The aim of the present study was to evaluate the importance of social status and lifestyle for dietary habits, since these factors may influence life expectancy. We studied the association of four indicators for healthy dietary habits (fruits and vegetables, fibre, fat and Hegsted score) with sex, age, socio-economic status, education, physical leisure exercise, smoking and personal attention paid to keeping a healthy diet. Data were gathered with a self-administered quantitative food-frequency questionnaire distributed to a representative sample of Norwegian men and women aged 16-79 years in a national dietary survey, of whom 3144 subjects (63%) responded. Age and female sex were positively associated with indicators for healthy dietary habits. By separate evaluation length of education, regular physical leisure exercise and degree of attention paid to keeping a healthy diet were positively associated with all four indicators for healthy dietary habits in both sexes. Socio-economic status, location of residence and smoking habits were associated with from one to three indicators for healthy dietary habits. In a multiple regression model, age, education and location of residence together explained from 1 to 9% of the variation (R2) in the four dietary indicators. Length of education was significantly associated with three of four dietary indicators both among men and women. By including the variable 'attention paid to keeping a healthy diet' in the model, R2 increased to between 4 and 15% for the four dietary indicators. Length of education remained correlated to three dietary indicators among women, and one indicator among men, after adjusting for attention to healthy diet, age and location of residence. Residence in cities remained correlated to two indicators among men, but none among women, after adjusting for age, education and attention to healthy diet. In conclusion, education was associated with indicators of a healthy diet. Attention to healthy diet showed the strongest and most consistent association with all four indicators for healthy dietary habits in both sexes. This suggests that personal preferences may be just as important for having a healthy diet as social status determinants.