A national survey was carried out to find out how the Spanish adult population defined 'healthy eating'. Consumers were asked to describe in their own words what 'healthy eating' means to them. The sample included 1009 Spanish subjects over 15 y of age selected by a multietapic procedure. This study belongs to the Spanish partnership in a pan-European survey about attitudes to food, nutrition and health coordinated by the Institute of European Food Studies of Dublin. The results were shown as the percentages of the sample who gave one of the five most frequently mentioned descriptions ('more vegetables', 'balanced diet', 'more fruit', 'less fat' and 'more fish') and the distribution of responses by age, sex, region, socio-economic level and education level. A multivariable logistic regression model was fitted to assess the characteristics independently related to the use of the definition 'balance and variety' for healthy eating. The majority of the Spanish people defined 'healthy eating' as a diet with 'more vegetables' as the main description. Other descriptions commonly mentioned were 'less fat', 'more fruit', 'more fish', and 'more lean meat'. A higher age was associated with a lower likelihood of mentioning the concept of balanced diet. A higher educational level was also independently and strongly related to a higher prevalence of this definition. Differences between men and women showed only borderline significance. Our results suggest the need to improve nutritional education about fiber, low fat and cholesterol. It would be interesting to develop strategies in Spain to educate people on a definition of 'healthy eating' based upon 'balance and variety'.