A case-control study involving interviews with 1,016 gastric cancer (GC) patients and 1,159 population-based controls in high- and low-risk areas was conducted to evaluate dietary factors and their contribution to the marked geographic variation in mortality from this cancer within Italy. Risks of GC were found to vary significantly with estimated nutrient intake. Risk rose with increasing consumption of nitrites and protein, and decreased in proportion to intake of ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, and vegetable fat. The associations with nitrite and beta-carotene tended to fade, however, in multivariate analyses adjusting for intake of other nutrients. Ascorbic acid showed the strongest geographic gradient, with highest consumption in low-risk areas. The findings suggest that the protective effects we previously reported for consumption of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and olive oil may be linked to the vitamins C and E contained in these foods. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that N-nitroso compounds are involved in GC risks, since elevated risks were apparent for agents (nitrites, protein) that promote nitrosation, while decreased risks were found for nutrients (ascorbic acid and alpha-tocopherol) which inhibit the process.