Abstract Objective We aimed to identify barriers for meeting the fruit, vegetable and fish guidelines in older Dutch adults and to investigate socio-economic status (SES) differences in these barriers. Furthermore, we examined the mediating role of these barriers in the association between SES and adherence to these guidelines. Design Cross-sectional. Setting Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), the Netherlands. Subjects We used data from 1057 community-dwelling adults, aged 55-85 years. SES was measured by level of education and household income. An FFQ was used to assess dietary intake and barriers were measured with a self-reported lifestyle questionnaire. Results Overall, 48·9 % of the respondents perceived a barrier to adhere to the fruit guideline, 40·0 % for the vegetable and 51·1 % for the fish guideline. The most frequently perceived barriers to meet the guidelines were the high price of fruit and fish and a poor appetite for vegetables. Lower-SES groups met the guidelines less often and perceived more barriers. The association between income and adherence to the fruit guideline was mediated by 'perceiving any barrier to meet the fruit guideline' and the barrier 'dislike fruit'. The association between income and adherence to the fish guideline was mediated by 'perceiving any barrier to meet the fish guideline' and the barrier 'fish is expensive'. Conclusions Perceived barriers for meeting the dietary guidelines are common in older adults, especially in lower-SES groups. These barriers and in particular disliking and cost concerns explained the lower adherence to the guidelines for fruit and fish in lower-income groups in older adults.