1. The effects of four meals of similar energy, but different nutritional, composition on postprandial blood pressure, heart rate, autonomic function, catecholamines, insulin and packed cell volume levels were studied in seven fit elderly subjects.
2. The high carbohydrate and high protein meals led to a significant overall fall in supine systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared either with no change or a rise after the normal (i.e. mixed) and high fat meals. Similar between-meal differences were seen with erect diastolic but not erect systolic blood pressure. No significant postural blood pressure fall occurred after any of the meals. Supine heart rate was unaffected by meal type or by time, and although erect heart rate showed a small increase during the study there was no between-meal difference.
3. Parasympathetic function was unaffected by meal type. Plasma noradrenaline rose after the high carbohydrate and mixed meals only, remaining elevated for 120 min after meal consumption. This increase was not related to the changes in blood pressure or plasma insulin levels.
4. Plasma insulin and glucose rose after the high carbohydrate and mixed meals, but were unchanged after the high protein and high fat meals. Packed cell volume showed a small decrease towards the end of the study, although there was no between-meal variation.
5. The differences in the cardiovascular changes after the different meals could not be ascribed to alterations in autonomic function, insulin release or fall in plasma volume. We propose that the postprandial changes in blood pressure are due to the nutrient composition of the meal rather than the actual energy load.