Being vegetarian reduces the risk of death or hospital admission from heart disease by almost a third, a major study has shown.
Avoiding meat and fish was associated with significantly better heart health among almost 45,000 British adults.
In total, 34 per cent of participants were vegetarian, the vast majority of whom were women. Over an average follow-up period of 11.6 years, scientists recorded 1,066 hospital admissions due to heart disease and 169 deaths.
Vegetarians were 32 per cent less likely to be included in these figures than non-vegetarians. This was after adjusting for a wide range of factors that could have influenced the result, such as age, sex, physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, education and social background.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is the largest to be conducted in the UK looking at the impact of vegetarianism on heart disease.
Co-author Professor Tim Key, deputy director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, said: “The results clearly show that the risk of heart disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in comparable non-vegetarians.”
The main reason for the difference is thought to be the effect of a low-fat vegetarian diet on cholesterol and blood pressure. Vegetarians had lower levels of harmful cholesterol in their blood than meat and fish eaters, and reduced systolic, or maximum, blood pressure.
In addition, vegetarians tended to be slimmer than non-vegetarians, with a lower body mass index, and they were less likely to be affected by diabetes.