The adult human contains 2-3g of zinc, about 0.1% of which are replenished daily. On this basis and based on estimates of bioavailability of zinc, dietary recommendations are made for apparently healthy individuals. Absent chemical, functional, and/or physical signs of zinc deficiency are assumed indicative of adequacy. More specific data are seldom available. Changing food preferences and availability, and new food preparation, preservation, and processing technologies may require re-evaluation of past data. Conservative estimates suggest that 25% of the world's population is at risk of zinc deficiency. Most of the affected are poor, and rarely consume foods rich in highly bioavailable zinc, while subsisting on foods that are rich in inhibitors of zinc absorption and/or contain relatively small amounts of bioavailable zinc. In contrast, among the relatively affluent, food choice is a major factor affecting risk of zinc deficiency. An additional problem, especially among the relatively affluent, is risk of chronic zinc toxicity caused by excessive consumption of zinc supplements. High intakes of zinc relative to copper can cause copper deficiency. A major challenge that has not been resolved for maximum health benefit is the proximity of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and the reference dose (RfD) for safe intake of zinc. Present recommendations do not consider the numerous dietary factors that influence the bioavailability of zinc and copper, and the likelihood of toxicity from zinc supplements. Thus the current assumed range between safe and unsafe intakes of zinc is relatively narrow. At present, assessment of zinc nutriture is complex, involving a number of chemical and functional measurements that have limitations in sensitivity and specificity. This approach needs to be enhanced so that zinc deficiency or excess can be detected early. An increasing number of associations between diseases and zinc status and apparently normal states of health, where additional zinc might be efficacious to prevent certain conditions, point at the pharmacology of zinc compounds as a promising area. For example, relationships between zinc and diabetes mellitus are an area where research might prove fruitful. In our opinion, a multidisciplinary approach will most likely result in success in this fertile area for translational research.