Broadly defined, phytoestrogens include isoflavones, coumestans, and lignans. A number of these compounds have been identified in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains commonly consumed by humans. Soybeans, clover and alfalfa sprouts, and oilseeds (such as flaxseed) are the most significant dietary sources of isoflavones, coumestans, and lignans, respectively. Studies in humans, animals, and cell culture systems suggest that dietary phytoestrogens play an important role in prevention of menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. Proposed mechanisms include estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects, induction of cancer cell differentiation, inhibition of tyrosine kinase and DNA topoisomerase activities, suppression of angiogenesis, and antioxidant effects. Although there currently are no dietary recommendations for individual phytoestrogens, there may be great benefit in increased consumption of plant foods.