The colour of the edible portion of vegetables and fruit reflects the presence of specific micronutrients and phytochemicals. No existing studies have examined the relationship between the intake of vegetable and fruit colour groups and the risk of colorectal cancer. The present study, therefore, aimed to investigate these associations in a Chinese population. A case–control study was conducted between July 2010 and July 2014 in Guangzhou, China, in which 1057 consecutively recruited cases of colorectal cancer were frequency-matched to 1057 controls by age (5-year interval), sex and residence (rural/urban). A validated FFQ was used to collect dietary information during face-to-face interviews. Vegetables and fruit were classified into four groups according to the colour of their primarily edible parts: green; orange/yellow; red/purple; white. Unconditional logistic regression models were used to estimate the OR and 95 % CI. A higher consumption of orange/yellow, red/purple and white vegetables and fruit was inversely associated with the risk of colorectal cancer, with adjusted OR of 0·16 (95 % CI 0·12, 0·22) for orange/yellow, 0·23 (95 % CI 0·17, 0·31) for red/purple and 0·53 (95 % CI 0·40, 0·70) for white vegetables and fruit when the highest and lowest quartiles were compared. Total vegetable intake and total fruit intake have also been found to be inversely associated with colorectal cancer risk. However, the intake of green vegetable and fruit was not associated with colorectal cancer risk. The results of the present study, therefore, suggest that a greater intake of orange/yellow, red/purple and white vegetables and fruit is inversely associated with the risk of colorectal cancer.