Polyphenols constitute one of the most numerous and ubiquitous groups of plant metabolites and are an integral part of both human and animal diets. Ranging from simple phenolic molecules to highly polymerized compounds with molecular weights of greater than 30,000 Da, the occurrence of this complex group of substances in plant foods is extremely variable. Polyphenols traditionally have been considered antinutrients by animal nutritionists, because of the adverse effect of tannins, one type of polyphenol, on protein digestibility. However, recent interest in food phenolics has increased greatly, owing to their antioxidant capacity (free radical scavenging and metal chelating activities) and their possible beneficial implications in human health, such as in the treatment and prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other pathologies. Much of the literature refers to a single group of plant phenolics, the flavonoids. This review offers an overview of the nutritional effects of the main groups of polyphenolic compounds, including their metabolism, effects on nutrient bioavailability, and antioxidant activity, as well as a brief description of the chemistry of polyphenols and their occurrence in plant foods.