If you want to do your heart a favour, put down the bacon. But don't stop there, because all your favourite meats have to go.

A study from the University of Oxford found a vegetarian diet cuts the risk of ischemic heart disease by up to 32 per cent. Sound like a massive proportion? That figure even takes into account variables like sex, age, activity level and smoking.

Even when adjusting for body mass index, vegetarianism was found to reduce heart disease risk by 28 per cent.

The study looked at a group of 44,561 men and women from England and Scotland — of which 34 per cent were vegetarians — making it the largest ever U.K. study comparing vegetarians and meat eaters.

So what is it about choosing salad over steak that makes for a healthier heart? Researchers think the lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels found in the vegetarian participants are the key.

"Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease," explains Francesca Crowe, lead author of the study.

Vegetarians in the study also generally had lower BMIs.

So deny it all you want meat lovers, but this is hardly the first piece of evidence that a balanced vegetarian diet is loaded with health benefits. Other studies suggest that vegetarian diets can increase your life span, improve your mood, help you lose weight and reduce cancer risks.

However, if you're not ready to give up meat completely, you could always a try a flexitarian ("part-time" vegetarian) diet and reap some of the health rewards of reduced meat intake.

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  • Quinoa

    A half plate of cooked quinoa is the same as eating one ounce of meat.

  • Tofu

    Two ounces of tofu is equal to one ounce of meat.

  • Tempeh

    One ounce of tempeh is equivalent to one ounce of meat.

  • Black Beans

    1/4 of cooked black beans equals one ounce of meat.

  • Peanut Butter

    PB without the J. One tablespoon of peanut butter is the same as eating one ounce of meat.

  • Chickpeas

    Eating at least 1/4 of can of chickpeas is the same as eating one ounce of meat.

  • Kidney Beans

    You got it. Having at least 1/4 of a can of red kidney beans is the same as eating one ounce of meat.

  • Almonds

    Having half an ounce of almonds equals one ounce of meat.