The analysis of dietary patterns has recently drawn considerable attention as a method of investigating the association between the overall whole diet and the risk of colorectal cancer. However, the results have yielded conflicting findings. Here, we carried out a meta-analysis to identify the association between dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancer. A total of 40 studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were included in this meta-analysis. The highest category of ‘healthy’ dietary pattern compared with the lowest category was apparently associated with a decreased risk for colorectal cancer [odds ratio (OR)=0.75; confidence interval (CI): 0.68–0.83; P<0.00001]. An increased risk of colorectal cancer was shown for the highest compared with the lowest category of a ‘western-style’ dietary pattern (OR=1.40; CI: 1.26–1.56; P<0.00001). There was an increased risk of colorectal cancer in the highest compared with the lowest category of ‘alcohol-consumption’ pattern (OR=1.44; CI: 1.13–1.82; P=0.003). The results of this meta-analysis indicate that a ‘healthy’ dietary pattern may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, whereas ‘western-style’ and ‘alcohol-consumption’ patterns may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.