Few studies have been interested in the relationship between dietary patterns and activity limitation in older adults yet. We analysed the association between dietary patterns and the risk of self-reported activity limitation – that is mobility restriction, limitation in instrumental activities in daily living (IADL) and in activities in daily living (ADL) – in community-dwellers aged 67+ years initially free of activity limitation in 2001–2002 and re-examined at least once over 10 years – that is 583 participants for mobility restriction, 1114 for IADL limitation and 1267 for ADL limitation. At baseline, five sex-specific dietary clusters were derived by hybrid clustering method from weekly frequency of intake of twenty food and beverage items. Self-reported mobility restriction, limitations in IADL and in ADL were assessed using the Rosow–Breslau, the Lawton–Brody and the Katz scales, respectively. Associations between dietary clusters and the risk of each activity limitation were assessed using Cox proportional hazard models. In models adjusted for socio-demographic and health-related covariates, compared with the ‘Healthy’ cluster the ‘Biscuits and snacking’ cluster was associated with a higher risk of mobility restriction (hazard ratio (HR)=3·0; 95 % CI 1·6, 5·8) and limitation in IADL (HR=2·1; 95 % CI 1·1, 4·2) in men and limitation in ADL in women (HR=2·3; 95 % CI 1·3, 4·0). In this French cohort of community-dwellers aged 67+ years, some unhealthy dietary patterns may increase the risk of activity limitation all along the disablement process in older adults.