A self-administered diet history questionnaire has been developed for epidemiologic and clinical use. Both the food list and the nutrient values to be associated with it were developed using dietary data from 11,658 adult respondents to the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II). Food items were selected on the basis of their contribution to total population intake of energy and each of 17 nutrients in the NHANES II data, and represent over 90% of each of those nutrients. Associated nutrient composition values were determined from the NHANES II database using frequency of consumption data in that survey. Portion sizes to be associated with each food item were derived from observed portion size distributions in NHANES II, based on three-dimensional models. The resulting food list and its corresponding brief data base, when used to calculate nutrients from a diet record, yielded correlations of r greater than 0.70 with the more detailed method. Field administration produced mean values comparable to national data.