Food frequency questionnaire and socio-demographic data were collected from over 10,000 Scottish men and women aged 40-59 years in a cross-sectional study of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors. Dietary intake, including the antioxidant vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, was assessed for different socio-economic groups. Trends in nutrient intakes were found with social-class (occupational) groups I-V. The non-manual-manual distinctions were clear even after standardizing for serum cotinine, and alternative classification by housing tenure and level of education did not confound the social-class effect. Total energy intake was significantly higher in the manual (men 10,363 KJ, women 7507 KJ) than in the non-manual (men 9156 KJ, women 7169 KJ) groups, and all nutrient amounts except for vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and fibre were significantly higher in the manual than the non-manual groups. Alcohol intake was lower in manual women, but higher in manual men compared with their respective non-manual groups. Sex and social-class differences were maintained after adjusting for total energy. Women in general, and manual women in particular, had the highest percentage energy from total fat (40.2) and saturated fat (18.2), while the percentage energy from polyunsaturated fat was lower in men than women, and lowest in manual men (4.4). The polyunsaturated:saturated fat (P:S) ratios were, for non-manual and manual men 0.32 and 0.31, and for non-manual and manual women 0.31 and 0.28. Fibre and antioxidant vitamin intakes, when expressed as nutrient densities, were lower in men than women, and lowest in manual men. Overall, men and women in manual occupations had a poorer-quality diet than did those in non-manual occupations. The coincident low P:S ratios and low antioxidant vitamin intakes in manual groups may contribute to an increased risk of CHD. Thus, the findings are compatible with the view that poor diet may be a contributory factor to the higher mortality rates for CHD which occur in the lower socio-economic groups.