The objective of the present study was to determine the proportion of adults meeting national recommendations for food and nutrient intake and to identify the demographic, socio-economic and behavioural factors that may contribute to weaken dietary compliance. ORISCAV-LUX is a cross-sectional study that took place in Luxembourg (2007–8). A representative stratified random sample of 1352 adults aged 18–69 years participated in the nationwide cardiovascular health survey. A FFQ was used to estimate food intake. Radar charts were built to compare graphically the compliance of the participants with different key dietary guidelines on the same set of axes. The thirteen food- and nutrient-based recommendations were scored and summed to create a recommendation compliance index (range − 0·5 to 14). Ordinal logistic regression analyses were performed to determine the factors contributing to poor dietary compliance. Several food- and nutrient-based guidelines were insufficiently respected compared with others. The greatest gaps occurred in the adherence to grain and dairy product consumption guidelines, as well as to total fat and notably to SFA recommendations. Age, country of birth, economic status, smoking status and subject's awareness of the importance of balanced meals emerged as independently associated with weak dietary compliance. Obese subjects conformed more to dietary recommendations compared with normal-weight subjects. The findings underscore the need for specific nutrition education messages along with targeted interventions. Efforts should be continued to increase population awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.