I am
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. ...

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

FACILITATING INTERNATIONAL CLINICAL TRIALS ...

2020 Strategic Grant Recipients

2020 Strategic Grant Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Explore our research award recipients and projects...

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Resources to help manage your grant, scholarship or fellowship....

2021 NSW CVRN Ministerial Awards for Cardiovascular Research

2021 NSW CVRN Ministerial Awards for Cardiovascular Research

Nominations are now open for the 2021 NSW Cardiovascular Research Network’s (CVRN) Ministerial Awards for Cardiovascular Research....

Our research stories

Our research stories

Our research stories

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

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in NSW ...

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network

QCVRN provides a framework to strengthen cardiovascular research in Queensland...

Research Directory

Research Directory

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

And the heartache lasts a lifetime. But you can help the Heart Foundation fund life-saving research to keep more families together....

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

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...

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Q&A with Dr Lewan Parker

Identifying microvascular dysfunction as a novel mechanism of poor health in heart failure patients....

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be....

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....

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....

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Understand how smoking can impact your heart health. ...

Our strategy

Our strategy

Our strategy

Connecting Hearts Strategy 2021-2023...

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...

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Acute coronary syndromes (ACS) clinical resources

Acute coronary syndromes (ACS) clinical resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Cardiac Rehabilitation for Health Professionals - Patient Resources

Cardiac Rehabilitation for Health Professionals - Patient Resources

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Working together to save Australian hearts...

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....

Nourishing chicken soup

Nourishing chicken soup

Nourishing chicken soup

1 hour
Serves Serves 6

COVID-19 info & FAQs

COVID-19 info & FAQs

COVID-19 info & FAQs

Information and FAQs about COVID-19 and heart disease....

Action Plans

Action Plans

Action Plans

Recovery is a long journey, so having a plan makes a huge difference. Using an action plan gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle....

Sweet potato breakfast hash

Sweet potato breakfast hash

Sweet potato breakfast hash

15 minutes
Serves 2

Pumpkin falafel wraps

Pumpkin falafel wraps

Pumpkin falafel wraps

10 minutes
Serves Serves 4 (as a main meal)

Asian (Chilli, soy and sesame) dressing

Asian (Chilli, soy and sesame) dressing

Asian (Chilli, soy and sesame) dressing

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Types of physical activity

Types of physical activity

Types of physical activity

Nine out of 10 Australians could reduce the risk of heart disease by walking as little as 15 minutes more each day....

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm didn’t worry too much about his cholesterol problem – until an angiogram revealed he had an 80 per cent blockage in a major heart artery. ...

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Find heart healthy Asian recipes....

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Serves Makes 1 cup | Serves 6 (2 tablespoons – 40ml)

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Learn about the common tests your doctor may want you to have to diagnose your heart condition....