The present report discusses targeted and non-targeted approaches to monitor single nutrients and global metabolite profiles in nutritional research. Non-targeted approaches such as metabolomics allow for the global description of metabolites in a biological sample and combine an analytical platform with multivariate data analysis to visualise patterns between sample groups. In nutritional research metabolomics has generated much interest as it has the potential to identify changes to metabolic pathways induced by diet or single nutrients, to explore relationships between diet and disease and to discover biomarkers of diet and disease. Although still in its infancy, a number of studies applying this technology have been performed; for example, the first study in 2003 investigated isoflavone metabolism in females, while the most recent study has demonstrated changes to various metabolic pathways during a glucose tolerance test. As a relatively new technology metabolomics is faced with a number of limitations and challenges including the standardisation of study design and methodology and the need for careful consideration of data analysis, interpretation and identification. Targeted approaches are used to monitor single or multiple nutrient and/or metabolite status to obtain information on concentration, absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination. Such applications are currently widespread in nutritional research and one example, using stable isotopes to monitor nutrient status, is discussed in more detail. These applications represent innovative approaches in nutritional research to investigate the role of both single nutrients and diet in health and disease.