The association between the intake of nitrate or nitrite and gastric cancer risk was investigated in a prospective cohort study started in 1986 in the Netherlands, of 120,852 men and women aged 55-69 years. At baseline, data on dietary intake, smoking habits and other covariates were collected by means of a self-administered questionnaire. For data analysis, a case-cohort approach was used, in which the person-years at risk were estimated from a randomly selected subcohort (1688 men and 1812 women). After 6.3 years of follow-up, 282 microscopically confirmed incident cases of stomach cancer were detected: 219 men and 63 women. We did not find a higher risk of gastric cancer among people with a higher nitrate intake from food [rate ratio (RR) highest/lowest quintile = 0.80, 95% CI 0.47-1.37, trend-P = 0.18], a higher nitrate intake from drinking water (RR highest/lowest quintile = 0.88, 95% CI 0.59-1.32, trend-P = 0.39) or a higher intake of nitrite (RR highest/lowest quintile = 1.44, 95% CI 0.95-2.18, trend-P = 0.24). Rate ratios for gastric cancer were also computed for each tertile of nitrate intake from foods within tertiles of vitamin C intake and intake of beta-carotene, but no consistent pattern was found. Therefore, our study does not support a positive association between the intake of nitrate or nitrite and gastric cancer risk.