Eating competence (EC), a bio-psychosocial model for intrapersonal approaches to eating and food-related behaviors, is associated with less weight dissatisfaction, lower BMI, and increased HDL-cholesterol in small U.S. studies, but its relationship to nutrient quality and overall cardiovascular risk have not been examined. Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) is a 5-y controlled clinical trial evaluating Mediterranean diet efficacy on the primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in Spain. In a cross-sectional study, 638 PREDIMED participants (62% women, mean age 67 y) well phenotyped for cardiovascular risk factors were assessed for food intake and EC using validated questionnaires. Overall, 45.6% were eating-competent. EC was associated with being male and energy intake (P < 0.01). After gender and energy adjustment, participants with EC compared with those without showed higher fruit intake and greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet (P < 0.05) and tended to consume more fish (P = 0.076) and fewer dairy products (P = 0.054). EC participants tended to have a lower BMI (P = 0.057) and had a lower fasting blood glucose concentration and serum LDL-:HDL-cholesterol ratio (P < 0.05) and a higher HDL-cholesterol concentration (P = 0.025) after gender adjustment. EC participants had lower odds ratios (OR) of having a blood glucose concentration >5.6 mmol/L (0.71; 95% CI 0.51-0.98) and HDL-cholesterol <1.0 mmol/L (0.70; 95% CI 0.68-1.00). The OR of actively smoking, being obese, or having a serum LDL-cholesterol concentration > or =3.4 mmol/L were <1.0, but the 95% CI included the 1.0 (P > 0.1). Our findings support further examination of EC as a strategy for enhancing diet quality and CVD prevention.