Oxidation of lipoproteins is hypothesized to promote atherosclerosis and, thus, a high intake of antioxidant nutrients may protect against coronary heart disease. The relation between the intakes of dietary carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E and the subsequent coronary mortality was studied in a cohort of 5,133 Finnish men and women aged 30-69 years and initially free from heart disease. Food consumption was estimated by the dietary history method covering the total habitual diet during the previous year. Altogether, 244 new fatal coronary heart disease cases occurred during a mean follow-up of 14 years beginning in 1966-1972. An inverse association was observed between dietary vitamin E intake and coronary mortality in both men and women with relative risks of 0.68 (p for trend = 0.01) and 0.35 (p for trend < 0.01), respectively, between the highest and lowest tertiles of the intake. Similar associations were observed for the dietary intake of vitamin C and carotenoids among women and for the intake of important food sources of these micronutrients, i.e., of vegetables and fruits, among both men and women. The associations were not attributable to confounding by major nondietary risk factors of coronary heart disease, i.e., age, smoking, serum cholesterol, hypertension, or relative weight. The results support the hypothesis that antioxidant vitamins protect against coronary heart disease, but it cannot be excluded that foods rich in these micronutrients also contain other constituents that provide the protection.