Over the last four decades there has been extensive research into the links between diet and coronary heart disease. The most recent literature is reviewed in this position statement. The clinical and public health aspects of the National Heart Foundation's nutrition policy are based on this review. The key points are as follows: 1. Saturated fatty acids A high intake of saturated fatty acids is strongly associated with elevated serum cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels and increased risk of coronary heart disease. 2. The n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids The n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (principally linoleic acid) lower serum cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fats and probably have an independent cholesterol-lowering effect. 3. The n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish oils) The n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce serum triglyceride levels, decrease the tendency to thrombosis and may further reduce coronary risk through other mechanisms. 4. Monounsaturated fatty acids Monounsaturated fatty acids reduce serum cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fatty acids. It is not clear whether this is an independent effect or simply the result of displacement of saturates. 5. Trans fatty acids Trans fatty acids may increase serum cholesterol levels and can be reckoned to be equivalent to saturated fatty acids. 6. Total fat Total fat intake, independent of fatty acid type, is not strongly associated with coronary heart disease but may contribute to obesity. Associations between total fat intake and coronary heart disease are primarily mediated through the saturated fatty acid component. 7. Dietary cholesterol Dietary cholesterol increases serum cholesterol levels in some people and may increase risk of coronary heart disease. 8. Alcohol A high intake of alcohol increases blood pressure and serum triglyceride levels and increases mortality from cardiovascular disease. Light alcohol consumption reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. 9. Sugar The consumption of sugar is not associated with coronary heart disease. 10. Sodium and potassium High salt intake is related to hypertension especially in the subset of "salt-sensitive" people. Potassium intake may be inversely related to hypertension. 11. Overweight and obesity Abdominal obesity increases the risk of coronary heart disease probably by adversely influencing conventional risk factors. 12. Vegetarianism A high intake of plant foods reduces the risk of coronary heart disease through several mechanisms, including lowering serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels.