OBJECTIVE - To assess the dietary habits of diabetic women. RESEARCH DESIGH AND METHODS - Participants in the Nurses Health Study, a cohort of 121,700 registered female nurses, were followed since 1976. We compared the usual dietary intakes of women who had been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus by 1980 and age-matched nondiabetic control women; diets of these women were assessed in 1980 and 1984 by a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. The study examined 162 IDDM women and 738 NIDDM women. Similar comparisons were made for 429 women who developed NIDDM between 1980 and 1984. RESULTS - Although differences were small, women with IDDM in 1984 and women with NIDDM in 1980 and 1984 consumed less energy from carbohydrates, especially from sucrose, and more energy from protein and fat than did control women. Similar results were also found in 1984 for the 429 women who developed NIDDM between 1980 and 1984. In 1980, energy from nonsucrose carbohydrate was slightly higher in both IDDM and NIDDM women than in the control women. However, in 1984, using a dietary questionnaire designed to assess more complete dietary intake, less consistent results were obtained. Diabetic women tended to avoid desserts and sweets, sugar-containing beverages, and alcoholic beverages but consumed more meat and meat products. Intakes of foods high in complex carbohydrates (e.g., bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes) were similar between diabetic and control women. CONCLUSIONS - The results suggest that these diabetic women did not consume the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets that the American Diabetes Association has been recommending over the past decade.