Accumulating chemical, biochemical, clinical and epidemiological evidence supports the chemoprotective effects of phenolic antioxidants against oxidative stress-mediated disorders. The pharmacological actions of phenolic antioxidants stem mainly from their free radical scavenging and metal chelating properties as well as their effects on cell signaling pathways and on gene expression. The antioxidant capacities of phenolic compounds that are widely distributed in plant-based diets were assessed by the Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), the ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP), the hypochlorite scavenging capacity, the deoxyribose method and the copper-phenanthroline-dependent DNA oxidation assays. Based on the TEAC, FRAP and hypochlorite scavenging data, the observed activity order was: procyanidin dimer>flavanol>flavonol>hydroxycinnamic acids>simple phenolic acids. Among the flavonol aglycones, the antioxidant propensities decrease in the order quercetin, myricetin and kaempferol. Gallic acid and rosmarinic acid were the most potent antioxidants among the simple phenolic and hydroxycinnamic acids, respectively. Ferulic acid displayed the highest inhibitory activity against deoxyribose degradation but no structure-activity relationship could be established for the activities of the phenolic compounds in the deoxyribose assay. The efficacies of the phenolic compounds differ depending on the mechanism of antioxidant action in the respective assay used, with procyanidin dimers and flavan-3-ols showing very potent activities in most of the systems tested. Compared to the physiologically active (glutathione, alpha-tocopherol, ergothioneine) and synthetic (Trolox, BHA, BHT) antioxidants, these compounds exhibited much higher efficacy. Plant-derived phenolics represents good sources of natural antioxidants, however, further investigation on the molecular mechanism of action of these phytochemicals is crucial to the evaluation of their potential as prophylactic agents.