In short – both ‘alimento’ and ‘comida’ mean ‘food’, but for Spanish-speakers they have different connotations. ‘Alimento’ is mostly used when talking about ‘nourishment’, ‘sustenance’ and food in its most simple, unprocessed state, whereas ‘comida’ is normally used to refer to “prepared” food (think sushi or a hamburger). ‘Comida’ can also refer to the ‘meal’ itself (i.e., ‘lunch’ and/or ‘dinner’).
Sound a bit complicated?
Well, fear not, because by the end of this article you’re gonna be a master of these two super common words!
‘Alimento’ and ‘comida’ can *normally* be used interchangeably in the following way –
- As a synonym of ‘food’ (¿Te duele la cabeza? Tal vez necesites algo de comida / alimento = Do you have a headache? Maybe you need some food)
Nontheless, ‘alimento’ is mostly associated with –
- ‘Nourishment’ and ‘nutrition’ El huevo es de mucho alimento, rico en aminoácidos = Eggs are very nourishing, rich in amino acids
- ‘Maintenance’, ‘fuel’ or ‘support’ La lujuria era alimento de sus más locas fantasías = Lust was fuel for his craziest fantasies
‘Comida’ is *generally* the go-to way to refer to “prepared food” (sandwiches, stew, etc.).
It can also mean –
- A ‘meal’ (Mi esposo me preparó una comida deliciosa = My husband made me a delicious meal)
- A ‘meal’ at a specific time of the day(¿Vas a ir a la comida familiar? = Are you going to the family dinner?)
‘Alimento’ vs ‘comida’
When translating the word ‘food’ in the sense of ‘something to eat’, you can *normally* use both ‘alimento’ and ‘comida’ interchangeably.
Lidia – ¿Ese fue tu único alimento / única comida del día?
Carlos – Sí, me comí ese sandwich de atún hace como doce horas.
Lidia – Was that the only food you’ve eaten today?
Carlos – Yeah, I ate that tuna sandwich about 12 hours ago.
Me encanta* la comida / el alimento.
I love food.
*Erika’s top tip – the verb ‘encantar’ (‘to love’) works like ‘gustar’ (‘to like’), be sure to check out our article on ‘gusta’ vs ‘gustan’ if you wanna know more!
BUT Spanish speakers MAINLY use ‘alimento’ when referring to ‘sustenance’, or any substance that living beings eat or drink in order to SURVIVE.
Una chica saca una bolsa de papas fritas de la alacena
Hija – Quiero una botana mientras estudio.
Madre – Esas papas fritas no tienen nada de alimento.
A girl takes a bag of chips from the cupboard
Daughter – I want a snack while I study.
Mother – Those potato chips don’t have any nutrients.
You can also use ‘alimento’ in a more figurative sense, to describe an idea, person or object as the ‘fuel’ or ‘sustenance’ of something else –
Platón decía que el conocimiento es el alimento del alma.
Plato said that knowledge is food of the soul.
ON THE OTHER HAND, ‘comida’ is favored when talking about different types of cuisine (i.e., Italian, French, etc.).
This is because we’re not referring to foodstuffs, such as meat, grain, and vegetables, but instead to plates of “prepared food”.
Fabio – ¿Te gusta la comida mexicana?
Mihaíl – La amo, pero también me gusta mucho el sushi.
Fabio – Do you like Mexican food?
Mihaíl – I love it, but I also really like sushi.
‘Comida’ can also be used to refer to a specific ‘meal’, such as ‘lunch’ (also ‘almuerzo’ in Spanish) or ‘dinner’ (also ‘cena’). ‘Breakfast’ is the exception here, since ‘comida’ is rarely used instead of ‘desayuno’ –
Irma – ¿Quieres pedir un postre?
Elena – ¡No me da tiempo! Tengo una junta justo después de la comida.
Irma – Wanna order some dessert?
Elena – I don’t have time! I have a meeting right after lunch.
Expressions with ‘alimento’ / ‘comida’
Comida a domicilio – Food delivery
‘Domicilio’ means ‘home’ in English, so this phrase literally translates as ‘food to home’, but it’s basically just the Spanish equivalent of ‘food delivery’.
¿Cuál es tu aplicación preferida para pedir comida a domicilio?
What’s your favorite food delivery app?
Comida casera – Home cooking
And those delicious meals your mom makes?
Well, they’re ‘comida casera’ in Spanish.
¡Prefiero la comida casera de mi novio a la de cualquier restaurante!
I prefer my boyfriend’s homemade meals to any restaurant food!
La hora de la comida – Lunchtime
The exact time at which lunch is eaten varies across the Spanish-speaking world … but in most countries it’s called ‘la hora de la comida’ (or ‘la hora del almuerzo’).
¿Ya es* la hora de la comida? ¡Muero de hambre!
Is it lunchtime yet? I’m starving!
Erika’s top tip – note that we use ‘es’ here (third person singular conjugation of the verb ‘ser’) because the sentence in question is what we call an “impersonal expression”.
Alimentos integrales – Whole foods
Wanna find the whole foods aisle at the supermarket?
Just ask for the ‘alimentos integrales’.
¿Sabe dónde está el pasillo de alimentos integrales?
Do you know where the whole foods aisle is?
Hopefully you’ll now be more confident when choosing between ‘alimento’ and ‘comida’ in your next Spanish conversation!
If you happen to get the two mixed up, don’t despair! You’ll definitely be understood regardless!
Oh, and if you wanna further improve your Spanish vocabulary, I recommend you check out the differences between ‘mande’ vs ‘qué’.