Diets where 70 per cent of food is plant based lead to a 20 per cent decrease in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to the Imperial College London study.
The decreased risk is benchmarked against more meat-heavy diets, where 55 per cent of food consists of meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
Because of the goodness inherent in vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, the research suggests that piling those on to your plate rather than animal products is one of the simplest ways to improve health and nutrition.
“A pro-vegetarian diet doesn’t make absolute recommendations about specific nutrients,” said the lead researcher, epidemiologist Dr Camille Lassale of Imperial.
“It focuses on increasing the proportion of plant-based foods relative to animal-based foods, which results in an improve, nutritionally balanced diet.”
The findings were extrapolated from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study of 450,000 people from 10 countries.
Those taking part were aged 35 to 70 and recorded their dietary, lifestyle and physical activity choices for 12 years from 1992.
Each person was scored on their “pro-vegetarian” eating habits and those with high scores were found to be a fifth less likely to die of heart-related causes than those with low scores.
Imperial’s research is the latest in a long line to underline the importance of eating less meat for the sake of heart health.
In 2013, the UK’s largest study into the comparative health of meat-eaters and meat-reducers found that the latter group was 32 per cent less likely to be hospitalised or die as a result of heart disease.
As Lassale commented on her findings: “This isn’t revolutionary. It’s a simple message: replace some meat, eggs and dairy with beans, nuts, [grains] and vegetables.”