There has been a growing interest in lignans, a class of phyto-oestrogens, because of their potentially favourable effects on human health. The aim of the present study was to compare the metabolic profile of post-menopausal women consuming various amounts of dietary lignans. Phyto-oestrogen intake was assessed using a 3-d dietary record analysed with a Canadian food phyto-oestrogen content data table in 115 post-menopausal women (age 56·8 (sd 4·4) years and BMI 28·5 (sd 5·9) kg/m2). Plasma enterolactone (ENL), the major biologically active metabolite of dietary lignans, was determined by time-resolved fluoroimmunoassay. Anthropometrics, abdominal adipose tissue areas (computed tomography), body composition (hydrostatic weighing) and insulin sensitivity (hyperinsulinaemic–euglycaemic clamp) were measured in all women. Women in the high dietary lignan intake subgroup (n 29) had a significantly lower BMI and total body fat mass, as well as a better glucose disposal rate (GDR; P < 0·05), compared with women in the low lignan intake subgroup (n 28). The majority of women with the highest dietary lignan intake were also in the highest quartile of plasma ENL (59 %). Women in the highest ENL quartile had a significantly lower BMI (26·1 (sd 4·4) v. 30·4 (sd 6·9) kg/m2, P < 0·05), total body fat mass (24·8 (sd 9·8) v. 33·3 (sd 13·3) kg, P < 0·05), 2 h postload glycaemia (5·5 (sd 0·9) v. 5·7 (sd 0·8) nmol/l, P < 0·05) and a higher GDR (8·3 (sd 2·7) v. 5·5 (sd 2·8), P < 0·01) compared with women in the lowest ENL quartile. In conclusion, women with the highest ENL concentrations had a better metabolic profile including higher insulin sensitivity and lower adiposity measures.