension and stroke. Regular frequent intake of fruits and vegetables is protective against hypertension, CHD and stroke. Composite diets (such as DASH diets, Mediterranean diet, ‘prudent’ diet) have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of hypertension and CHD. Sufficient knowledge exists to recommend nutritional interventions, at both population and individual levels, to reduce cardiovascular risk. That knowledge should now be translated into policies which promote healthy diets and discourage unhealthy diets. This requires coordinated action at the level of governments, international organizations, civil society and responsible sections of the food industry.