The impact of shift work on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and metabolic syndrome are not yet completely understood. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the impact of shift work on metabolic syndrome according to two different definitions in a population of strictly rotating shift workers (3x8 h) compared to paired counterparts working only day hours, and to study whether shift work itself is a determinant of metabolic syndrome after taking into account a large panel of confusing factors. We conducted a cross-sectional study comparing 98 strictly rotating shift workers to 100 regular day-workers (all subjects had a long experience of their working rhythms) within the same petrochemical plant. Clinical, behavioral, occupational, and biological data were collected, and a detailed nutritional investigation was done. Shift and day workers were comparable in terms of major CVD factors, and both had a 10 yr Framingham risk scoring of 11%. Shift workers reported an increased job strain and higher total and at-work physical activity. Alterations in metabolic parameters were evident with a rise in triglycerides, free fatty acids, and gamma glutamyl transpeptidase and lower HDL-cholesterol. Multiple logistic regression analysis demonstrated that shift work was associated with occurrence of metabolic syndrome, as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program-ATPIII criteria, OR: 2.38 (1.13-4.98), but not using the more recent score from the International Diabetes Federation, which gives a major emphasis on abdominal obesity. Total energy intake and contributions of the major nutrients did not differ between the two groups, with the notable exception of saturated lipids (+10% in shift workers). Meal distribution was clearly different: energy intake was more fractionated within the day, with a lesser contribution of breakfast and lunch but with increased intakes during intermediate light meals, particularly in the afternoon and night. Multivariate analyses were performed to test for the influence of dietary rhythms on the development of an NCEP-ATPIII metabolic syndrome. Dietary intakes at breakfast and during intermediate light meals appear to be "protective" against metabolic syndrome, while a high load at dinner favors its occurrence. A high intake at lunch is particularly deleterious to shift workers. However, in all tested models, shift work remained significantly associated with metabolic syndrome, after taking into account potential covariates like job strain, physical activity, quantitative dietary parameters, and meal distribution. A specific follow-up of shift workers should be recommended to occupational physicians.