Food and society in 21st century Spain

Food and society in 21st century Spain

By In Highlights, Salud On 13 March, 2015

Eating, a pleasure that can be enhanced with small changes

If we look at their eating habits, the Spanish do not do too badly. The study Food and Society in 21st Century Spain, conducted by Fundación MAPFRE’s Health Promotion Area in collaboration with the CEU San Pablo University, finds that the three main meals are almost always taken accompanied at home and that, in general, the food consumed is wholesome, successfully combining health and pleasure. There is, however, room for improvement.

Author: Juana Vidal | Photos: Latinstock


The continuous advances in technology applied to the production and processing of foodstuffs, together with the emergence of new lifestyles, are causing a revolution in everyone’s diet nowadays. Every day, advertising – and the proliferation of gastronomic programs on TV – inform us of new products, elaborations and presentations that cause our diet and purchasing habits to vary. This situation, coupled with the economic crisis, is addressed in the study which, according to Oscar Picazo, project leader in Fundación MAPFRE’s Health Promotion Area, “contributes valuable information for us to focus our policies and actions on those sectors of society that seem to be abandoning good habits in relation to the traditional or Mediterranean diet.”

The family meal, something that, from the perspective of the big city, would seem to belong to the past, is fortunately alive and well in Spain: 94.1 percent of respondents eat at home accompanied by their family. A fact to be celebrated and something that calls for judicious action to be taken in five general areas: the organization of meals (number, place and sociocultural environment); the preparation of foodstuffs (knowledge, love of cooking and adequate means); shopping habits (places, budget and site factors); knowledge about food and nutrition (data possessed, habits and perception of the different food groups); and, finally, personal taste, favorite or rejected group of foodstuffs.


Looking after your health in a global market makes a basic knowledge of nutrition indispensable

In organization, the Spanish fail right from the outset: a mere 28 percent take the recommended five meals, with the rest limiting themselves to breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, compared to earlier times, the habit of a decent breakfast has taken hold among 95.4 percent of the population, although the negative aspect is that the youngest are the ones who breakfast the least. One positive thing that can be said about our habits is that we take our main meals seriously, with 87 percent taking them at home, seated and accompanied. We also devote a reasonable amount of time to them, at least half an hour, with Catalonians and Galicians those who extend these pleasant moments the most. This “social aspect of eating and the fact that taste remains a fundamental factor when shopping for food are most important,” Oscar Picazo stresses.

Leaders in consumption of fruit and vegetables

The consumption of vegetables has been growing in recent decades in Europe. The north-south European divide remains, however, with those in Cyprus consuming 284 grams per person each day, while in Norway the figure is just 109. If we consider pulses as well as vegetables, the average European consumption reaches 220 grams per person per day. When added to the average consumption of fruit (166 grams/day), the average consumption of fruit and vegetables comes to 386 grams/day, still 14 grams below the recommended intake. Only Poland, Germany, Italy and Austria comply with the recommended consumption level of 400 grams per person per day.


In Spain, according to data from a 2014 study by the EAE Business School, La Rioja, Castile & Leon and Navarre are the regions which consume the most vegetables, reaching 347, 315 and 283 kg/year per person, respectively, compared to Madrid, Andalusia and Murcia which consume 166, 189 and 198 kilograms, respectively. This indicates a certain imbalance, but also a national average which, linked to the consumption of fruit, exceeds the 400-gram minimum daily intake recommended by the World Health Organization.

Pasta, rice and fish, the favorites


In 75.2 percent of households, the person who devotes over nine hours a week to cooking is a woman

The study confirms a positive attitude toward acquiring healthier habits such as eating at the same time, eating smaller quantities in the evening, or seeking information about what you should consume. The Spanish also express interest in choosing healthy products when shopping. These may perhaps be at odds with their preferences, with pasta, fish and rice at the top of the list, and fruit and salads in the middle of the ranking, although still higher than pulses, which are solely preferred by 2.6 percent. Gregorio Varela Moreiras, professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the CEU San Pablo University and coordinator of the study, celebrates the fact that there is “greater consumption of fish, and also fruit and vegetables, among the new generations”, but regrets the decline in cereals which are “basic foodstuffs”.

Preparing the menus requires an average of nine hours a week in each household. In 75.2 percent of cases, the person responsible is a woman, compared to 26.3 percent who are men. Apart from tradition, this is due to knowledge: 80 percent of women know how to cook, but age groups would have to be considered for men – 60 percent of the “younger ones” know how to cook, but only 30 percent of the over-65s. As a result, only one of every four men claims to be “fully responsible” for cooking in the home. In any case, 43.45 percent of both women and men are self-taught in the culinary arts, compared to 42.2 percent who learned from a family member.

The crisis has brought many changes to consumption habits, and also to the shopping cart. Half of all households have reduced expenses, buying cheaper products and eating out much less often. 18.4 percent consume less meat and fish, 11.2 percent fewer fresh products and 6.2 percent admit skipping a meal. 3.3 percent of those surveyed turn to aid programs. However, solely 20 percent declared that their purchasing criterion is price, compared to those who opt for taste (55 percent) or health (45 percent). In general, the study shows that the Spanish do their shopping taking into account the wholesomeness of foods (87.7 percent), expiration date (86 percent) and price (71.1 percent).

Guidelines for a healthy pleasing diet

Our relationship with food takes place on many other occasions than when sitting at the table. From the moment we buy food or the place where we eat, to the hours of sleep the previous day, they all come together in a cycle whose harmony dictates both our well-being and our health.

“Healthy Living”, incentives to improve

«Vivir en salud», estímulos para mejorar

The choice of foodstuffs in Spain is governed by criteria that maintain a balance between taste (55 percent) and health (45). Curiously, price alone is decisive for just 20 percent of consumers

While its objectives include other areas such as hygiene or the physical activity of children and adolescents, there is no doubt that Healthy Living – a Fundación MAPFRE initiative in collaboration with the Spanish Foundation for Health Education – fulfills an important role in encouraging nutritional education, both disseminating healthy consumption guidelines among children and adolescents and facilitating the advancement of hospitality industry professionals. Its campaigns always rely on teaching materials of high educational value which are at the disposal of families and groups of workers totally free of charge. Parents and teachers will find information on how to fight obesity, the food pyramid, the appropriate treatment of foodstuffs, or how to deal with an eating disorder, among other sections.

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