A diet rich in lignans has been suggested to be protective against a range of chronic diseases. The distribution and metabolic fate of lignans is, however, very poorly understood. We fed high-fibre wheat breads low in lignans (n 8) or high-fibre rye breads (n 9) rich in plant lignans to pigs for 58–67 d, and analysed the content of plant lignans and their metabolites in the diet, blood, bile, faeces, urine and selected tissues. Apparent faecal digestibility of dietary precursors was higher than of total (plant- and entero-) lignans due to conversion to enterolactone and enterodiol. The digestibility of lariciresinol and matairesinol was lower than that of the sum of plant lignans. This suggests that interconversion of plant lignans during digestion and enterohepatic circulation occur without complete conversion to enterolignans. The majority of lignans present in plasma and urine was in the form of enterolignans, but up to 23 % in the plasma, and 11 % in the urine of the rye-fed pigs were in the form of plant lignans. There was a very high concentration of lignans in bile from the rye-fed pigs with as much as 77 % in the form of plant lignans. Lignans were detected in the tissue of colon, liver, breast and brain at a much higher level with rye than with wheat, but only in the form of enterolactone. The importance and implications of systemic exposure to plant lignans remain to be elucidated.