Diets high in protein have shown positive effects on short-term weight reduction and glycaemic control. However, the understanding of how dietary macronutrient composition relates to long-term risk of type 2 diabetes is limited. The aim of the present study was to examine intakes of macronutrients, fibre and protein sources in relation to incident type 2 diabetes. In total, 27 140 individuals, aged 45–74 years, from the population-based Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort, were included. Dietary data were collected with a modified diet history method, including registration of cooked meals. During 12 years of follow-up, 1709 incident type 2 diabetes cases were identified. High protein intake was associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes (hazard ratio (HR) 1·27 for highest compared with lowest quintile; 95 % CI 1·08, 1·49; P for trend = 0·01). When protein consumption increased by 5 % of energy at the expense of carbohydrates (HR 1·20; 95 % CI 1·09, 1·33) or fat (HR 1·21; 95 % CI 1·09, 1·33), increased diabetes risk was observed. Intakes in the highest quintiles of processed meat (HR 1·16; 95 % CI 1·00, 1·36; P for trend = 0·01) and eggs (HR 1·21; 95 % CI 1·04, 1·41; P for trend = 0·02) were associated with increased risk. Intake of fibre-rich bread and cereals was inversely associated with type 2 diabetes (HR 0·84; 95 % CI 0·73, 0·98; P for trend = 0·004). In conclusion, results from the present large population-based prospective study indicate that high protein intake is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Replacing protein with carbohydrates may be favourable, especially if fibre-rich breads and cereals are chosen as carbohydrate sources.