The analysis of dietary patterns emerged recently as a possible approach to examining diet-disease relation. We analysed the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality associated with dietary patterns in men and women, while taking a number of potential confounding variables into account. Data were from a prospective cohort study with follow-up of total and cause-specific mortality. A random sample of 3698 men and 3618 women aged 30-70 years and living in Copenhagen County, Denmark, were followed from 1982 to 1998 (median 15 years). Three dietary patterns were identified from a twenty-eight item food frequency questionnaire, collected at baseline: (1) a predefined healthy food index, which reflected daily intakes of fruits, vegetables and wholemeal bread, (2) a prudent and (3) a Western dietary pattern derived by principal component analysis. The prudent pattern was positively associated with frequent intake of wholemeal bread, fruits and vegetables, whereas the Western was characterized by frequent intakes of meat products, potatoes, white bread, butter and lard. Among participants with complete information on all variables, 398 men and 231 women died during follow-up. The healthy food index was associated with reduced all-cause mortality in both men and women, but the relations were attenuated after adjustment for smoking, physical activity, educational level, BMI, and alcohol intake. The prudent pattern was inversely associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality after controlling for confounding variables. The Western pattern was not significantly associated with mortality. This study partly supports the assumption that overall dietary patterns can predict mortality, and that the dietary pattern associated with the lowest risk is the one which is in accordance with the current recommendations for a prudent diet.