The role of dietary glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) in disease aetiology is of increasing interest. However, nutritional factors related to dietary GI and GL are not well understood from a population perspective. We aimed to investigate the relation ship between GI and GL and dietary intake at the food and nutrient level. Study subjects were 1071 non-diabetic adults from the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study, Exam I, 1992–4. Usual dietary intake was assessed with a 114-item modified Block food frequency questionnaire. Published GI values were assigned to food line items. Correlation and regression analyses were conducted. Intake of white bread, beer, meats and fries/fried potatoes was positively associated with average GI, as was fat, starch and alcohol intake (before and after energy adjustment). Intake of fruits and low-fat milk was inversely associated with GI, as were intakes of mono- and disaccharides, and fibre. GL was positively correlated with carbohydrate foods and inversely with non-carbohydrate foods. Gender-specific regression models identified eight food groups explaining 63 % (men) and 55 % (women) total GI variation after adjusting for demographics; 70 % of variation in GL was explained by eleven (men) and nine (women) food groups, respectively. Although the GI of a food is an indicator of the ability of carbohydrates to raise blood glucose, dietary GI, unlike GL, appears to reflect more dimensions of diet than just carbohydrates, such as the combination of foods consumed. This may have implications for the interpretation of dietary GI in epidemiologic studies.