Background. To identify differences in the evolution of the diets of South Asian and Italian migrants, a cross-sectional, multiethnic study was undertaken in Glasgow, Scotland. Methods. Five groups of women aged 20-42 years comprising general population (n = 35), South Asian migrants (n = 35) British-born controls (n = 37), Italian migrants (n = 30) and British-born (n = 38) participated in an interviewer administered structured questionnaire on issues relating to health, diet and food selection. Anthropometric measurements were made and subjects completed a 7-day weighed diet inventory. Results. Compared with the general population, dietary differences were greatest amongst first generation migrant groups. There were major differences between the two migrant groups. South Asian migrants tended to display a more atherogenic profile (fat 42.4% energy, saturated fat 15.0% energy, vitamin C 5.1 mg per 1000 kJ) than the general population (fat 39.1% energy, saturated fat 13.5% energy, vitamin C 6.8 mg per 1000 kJ), and Italian migrants (fat 35.7% energy, saturated fat 12.1% energy, vitamin C 10.9 mg per 1000 kJ). However, South Asian groups had higher intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids which may be cardioprotective. Conclusions. South Asian migrants to Scotland appear to develop adverse dietary elements in the first generation, which are modified in subsequent generations, whereas Italians' diets remain cardioprotective in the migrant generation but deteriorate in subsequent generations. © The British Dietetic Association Ltd 2005.