Zinc is an essential mineral required by the body for maintaining a sense of smell, keeping a healthy immune system, building proteins, triggering enzymes, and creating DNA. Zinc also helps the cells in your body communicate by functioning as a neurotransmitter.
A deficiency in zinc can lead to stunted growth, diarrhea, impotence, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, impaired appetite, and depressed immunity. Conversely, consuming too much zinc can disrupt absorption of copper and iron, as well as create large amounts of toxic free radicals. It is easier to over consume zinc from animal foods and supplements where it is more readily available for absorption.
Vegans and vegetarians who primarily consume plant foods may have difficulty getting enough zinc since zinc is not as bioavailable in plants foods as in animal foods. This is partly because bean and legumes contain phytates which can inhibit absorption. Despite this, plant foods are a still a good source of zinc and there is no reason to eat meat or take a supplement.