Q&A with Lauren Blekkenhorst
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Q&A with Lauren Blekkenhorst

Research to develop better evidence for the vascular and metabolic health benefits of vegetables and their bioactive constituents.

Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst is a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. Her research aims to develop better evidence for the vascular and metabolic health benefits of vegetables and their bioactive constituents as well as finding ways to increase vegetable consumption at a population level to improve healthy ageing. She has expertise in the design and conduct of randomised controlled trials and observational studies that focus on the vascular and metabolic health benefits of vegetables and their bioactive components.

What are you currently researching?

My research project will explore the health benefits of specific types of vegetables and their protective bioactive components, as well as finding new and improved ways to encourage people to eat more vegetables every day to improve their heart health.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia? 

Most Australians have had their lives impacted by cardiovascular disease, from losing a loved one to caring for their loved ones after a heart attack or stroke. The vast majority of these devastating events can be prevented by modifying diet and lifestyle earlier in life. In particular, increasing the intake of vegetables is fundamental for cardiovascular disease prevention. Despite this knowledge, over 90% of Australian adults are still not meeting the recommended 5 servings of vegetables every day, with most eating well below these recommendations. In addition, intake of the types of vegetables that may provide larger benefits for cardiovascular health are even lower. If my research can demonstrate that specific types of vegetables are superior when it comes to improving cardiovascular health, then a small achievable change of eating more of these vegetables every day, will cause a greater reduction in cardiovascular disease burden for the same level of change in other vegetables being eaten. Better understanding of the bioactive components of these vegetables will also inform why we should be increasing consumption of these vegetables in our diets.

What were some of the key findings of your PhD?

During my PhD, I discovered a strong link between eating specific vegetables, such as cruciferous (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale), allium (e.g. garlic, onion, leek) and leafy greens (e.g. spinach, lettuce, rocket), and their bioactives (e.g. nitrate), and cardiovascular health outcomes. My team and I were the first to publish on the potential long-term cardioprotective role of dietary nitrate, which is found predominantly in leafy green vegetables. I will now be able to delve deeper by researching the direct benefits of these vegetables and explore other novel bioactive compounds that are potentially responsible for health benefits.

How important was funding from the Heart Foundation for your work?

We all know that eating a wide variety of vegetables can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Being awarded with funding from the National Heart Foundation of Australia will allow me to delve deeper and investigate which specific vegetables provide the greatest reduction in risk. The funding will also enable me to explore particular novel components found in these vegetables. Vegetables contain hundreds of plant compounds and we are only just at the tip of the iceberg in understanding their effects. It is vital that we base our dietary recommendations on scientific evidence to help Australians achieve optimal health throughout life. With the help of the National Heart Foundation of Australia and a large interdisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians, I am now able to establish high quality evidence on which vegetables are the best for cardiovascular health, and why.

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters? 

I hope that my research will enlighten and motivate Australians to increase their vegetable consumption and to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices. This may in turn help prevent the substantial burden cardiovascular disease has on loved ones, and the wider community. 

You can find a range of heart healthy recipes website to incorporate more vegetables into your everyday meals benefiting your heart health. 

You might also be interested in

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

Stay connected with your research alumni community. ...

Research Alumni

Research Alumni

Research Alumni

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program brings together current and previously funded researchers to create a community of the best and brightest in heart-related research....

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Explore our research award recipients and projects...

WEBINAR | Research Alumni Series 2020

WEBINAR | Research Alumni Series 2020

WEBINAR | Research Alumni Series 2020

The Heart Foundation is delivering a research webinar series for Heart Foundation research alumni....

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Search our current researcher's and the ground breaking research being undertaken....

Our research stories

Our research stories

Our research stories

We fund amazing researchers who have important stories to tell...

Thrombus-targeted theranostic microbubbles

Thrombus-targeted theranostic microbubbles

Thrombus-targeted theranostic microbubbles

Breaking down blood clots...

Research connect newsletter

Research connect newsletter

Research connect newsletter

The Research Connect Newsletter provides monthly updates on the Heart Foundation Research Program....

A simple test may lead to better treatment

A simple test may lead to better treatment

A simple test may lead to better treatment

Dr Jay Ramchand discusses his latest research project....

Intelligent microbubbles

Intelligent microbubbles

Intelligent microbubbles

What are microbubbles and why are they important?...

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

May 3 – 9, 2021...

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Australian Heart Maps

Australian Heart Maps

Australian Heart Maps

Our Heart Maps allow you to take a closer look at heart disease indicators across Australia....

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

Key Statistics: Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

Key Statistics: Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease....

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

Kim shares the emotional and physical upheaval experienced on her journey to diagnosis and recovery....

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Breakfast recipes

Heart healthy breakfasts to start your day right...

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy – Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack

Fit, active and healthy, Sharon wasn’t expecting a heart attack. However, after experiencing a ‘widow maker’, she counts herself lucky....

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

Chest x-ray for heart disease

This test can help your doctor determine if there is anything wrong with your heart....

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Making philanthropic investments through the Heart Foundation can transform Australians’ health. ...

Permanent Pacemaker (PPM)

Permanent Pacemaker (PPM)

A small, battery-powered device that is fitted under the skin of your upper chest....

Improving heart health for all Australians

Improving heart health for all Australians

Improving heart health for all Australians

Guidelines for the assessment and management of Absolute Cardiovascular Disease Risk ...

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions....

Q&A with Dr Caleb Ferguson

Q&A with Dr Caleb Ferguson

Q&A with Dr Caleb Ferguson

An education program to promote self-care for people living with atrial fibrillation (INFORM-AF)...

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

5 warning signs of a heart attack that you may not know

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Training Centre

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Training Centre

Training to support identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, in line with standard practice....

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

WEBINAR | Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Help others in need through a gift in your Will

Ian “did not hesitate” to leave 100% of his estate to the Heart Foundation....

How we fought heart disease in 2020

How we fought heart disease in 2020

How we fought heart disease in 2020

Everything we do is possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters. ...