Characteristics and occurrence of phenolic phytochemicals

J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Feb;99(2):213-8. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00051-6.


Phenolic phytochemicals are the largest category of phytochemicals and the most widely distributed in the plant kingdom. The 3 most important groups of dietary phenolics are flavonoids, phenolic acids, and polyphenols. Flavonoids are the largest group of plant phenols and the most studied. Phenolic acids form a diverse group that includes the widely distributed hydroxybenzoic and hydroxycinnamic acids. Phenolic polymers, commonly known as tannins, are compounds of high molecular weight that are divided into 2 classes: hydrolyzable and condensed tannins. Quantification of food phenolics is just beginning, and preliminary results indicate high variability, even within a given food. Phenolics are biologically active compounds that may possess some disease-preventive properties. Evidence for their ability to prevent cancer or heart disease is preliminary and conflicting. The health benefits of phytochemicals have been reported in the popular press, and the public will come to dietitians for answers to their questions about phytochemicals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Coumaric Acids / administration & dosage
  • Coumaric Acids / analysis
  • Coumaric Acids / chemistry*
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage
  • Flavonoids / analysis
  • Flavonoids / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybenzoates / administration & dosage
  • Hydroxybenzoates / analysis
  • Hydroxybenzoates / chemistry*
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry*
  • Tannins / administration & dosage
  • Tannins / analysis
  • Tannins / chemistry*


  • Coumaric Acids
  • Flavonoids
  • Hydroxybenzoates
  • Tannins