Aims: Successful health promotion in Europe depends on an adequate knowledge of everyday nutrition. An analysis of consumption structures and eating patterns is therefore a basic scientific task. This paper has two main aims: on the one hand it gives empirical data on European food consumption during the last 50 years. On the other hand it stresses the scientific problems of constructing and reflecting a 'diet' or 'everyday nutrition'.
Methods: The paper starts with a discussion on the different levels of a 'diet' and gives some hints for an adequate analysis of an eating culture. Empirical data is presented, first of all consumption figures, then information on single 'national' dishes and last on meals in the former European Economic Community.
Results/conclusion: The empirical analysis shows the complex structure of European eating culture. Health promotion cannot be founded on simple consumption figures, because they do not reflect everyday nutrition in an adequate way. A successful policy needs to be founded on a detailed knowledge of dishes, meals and symbols of eating; and it has to reflect the problems of one-sided awareness of nutritionists and doctors.