MOORHEAD – Speaking to a crowd at the Moorhead Center Mall on Sunday, Dr. Neal Barnard offered a simple message: Going vegan is good for your health.

Barnard, a Fargo native who's written several books on the benefits of a plant-based diet, told his audience that eating just vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes can help you lose weight, boost your metabolism, cut your risk for diabetes and lower your blood pressure.

Barnard, whose talk was part of the Fargo Moorhead VegFest, said vegans can eat as much as they want and stay skinny because the foods they consume are full of fiber. He said fiber-rich foods satisfy a person's appetite faster than foods like meat and cheese.

"Cheese is 70 percent fat, especially saturated fat, plus a lot of salt and a lot of cholesterol," he said. "And we're eating enormous amounts of this stuff."

Barnard, who's president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., said aging puts the brakes on a person's metabolism but that switching to a vegan diet can help speed it up. "Your metabolism is slowing down because of high-fat foods that came into your life," he said.

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Barnard said the nation's obesity epidemic has been fueled by increased consumption of meat, cheese and sugar. To lose weight, he said, people have to change their diets.

"Exercise is good, but you would have to be running on a treadmill 24/7 to try to exercise off all the calories we're shoving down our esophagus," he said.

Barnard said a vegan diet lowers your body mass index and, in turn, lowers your risk for diabetes. He also said the weight loss from such a diet can give people with diabetes more control over the disease. He gave the example of a woman who lost about 40 pounds on a plant-based diet.

"She still had diabetes but under much better control on no medication," he said.

For anyone concerned about not getting enough protein on a vegan diet, Barnard says not to worry.

"Beans, vegetables and grains have more than enough protein for human needs, even if you are an athlete. Something like broccoli, it doesn't want to brag, but it's like one-third protein," he told The Forum after his talk. "I do encourage people to supplement vitamin B-12. You need that for healthy nerves and healthy blood."

Eating enough calcium is another concern people considering a vegan diet often have, but green leafy vegetables can provide enough of that element, Barnard said.

Kathy Hunstad, 57, of Moorhead said listening to Barnard's talk made her think about the challenges of going vegan but that she's tempted to try it.

"I'm a vegetarian wannabe," she said. "I really don't eat a lot of meat. I'm more of a vegetable person."

Susan Galloway, 52, of Jamestown said she's been a fan of Barnard's for about 15 years. She said she occasionally eats dairy products but otherwise she's 99 percent vegan. "I need to work more on that 1 percent," she said.