STUDY OBJECTIVE:To assess what healthy eating means for the European population and whether this concept differs between Spain and other European Countries. DESIGN:A Pan-European survey was developed between October 1995 and February 1996 by the Institute of European Food Studies (Dublin). Each subject was asked to describe in his or her own words what he/she understood by 'healthy eating'. Comparisons were made among four groups of European countries (Northern, Central, Spain, and other Mediterranean countries). SETTING:The survey included participants from the 15 member states of the European Union, selecting quota-controlled samples to make them nationally representative. SUBJECTS:The questionnaire was completed by 14,331 persons, approximately 1000 from each country. RESULTS:The responses were grouped into 89 broad categories of similar answers concerning nutritional value and afterwards these responses were collapsed to simplify the presentation. The definition of healthy eating such as 'more fiber' and 'less fat' was more prevalent in other States, members of the European Union than in Mediterranean Countries, although the definition of 'balanced diet' was more frequently mentioned in Spain than in the rest of the European Union. CONCLUSIONS:Our results show that the concept of 'balance and variety' is more prevalent in Spaniards than in other traditional Mediterranean countries. Differences in the definitions of healthy eating among European countries could be explained, at least partially by differences in consumption patterns and in the nutrition education.