The relation between diet and female colorectal cancer was analyzed in a prospective study of 14,727 women aged 34-65 years, who were enrolled at mammographic screening clinics in New York and Florida from 1985 to 1991. They were followed through the end of 1994 (average 7.1 yrs) by a combination of direct contact through mail and telephone and record linkages with regional tumor registries, resulting in 100 incident cases of colorectal cancer. There was no overall positive or inverse association of colorectal cancer risk with intakes of total calories, total or subclasses of fat, carbohydrate, or dietary fiber, whereas there was an inverse association with total protein. Among major food groups, there was a progressive decline in risk of colorectal cancer with increasing intake of fish and shellfish (relative risk for 4th vs. 1st quartile = 0.49, 95% confidence interval = 0.27-0.89). A similar inverse association was also observed for consumption of dairy products, and this association was explained mainly by calcium, not by other nutrients, such as fat or protein. The results of the present study indicated that certain dietary components of fish or dairy products may protect against colorectal cancer, whereas the relations with red meat or total fat remained unclear.