1. The responses of blood pressure, heart rate, autonomic function and plasma insulin to a high carbohydrate and a high fat meal of equivalent energy value were studied in nine young volunteers.
2. Neither meal produced a significant change in supine or erect blood pressure. The high carbohydrate meal, however, resulted in an overall rise in both supine (6 beats/min) and erect (6 beats/min; P < 0.05) heart rate, no such changes being seen after the high fat meal.
3. Plasma noradrenaline levels increased by a maximum of 126% at 90 min (0.98 to 2.22 nmol/l) after the high carbohydrate meal but were virtually unchanged after the high fat meal (P < 0.01). Parasympathetic function showed no between-meal differences. Plasma insulin and glucose levels were significantly higher after the high carbohydrate meal than after the high fat meal. No postprandial difference in packed cell volume was found between meal types.
4. We conclude that, in young subjects, the postprandial blood pressure after a high carbohydrate meal is maintained by an increase in heart rate associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity. These changes are at variance with the blood pressure and heart rate responses seen in the elderly after a high carbohydrate meal. A high fat meal has no significant cardiovascular or neuroendocrine effects in the young or old. The nutrient composition of meals has to be taken into account when studying the postprandial cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses in the young.