In the last 20 years, many prospective cohort studies have assessed the relationships between food consumption and mortality. Result interpretation is mainly hindered by the limited adjustment for confounders and, to a lesser extent, the small sample sizes. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between dietary habits and all-cause mortality in a multicentre prospective cohort that included non-institutionalised, community-based elderly individuals (Three-City Study). A brief FFQ was administered at baseline. Hazard ratios (HR) and 95 % CI for all-cause mortality were estimated relative to the consumption frequency of several food groups, using Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for sex, centre, socio-demographic characteristics and health status indicators. Among the 8937 participants (mean age: 74·2 years, 60·7 % women), 2016 deaths were recorded during an average follow-up of 9 years. The risk of death was significantly lower among subjects with the highest fruit and vegetable consumption (HR 0·90; 95 % CI 0·82, 0·99, P=0·03) and with regular fish consumption (HR 0·89; 95 % CI 0·81, 0·97, P=0·01). The benefit of olive oil use was found only in women (moderate olive oil use: HR 0·80; 95 % CI 0·68, 0·94, P=0·007; intensive use: HR 0·72; 95 % CI 0·60, 0·85, P=0·0002). Conversely, daily meat consumption increased the mortality risk (HR 1·12; 95 % CI, 1·01, 1·24, P=0·03). No association was found between risk of death and diet diversity and use of various fats. These findings suggest that fruits/vegetables, olive oil and regular fish consumptions have a beneficial effect on the risk of death, independently of the socio-demographic features and the number of medical conditions.