This study aimed to test the association between dietary content of total and individual classes of polyphenols and incident cases of type 2 diabetes in Polish adults participating to the Health, Alcohol and Psychosocial factors In Eastern Europe study. At baseline, diet by 148-item FFQ and health information were collected from 5806 participants free of diabetes. Self-reported incident type 2 diabetes was ascertained at 2–4-year follow-up visit. OR and 95 % CI of type 2 diabetes comparing the various categories of polyphenol intake to the lowest one (reference category) and as 1 sd increase modelled as continuous variable were calculated by performing age-, energy-, and multivariate-adjusted logistic regression models. During the follow-up, 456 incident cases of type 2 diabetes occurred. When comparing extreme quartiles, intake of total polyphenol was inversely associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes (OR 0·43; 95 % CI 0·30, 0·61); 1 sd increase was associated with a reduced risk of diabetes (OR 0·68; 95 % CI 0·59, 0·79). Among the main classes of polyphenols, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and stilbenes were independent contributors to this association. Both subclasses of phenolic acids were associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas among subclasses of flavonoids, high intake of flavanols, flavanones, flavones and anthocyanins was significantly associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Total dietary polyphenols and some classes of dietary polyphenols were associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes.