Beyond the Table: How Optimal Fuel Can Help You Live Richly

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N.C. Cooperative Extension, Transylvania County Center is happy to have local Dietitian and nutrition expert from Transylvania Regional Hospital, Lori McCall share her thoughts on National Nutrition Month’s “beyond the table” theme.

Since 1980, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has designated March as National Nutrition Month. Each year, the national campaign hinges on an overall theme that guides the educational content. This year’s theme takes a farm-to-fork perspective entitled “Beyond The Table,” which includes food production, safety, and sustainability.

My approach this year, however, spins the question a little differently: how can effective nutrition empower your life beyond the table? How could the optimal “fuel” enrich your family life, career trajectory, and personal achievements?

When choosing my career path, I knew my “why” long before my “what.” I knew I wanted to improve people’s physical bodies so that their minds and hearts could focus on greater endeavors without the distraction of disease. Seeing patients put their mental energy toward mission work or finishing college instead of blood work or counting pills — that was (and remains) my aspiration.

So what’s on the table that enriches your life beyond the table? The overwhelming majority of nutrition research, decade after decade, culminates into a cohesive guideline that is both encouragingly simple to implement and frustratingly difficult to measure.

Eat more plants.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s not a cutting-edge “superfood” newly discovered in a remote rainforest. It’s not a perfectly balanced macronutrient ratio, or a regimented eating schedule, or yet another unsustainable restriction-based diet. It’s about what to eat more of, not less.

What would it look like to put more plants on your table? USDA’s MyPlate visual provides a great starting point to fill half our plate with fruits and veggies. I always tell my patients that we eat along an infinite spectrum of healthiness, not a delineated zone of “bad” or “good” foods. Here are a few ideas to chew on with the view of celebrating progress rather than punishing imperfection.

  • When making your own burger patties, substitute a quarter to a third of the volume of ground meat with finely diced mushrooms or shredded zucchini.
  • Toss some julienned carrots, spinach, and onions with your scrambled eggs.
  • Layer sautéed eggplant, peppers, and yellow squash into your homemade lasagna.
      • Try spreading hummus on your sandwich bread of mayonnaise.
      • Mix two or three tablespoons of chia seeds in half a cup of milk. Stir in cinnamon, vanilla, and your preferred sweetener. Soak overnight in a closed container, then enjoy a tasty yet filling breakfast side in the morning. For a more affordable option, use ¼ cup of dry oats instead of chia seeds and add a dollop of natural peanut-butter to make overnight oats.
  • Soak one tablespoon of flaxseed in three tablespoons of warm water for five minutes, and use it as an egg replacer in denser baked goods like muffins, cookies, or brownies.
  • Replace a third to a half of the ground meat in chili, spaghetti sauce, or taco filling with beans. Lentils and black beans are my top picks for these dishes.

National Nutrition Month’s “Beyond The Table” theme reminds us that health is not an ultimate goal in itself, but a means to an end. And that end can be a thousand fantastic possibilities.

Beyond the table of oatmeal and berries could lie the sweet intimacy of breastfeeding your baby for another month.

Beyond the table of beans and rice could lie the sustaining energy to run after your grandkids another hour.

Beyond the table of kale and green tea could lie the immune power to beat cancer another day, another year, another decade.

Don’t underestimate the power of consistent, small changes. By increasing fruit and veggie intake from two to five servings a day, you can reduce mortality by 13%. That’s more years of traveling the world or maybe meeting your great-grandchildren. Every time you replace meat and eggs with beans and legumes, it becomes easier for your body to balance your blood sugar — that is, you are less insulin resistant, which translates to better mental clarity and fewer post-meal naps.

What’s beyond your table?

For more personalized support in getting more plants on your table, contact your local cooperative extension agent Erin Massey at or visit N.C. Cooperative Extension, Transylvania County Center Events. The local Transylvania office provides educational classes ranging from sourdough and kimchi making to live cooking demonstrations at the farmers market. Check the link above for upcoming events.

-Lori McCall MS, RD, LDN

Lori has been a registered dietitian for over a decade and is currently the clinical dietitian at Transylvania Regional Hospital. Her professional passions include plant-based eating, cardiovascular disease prevention, and healthy recipe substitutions. When she is not proclaiming the joys of fiber to her cardiac rehab classes or calculating patients’ protein needs, she enjoys hiking with her husband and two preschoolers who, coincidentally, love bell peppers and tofu.