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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.

“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.”

“More muscle burns fat efficiently. It helps to keep your skeletal system in shape.”

Senior smiling woman looking at fresh fruits in supermarket
Credit: Getty

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.

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.”

“Sugar is more addictive than crack. After the age of fifty, it’s much harder to metabolize if you’re not getting enough protein.”

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.”

By Michele Wojciechowski | August 19, 2022

Find news, advice, information, conversations and stories curated for people over 50 on Next Avenue – a nonprofit, digital journalism publication produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT). Next Avenue is dedicated to covering the issues that matter and is public media’s first and only national publication for older adults.