In March 1997, official dietary guidelines were for the first time published in Belgium by the National Council on Nutrition. These guidelines are entirely focussed on nutrient intake and do not translate this information into specific ‘food-based’ recommendations. In this paper, actual intake data for the adult Belgian population are compared to these guidelines. It is concluded that the overall macronutrient intake pattern in Belgium corresponds to the typical Western so-called affluent diet. As a next step, an attempt is made to outline a conceptual framework for developing food-based dietary guidelines on the basis of existing food consumption databases. For that purpose, nutrient and food intake profiles — percentage of consumers and mean intakes for the total population and for consumers only — are studied for subgroups of the population that do or do not comply to predefined dietary goals for total fat intake, fibre intake, and fruit and vegetable intake. Finally, it is shown with an example that these data can be used as a basis for formulating healthy food recommendations towards the general population in terms of specific foods or food groups to be avoided or to be chosen preferably. The food and nutrient intake data used in this paper are from the BIRNH study (Belgian Interuniversity Research on Nutrition and Health, 1980–1984), the only nationwide food consumption survey on an individual level ever carried out in Belgium.