The aim of the study was to assess the inflammatory potential of the Brazilian population’s diet and its association with demographic, socio-economic and anthropometric characteristics. A cross-sectional study was performed with 34 003 individuals aged 10 years and older, evaluated by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (POF 2008–2009). The Energy-adjusted Dietary Inflammatory Index (E-DII™) was determined using thirty-four dietary parameters calculated through non-consecutive 2-d dietary records. Positive scores indicate a pro-inflammatory diet, while negative scores indicate an anti-inflammatory diet. A bivariate and multivariate linear regression analysis based on a hierarchical theoretical model was performed to verify the factors associated with the E-DII. The mean of the E-DII was 1·04 (range of −4·77 to +5·98). The highest values of the pro-inflammatory E-DII were found among adolescents (1·42; P < 0·001) and individuals with higher income (1·10; P < 0·001) and level of education (1·18; P < 0·001). In the final model, the E-DII was associated with higher income quartiles and was higher in the Northeast and South regions, in white people, individuals with ≥9 years of education and adults and adolescents age group. The Brazilian population consumes a diet with high inflammatory potential, especially adolescents, white people and those with higher income and level of education. Thus, the index presented uneven distribution among the population, emphasising groups with higher dietary inflammatory potential. The socio-economic risk profile of a diet with higher inflammatory potential in medium-income countries is different from what is observed in high-income nations.