Individuals with diabetes receive more nutrition advice than other population segments yet little is known about how well they comply or differ in nutrient intake from the rest of the population. The present study determined the mean macronutrient intake, glycaemic index (GI), and glycaemic load (GL) of a cohort of 3654 older Australians, with and without diabetes. Fasting pathology tests, including plasma glucose, were obtained for 88 % of the 3654 residents, and a 145-item semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire was completed by 2900 residents (89 %) between 1992 and 1994. In total, 6 % of participants had diagnosed diabetes. Valid food-frequency data were available for 2736 without and 164 individuals with diabetes. The GI and GL were calculated from a customised database of Australian foods. Individuals with diabetes consumed significantly more protein (P = 0.001) and less sugars (P < or = 0.001) than the general population. Only seven individuals with diabetes (4.3 %) met all macronutrient recommendations and only four (2.4 %) met fibre recommendations as well. Those with diabetes had a lower mean GI (55 (sd 5) v. 57 (sd 4); P = 0.007, respectively) and GL (122 (sd 26) v. 134 (sd 24); P < 0.001, respectively) than the general population. In conclusion, older individuals with diabetes living in Australia in the 1990s chose a diet that had significantly more protein and less sugars than those without diabetes. This difference had little impact on the average GI, but it led to a moderate reduction in the average GL. Only a small percentage, however, was able to meet nutritional recommendations for optimal diabetes management.