Aberrantly regulated apoptosis is involved in the pathogenesis of several diseases and defective apoptosis leads to uncontrolled cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. Cancer is an example of a pathologic condition where the normal mechanisms of cell cycle regulation are dysfunctional either by excessive cell proliferation, inhibited/suppressed apoptosis or both. Dietary habits are estimated to contribute to, at least, one third of all human cancers, showing that dietary components can exacerbate or interfere with carcinogenesis. However, several epidemiological studies have revealed that some dietary factors can decrease the risk of different types of cancer. Apoptosis is suggested to be a crucial mechanism for the chemopreventive properties associated with several dietary factors by eliminating potentially deleterious (damaged/mutated) cells. Food, a readily available item, contains several promising chemopreventive agents. Polyphenols are serious candidates since they are responsible for the cancer protective properties of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits: numerous phenolic compounds showed antiproliferative and cytotoxic effects and, more specifically, pro-apoptotic activities, in several cancer cells lines and animal tumor models. The aim of the present review is to analyze and summarize several aspects related to the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis induced by dietary factors with particular emphasis on polyphenols. Dietary factors that can activate cell death signals and induce apoptosis, preferentially in precancerous or malignant cells, and the study of their apoptotic inducing targets can represent a mean to devise new strategies for cancer prevention in the future.