Diets with a high glycaemic index (GI) or glycaemic load (GL) have been hypothesised to increase the risk of diabetes, CVD and some cancers. In the present study, the associations of dietary GI and GL with the risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality were prospectively examined in a general population in Japan, where white rice is the main contributor of dietary GI and GL. A total of 28 356 residents of Takayama City, Japan, who responded to a self-administered questionnaire in 1992 were included in the present analyses. Dietary intake was assessed using a validated FFQ. Mortality was ascertained over 16 years. In men, dietary GI was found to be significantly inversely associated with the risk of all-cause and non-cancer, non-cardiovascular mortality; the hazard ratios (HR) for the highest v. lowest quartile were 0·80 (95 % CI 0·68, 0·95) and 0·64 (95 % CI 0·49, 0·84), respectively. Dietary GL was found to be significantly inversely associated with the risk of all-cause, cancer, and non-cancer, non-cardiovascular mortality; the HR for the highest v. lowest quartile were 0·71 (95 % CI 0·59, 0·86), 0·71 (95 % CI 0·52, 0·99) and 0·64 (95 % CI 0·48, 0·87), respectively. The results obtained for the GL derived from white rice, but not from other foods, closely mirrored those obtained for overall GL. In women, dietary GI was found to be significantly positively associated with the risk of cardiovascular mortality; the HR for the highest v. lowest quartile was 1·56 (95 % CI 1·15, 2·13). The results of the present study suggest potential favourable effects of dietary GI and GL on mortality in men, but an association between high GI and an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in women.