It has previously been observed that allyl isothiocyanate, a compound naturally present in the diet, is more cytotoxic toward the human colorectal adenocarcinoma cell line HT29 in its control transformed state than after exposure to sodium butyrate or to dimethylformamide, which slow growth and induce differentiation (detransformation). In the present study, a range of other dietary compounds were assayed for such selective toxicity. These compounds were chosen as constituents of foodstuffs that have been identified from epidemiologic studies as being potentially antitumorigenic and also as having anticarcinogenic activity in experimental models. Benzyl and phenethyl isothiocyanate, benzyl thiocyanate, and quercetin showed decreased toxicity towards HT29 after detransformation of the cells by one or both treatments, whereas no change was observed in the sensitivity to diallyl sulfide or diallyl disulfide. It is proposed that the presence of such selectively toxic compounds in the diet may inhibit the development of tumors by interfering with the growth of preneoplastic lesions while having little effect on normal cells. The cumulative effects of these inhibitions may contribute to the chemopreventive properties of the parent foodstuffs observed in epidemiologic studies.