Controlled trials have shown that a diet with a low glycemic index improves blood glucose and lipid control in patients with diabetes. To study the distribution and determinants of diet glycemic index, we obtained two 3-d diet records from 342 free-living subjects with non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Mean +/- SD 24-h intakes were as follows: energy, 7170 +/- 1890 kJ; fat, 33.6 +/- 6.5% of energy; protein, 20.1 +/- 3.2% of energy; available carbohydrate, 45.3 +/- 7.2% of energy; and dietary fiber, 17.2 +/- 6.4 g. Diet glycemic index values (85.4 +/- 4.55, range, 70-97.8) were normally distributed. Diet glycemic index was inversely associated with intake of simple sugars, whether expressed in grams (r = -0.426), percent of energy (r = -0.446), or percent of carbohydrate (r = -0.453, P < 0.001). By step-wise-multiple-linear regression, grams carbohydrate and percent protein were also independently related to diet glycemic index. Differences in diet glycemic index between men and women, and between subjects on different types of diabetes therapy were explained by differences in intake of simple sugars.