This Opinion of the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) provides guidance on the translation of nutrient based dietary advice into guidance, intended for the European population as a whole, on the contribution of different foods or food groups to an overall diet that would help to maintain good health through optimal nutrition (food-based dietary guidelines). The main focus of this Opinion is put on the scientific process of developing food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG) for the diverse European populations, following a stepwise approach which should ideally consist of: 1) Identification of diet-health relationships, 2) Identification of country specific diet-related health problems, 3) Identification of nutrients of public health importance, 4) Identification of foods relevant for FBDG, 5) Identification of food consumption patterns, 6) Testing and optimising FBDG and 7) Graphical representations of FBDG. FBDG should focus on the diet-disease relationships of particular relevance to the specific population and should be developed using a multi-disciplinary approach. The early involvement of stakeholders is recommended to promote the acceptance of the outcome. FBDG should be consistent with other public policies that have an impact on food availability and be integrated with other policies related to health promotion. Once established, FBDG should be implemented and their impact monitored and evaluated.