OBJECTIVE: A national survey was developed in order to assess the difficulties and the potential benefits that the adult Spanish population perceive when they try to eat a healthier diet and also to help nutrition educators to develop relevant and specific strategies to promote healthy eating. DESIGN: The study survey was carried out according to an established protocol on a representative sample of 1009 Spanish subjects over 15 years of age selected by a multi-stage procedure. This study belongs to a partnership in a pan-European survey about food, nutrition and health. The analysis was focused on the evaluation of the seven most frequently chosen barriers and benefits. RESULTS: There was a trend to select as the main barriers: 'irregular work hours' (29.7%), 'willpower' (29.7%) and 'unappealing food' (21.3%), while 'prevent disease' (73.6%) was the most frequently selected benefit to healthy eating. About 20% of the subjects said they did not have any difficulty eating healthier and most people believed that healthy eating was associated with at least one benefit. CONCLUSIONS: In Spain, nutrition educators should be aware that an irregular and busy lifestyle, willpower and food-related factors (such as price and unappealing foods) are the main perceived barriers to healthy eating. Conversely, the prevention and health promotion aspects are the main perceived benefits.