A vegetarian diet can cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 32 per cent, according to a British study published on Wednesday.
Researchers who followed more than 44,500 volunteers for about 11 years on average, found vegetarians were significantly less prone to cardiac trouble.
In the 50-70 age group, 6.8 per cent of people who ate meat or fish were hospitalised or died from heart disease, compared to 4.6 per cent of vegetarians.
"We think (it) is due to their lower cholesterol and blood pressure," lead researcher Francesca Crowe from the University of Oxford's Cancer Epidemiology Unit told AFP.
A third of participants in the study, dubbed the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest of its kind in Britain, were vegetarians.
Heart disease is the single-largest cause of death in developed countries, claiming 65,000 lives in Britain each year.
A total of 1,235 people in the study group developed heart disease, of whom 169 died.
"These results show that diet is important for the prevention of heart disease," said Crowe of the results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Vegetarians in the study typically had a lower weight-to-height ratio and a reduced risk of developing diabetes, they found.
The results had taken into account the effects of the participants' age, smoking habits and alcohol use, exercise routine, educational level and income.
Ninety-seven per cent of the participants were Caucasian, said Crowe, but there was no difference in the results for different ethnic groups.
"There is no particular reason why it would not be generalisable to vegetarians in other population groups," she added.
Previous studies have found that vegetarians have a reduced rate of bowel disease and cataracts, but no difference in cancer risk from meat-eaters, said Crowe.