Polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates and carotid disease: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Carotid MRI study

Atherosclerosis. 2016 Aug;251:361-366. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2016.05.024. Epub 2016 May 14.


Background and aims: Carbohydrates and fat intake have both been linked to development of atherosclerosis. We examined associations between glycemic index (GI) and fat intake with carotid atherosclerosis.

Methods: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) cohort enrolled participants during the period 1987-1989 and the Carotid MRI sub-study occurred between 2004 and 2006 (1672 participants attending both visits). Measures of carbohydrate quality (usual GI), fat intake (total, polyunsaturated and saturated) and overall dietary quality index (DASH Diet Score) were derived from a 66-item food frequency questionnaire administered at baseline. Trained readers measured lipid core presence and maximum wall thickness. Using multivariate logistic regression, we determined the odds of lipid core presence by quintile (Q) of energy-adjusted dietary components. Restricted cubic spline models were used to examine non-linear associations between dietary components and maximum wall thickness.

Results: Mean daily polyunsaturated fat intake was 5 g (SD 1.4). GI and polyunsaturated fat intake had a nonlinear relationship with maximum wall thickness. Low (1-4 g) and high (6-12 g) polyunsaturated fat intake were associated with a statistically significant decreased odds of lipid core presence compared to intake in a majority of participants (OR Q5 vs. Q2-4: 0.64, 95% CI 0.42 to 0.98; OR Q1 vs. Q2-4: 0.64, 95% CI 0.42, 0.96), however, the association with lipid core was attenuated by adjustment for maximum wall thickness, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes.

Conclusions: GI and polyunsaturated fat intake were not associated with high-risk plaque features, such as lipid core presence, independent of traditional vascular risk factors.

Keywords: Carotid atherosclerosis; Diet; Glycemic index; Polyunsaturated fats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / blood*
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / etiology
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Glycemic Index
  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Lipids