Dietary modification may affect inflammatory processes and protect against chronic disease. In the present study, we examined the relationship between dietary patterns, circulating carotenoid and tocopherol concentrations, and biomarkers of chronic low-grade systemic inflammation in a 10-year longitudinal study of Scottish postmenopausal women. Diet was assessed by FFQ during 1997–2000 (n 3237, mean age 54·8 (sd 2·2) years). Participants (n 2130, mean age 66·0 (sd 2·2) years) returned during 2007–11 for follow-up. Diet was assessed by FFQ (n 1682) and blood was collected for the analysis of serum high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), IL-6, serum amyloid A, E-selectin, lipid profile and dietary biomarkers (carotenoids, tocopherols and retinol). Dietary pattern and dietary biomarker (serum carotenoid) components were generated by principal components analysis. A past ‘prudent’ dietary pattern predicted serum concentrations of hs-CRP and IL-6 (which decreased across the quintiles of the dietary pattern; P= 0·002 and P= 0·001, respectively; ANCOVA). Contemporary dietary patterns were also associated with inflammatory biomarkers. The concentrations of hs-CRP and IL-6 decreased across the quintiles of the ‘prudent’ dietary pattern (P= 0·030 and P= 0·006, respectively). hs-CRP concentration increased across the quintiles of a ‘meat-dominated’ dietary pattern (P= 0·001). Inflammatory biomarker concentrations decreased markedly across the quintiles of carotenoid component score (P< 0·001 for hs-CRP and IL-6, and P= 0·016 for E-selectin; ANCOVA). Prudent dietary pattern and carotenoid component scores were negatively associated with serum hs-CRP concentration (unstandardised β for prudent component: − 0·053, 95 % CI − 0·102, − 0·003; carotenoid component: − 0·183, 95 % CI − 0·233, − 0·134) independent of study covariates. A prudent dietary pattern (which reflects a diet high in the intakes of fish, yogurt, pulses, rice, pasta and wine, in addition to fruit and vegetable consumption) and a serum carotenoid profile characteristic of a fruit and vegetable-rich diet are associated with lower concentrations of intermediary markers that are indicative of CVD risk reduction.