BACKGROUND: The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is higher among African Americans (AA) vs European Americans (EA), independent of obesity and other known confounders. Although the reason for this disparity is not known, it is possible that relatively low levels of vitamin D among AA may contribute, as vitamin D has been positively associated with insulin sensitivity in some studies. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that dietary vitamin D would be associated with a robust measure of insulin sensitivity in AA and EA women. METHODS: Subjects were 115 African American (AA) and 137 European American (EA) healthy, premenopausal women. Dietary intake was determined with 4-day food records; the insulin sensitivity index (SI) with a frequently-sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test and minimal modeling; the Homeostasis Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance (HOMA-IR) with fasting insulin and glucose; and body composition with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. RESULTS: Vitamin D intake was positively associated with SI (standardized beta = 0.18, P = 0.05) and inversely associated with HOMA-IR (standardized beta = -0.26, P = 0.007) in AA, and the relationships were independent of age, total body fat, energy intake, and % kcal from fat. Vitamin D intake was not significantly associated with indices of insulin sensitivity/resistance in EA (standardized beta = 0.03, P = 0.74 and standardized beta = 0.02, P = 0.85 for SI and HOMA-IR, respectively). Similar to vitamin D, dietary calcium was associated with SI and HOMA-IR among AA but not EA. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides novel findings that dietary vitamin D and calcium were independently associated with insulin sensitivity in AA, but not EA. Promotion of these nutrients in the diet may reduce health disparities in type 2 diabetes risk among AA, although longitudinal and intervention studies are required.