Previous studies have suggested that daidzein's metabolites, equol and O-desmethylangolensin (O-DMA), rather than daidzein itself may contribute to the beneficial effects of soya foods in the prevention of CVD. The present study aims to assess the proportion of equol and O-DMA producers, and to compare differences in anthropometric factors, serum lipids, glucose and uric acid between producers and non-producers in Chinese adults aged 20–69 years. For the present cross-sectional study, 202 subjects (100 women and 102 men) were recruited. Twenty-four-hour urinary daidzein and its metabolites were determined in these subjects while on their usual diet and again after a 3-d isoflavone challenge. Fasting serum lipids, glucose and uric acid were examined on their usual diet. Three days of 24 h dietary recalls were used to assess dietary intakes. Of the 202 subjects, 27 (13·4 %) and 27 (13·4 %) excreted equol and O-DMA on their usual diet, and 101 (50 %) and 94 (46·5 %) produced equol and O-DMA after a load of 80 mg/d isoflavones. Equol producers showed lower serum uric acid ( − 10·2 %, P = 0·001), TAG ( − 29·5 %, P = 0·007) and waist:hip ratio ( − 2·6 %, P = 0·032), and tended to have higher HDL cholesterol (6·3 %, P = 0·069) compared with equol non-producers. There were no significant differences in serum lipids, glucose and uric acid between O-DMA producers and non-producers. In conclusion, equol phenotypes might influence cardiovascular risk.