A vegetarian diet can dramatically improve the health of your heart, according to a large UK study.
Research into 44,500 people in England and Scotland has determined vegetarians are 32 percent less likely to die or need hospital treatment as a result of heart disease.
Scientists at the University of Oxford analysed data over 11 years from 15,100 vegetarians and 29,400 people who ate meat and fish and found differences in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body weight — all thought to be major contributors to heart disease.
Over the course of 11 years, 169 people in the study died from heart disease and 1066 needed hospital treatment. Accounting for factors such as age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, educational level and socioeconomic background analysts determined meat eaters were 32 percent more likely to be in those groups.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed the vegetarians had lower blood pressure, lower levels of "bad" cholesterol and were more likely to have a healthy weight.
In Australia in 2010, cardiovascular disease caused 32 percent of all deaths nationally, with coronary heart disease and stroke alone causing almost 33,000 deaths, according to the Department of Health.
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Australian nutritionist Lola Berry said vegetarians may see benefits from eating less processed foods rather than because they avoid meat.
"Naturally a [vegetarian] diet rich in whole foods and loads of veggies is going to be much healthier than the typical Western diet, as the Western diet is full of processed food, trans fats and lots of refined sugars," Berry told ninemsn.
"It's easy to be a healthy meat eater — as a consumer you have a choice every time you eat to pick good quality foods that are nutrient dense and your body will be in a state of homeostasis or balance.
"When the body is in balance, it's very hard for disease to survive.
"So at the end of the day, it's your eating whole foods, and pretty much nothing that comes from a packet your health will thrive."