Eating Right with The Fit Foodie
Chef Mareya Ibrahim talks about eating better at 50+ and how to do it
My name is Michele. I'm 54. And I want to learn how to eat better.
Chef Mareya Ibrahim to the rescue!
Ibrahim, also known as The Fit Foodie and author of the book "Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive," is more than happy to help.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, and then raised in New York after her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was two years old, Ibrahim knows all about how eating better can help. She says that growing up in a Middle Eastern family, shopping, preparing meals for many and then eating together was the anchor of her life.
"More muscle burns fat efficiently. It helps to keep your skeletal system in shape."
"I really enjoyed getting together with my family," Ibrahim, 53, recalls. "The only part I didn't enjoy was feeling like I always had to overeat. I think the starvation mindset of a third world culture was if you have food, you should eat as much as you can. That didn't work for me."
She says that "The Fit Foodie came out of wanting to love food and embrace beautiful cuisine, but at the same time, take a sustainable approach that allows you to be fit of the mind, body and soul at the same time."
So how can you become a fit foodie?
Building Blocks of Life
Ibrahim says that the number one thing people 50 and over need to think about in terms of their diets is protein.
"Proteins are the building blocks of life. It's what feeds your muscle, and as we age, holding muscle is so incredibly important for a number of reasons. More muscle burns fat efficiently. It helps to keep your skeletal system in shape. It helps to build your bone density, which is important along with calcium," she explains. "By keeping lean muscle mass on your body, you will help prevent inflammation that often comes from joint breakdown, lack of collagen in your system and just aging in general."
When we think about a meal, many of us tend to think about simple carbohydrates, she says — pasta, rice or bread. "And in small quantities, that's still okay," she says. But focusing on and prioritizing lean protein such as chicken breast, turkey, fish, and Omega-3 fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna fish is key.
Even eggs — yolks and all — can be good for you. Be sure, though, to stay away from bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that can be found in plastics and metal food cans.
"Sugar is more addictive than crack. After the age of fifty, it's much harder to metabolize if you're not getting enough protein."
Second, add leafy greens to your diet. If you're not thrilled with them, Ibrahim suggests sneaking them into your diet. For example, you can make a smoothie that includes spinach, but also cocoa powder and blueberries. "It tastes like chocolate milk," she says. "You don't taste the greens, but they're giving you a lot of benefit."
Changing your eating is all about rewiring your brain; wanting to avoid bitter greens is natural. "From a historical perspective, bitter has always signified danger," says Ibrahim. Bitter foods tell our brains to be aware. "If you couple it with other things that change the flavor for you, it becomes really palatable," she says.
When you're focusing on your nutrition, you can then add in some complex carbohydrates. And begin to retrain your tastebuds.
For example, we all love sugar. But "sugar is more addictive than crack," Ibrahim says. "After the age of fifty, it's much harder to metabolize if you're not getting enough protein. You store it, and we don't want you to store it. We want you to burn it."
Don't Starve Yourself
Sometimes, when people want to lose weight, they start deprivation diets. "They want to cut their calories, and that's all they focus on. But it's not just about less calories. It's about eating the right foods and doing it throughout the day so you can actually support your blood sugar," Ibrahim explains.
"Your age is not a barrier to becoming healthy."
Focus on a healthy approach, and unless under a physician's orders, don't eat less than 1,300 calories a day. "It's not acceptable. You will lose muscle," she says. "If you're moderately active, you should be getting at least 1,500 calories each day from good food." High protein, low sugar, lots of greens, and lots of water will help you support a healthy body and a healthy metabolism.
Don't tell yourself that you will never eat a particular food again. "It's not sustainable because what it ends up creating is this anxiety around food," she says. Instead focus on the "90/10 rule." What this means is that if you eat well 90% of the time, then you can eat what you want 10% of the time.
"You can eat whatever the fork you want. In training, it's called 'the refeed.' Metabolically, it's actually really important to refeed because you can't keep your body in a constant state if you don't have some extra calories once in a while," she says.
Biggest Problem to Watch For
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is relying on going out to eat for their main source of nutrition," says Ibrahim. "That can create all kinds of problems because serving sizes are often way too large. They've added too much sodium and saturated fat to make it taste good."
Having worked in restaurants, she adds that "the amount of butter that is used is just unbelievable. The restaurant doesn't care about your diet. They care about making the food taste good so you come back."
Finally, taking control of your eating habits means becoming comfortable with cooking. Ibrahim gives tips in her books about how to build a shopping list and doing meal prep. If you cook a chicken breast, you can use it in salads, soup, and even tacos. Having foods prepped helps because when you get hungry, there's something good for you to eat.
"Your age is not a barrier to becoming healthy. There's a difference between your chronological age and your biological age. It doesn't matter what happened in your past. It doesn't matter if you've had issues. I've helped people get off of sixteen different medications just from changing their lifestyle and their eating habits," she says. "You're not a prisoner of your body. You're not your parents. Just because they suffered from something doesn't mean you're destined to do the same. Figure out what your 'why' is. Why do you want to do this? For me, it's my family. I want to be around for them."
"This is a lifestyle," she adds. "This is a commitment, but it's a really good one. It will change you for good."
Ibrahim offers a free booklet of 10 recipes you can make in 15 minutes or less on her Instagram @ChefMareya. She has a link to a free program on there for women going through menopause. She also has free downloads on her website.
A Recipe from The Fit Foodie
Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse with Raspberry Coulis and Coconut Whip
From "Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive" by Mareya Ibrahim
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tsp. granulated stevia
2 tsps. fresh lemon juice
Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse
1 large ripe avocado
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk (or rice milk, for a nut-free option)
1/4 cup granulated stevia
Coconut whip topping, raspberries, blueberries, all-natural coconut whipped cream, star fruit slices, slivered almonds, unsweetened shredded coconut, dusting of ground cinnamon and/or unsweetened cocoa powder—or any combination of these that your heart desires!
- Make the coulis: In a small saucepan, combine the raspberries, stevia, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and push the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice. Let cool to room temperature.
- Make the mousse: Halve and pit the avocado. Scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin using a spoon and drop it into a food processor. Pulse the avocado until smooth.
- Add the cocoa powder, almond milk, stevia, and 1/2 cup water and pulse again until completely blended and smooth.
- Evenly distribute the mousse among four martini glasses, champagne flutes, ramekins, or mason jars and divide the raspberry coulis among them. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Before serving, top as desired and eat it up with a spoon!