The effect of increasing levels of various protein sources on zinc absorption from a legume-based meal was studied in humans with the use of a radionuclide technique. The meals were extrinsically labelled with 65Zn and absorption was determined from measurements of the whole-body retention of the isotope. The mean fractional zinc absorption for the 13 meals was 24.7 +/- 6.9% and was only influenced by the protein content of the meal to a limited extent (r = 0.45). However, the amount of zinc absorbed from the meals was strongly correlated with both the protein (r = 0.85) and zinc content (r = 0.86): 5.9 +/- 1.7 mumol of zinc was absorbed from the basal bean meal which had the lowest protein content; the addition of low zinc chicken doubled the protein content and increased zinc absorption to 10.3 +/- 2.0 mumol; the addition of zinc-rich beef also doubled the protein content, however, zinc absorption was increased to 15.9 +/- 4.7 mumol. It is concluded that the zinc content of the main protein source of the diet determines the amount of zinc absorbed to a large extent. However, relatively small amounts of animal protein can significantly improve the value of a legume-based meal as a source of zinc.