A salad a day keeps heart disease away.

Vegetarians are 32 percent less likely to be hospitalized or die from heart disease than nonvegetarians, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers at the University of Oxford in England found that the lower risk of heart disease for vegetarians is likely due to their lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels compared to meat and fish eaters.

The study followed 44,561 participants, 34 percent of whom have been vegetarian for more than 10 years.

Mitchell Knutson, a UF associate professor of nutritional biochemistry and 30-year vegetarian, said he wasn’t surprised by the results.

“Being a vegetarian will decrease your risk of many diseases: heart disease, cancer, obesity,” he said.

Jerry MacDougall, manager and owner of Harvest Health & Whole Foods in Alachua, said he’s been a vegetarian since 1972.

He said eating a meatless diet helps cut down on cholesterol and fat intake. “A lot of the clogging of the arteries comes from meat-based proteins,” he said.

Patty Alvarenga, a 20-year-old UF marketing sophomore, said she became a vegetarian in 2012 after she became concerned with her family history of high cholesterol.

“I have high cholesterol and decided to first cut out red meat from my diet and then, everything else just followed,” she said. “I know that I’m contributing to my future health.”

While vegetarians can rejoice at the study’s findings, some meat eaters aren’t convinced.

Although Lindsay Patenaude, a 20-year-old UF psychology and business administration junior, knows that heart disease is a serious matter, she said she wouldn’t give up meat.

“There’s other ways to combat heart disease,” she said. “I can exercise to keep my heart healthy. ”

While some students can’t cut the carnivorous habit, Gainesville food shops such as Reggae Shack Cafe, The Top and Civilization support the lifestyle by highlighting meat-free options on their menus.

UF was also named the second-most vegan-friendly large university by PETA’s Most Vegan-Friendly college contest in 2011, according to Alligator archives.

Karma Cream, an organic ice cream cafe, 1025 W University Ave., labels items in the food shop that are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly to help customers with dietary restrictions. “Pretty much every restaurant has a lot of options,” said Kyle Fick, co-owner of Karma Cream. “It’s all about choices.”