Dietary intake of whole-grain foods is associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. In addition to dietary fibre, various phytochemicals have been suggested to contribute to the health effects of whole grain products. This review focuses on phenolic compounds in rye (Secale cereale L.), which is one of the major bread grains in Europe. Data on phenolic concentrations in rye grain and foods, their bioavailability to tissues and effects in vivo, and their potential contributions to health are presented. Phenolic compounds in rye, such as phenolic acids, alkylresorcinols and lignans, are concentrated in the outer layers of the grain. Phenolic acids are the major phenolic compounds in whole grain rye (103–300 mg/100 g grain), ferulic acid being the most abundant. Rye lignans are present at concentrations of 2 mg/100 g grain and had been shown to be converted by the intestinal microflora to the mammalian lignans enterodiol and enterolactone in human intervention studies. Alkylresorcinols (36–320 mg/100 g grain), which have been found to be incorporated into human erythrocyte membranes, are of particular interest due to their potential use as biomarkers of the intake of rye and wheat.