Examining the relationship between glucose intolerance and dietary intake in genetically similar populations with different dietary patterns and rates of type 2 diabetes may provide important insights into the role of diet in the pathogenesis of this disease. The objective of the present study was to assess the relationship between dietary variables and dysglycaemia/type 2 diabetes among three populations of African origin. The study design consists of a cross-sectional study of men and women of African descent aged 24–74 years from Cameroon (n 1790), Jamaica (n 857) and Manchester, UK (n 258) who were not known to have diabetes. Each participant had anthropometric measurements and underwent a 2 h 75 g oral glucose tolerance test. Habitual dietary intake was estimated with quantitative FFQ, developed specifically for each country. The age-adjusted prevalence of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes in Cameroon was low (1·1 %), but it was higher in Jamaica (11·6 %) and the UK (12·6 %). Adjusted generalised linear and latent mixed models used to obtain OR indicated that each 1·0 % increment in energy from protein, total fat and saturated fats significantly increased the odds of type 2 diabetes by 9 (95 % CI 1·02, 1·16) %, 5 (95 % CI, 1·01, 1·08) % and 16 (95 % CI 1·08, 1·25) %, respectively. A 1 % increase in energy from carbohydrates and a 0·1 unit increment in the PUFA:SFA ratio were associated with significantly reduced odds of type 2 diabetes. The results show independent effects of dietary factors on hyperglycaemia in African origin populations. Whether modifying intake of specific macronutrients helps diabetes prevention needs testing in randomised trials.