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Taco Soup, Our All-Time Favorite Recipe

October 4, 2014 Leave a comment

So have you heard that October 4 is National Taco Day? According to the National Taco Day people, last year we ate more than 4.5 billion tacos. While taco is essentially the synonym for a sandwich in a tortilla, I want to take this one step further and talk about a sandwich in a bowl, what we call Taco Soup.

If you’re like me, a soup named “Taco Soup” sounds a little spooky—it connotes Tex-Mex flavors, but then I have images of previously crisp taco shells mixed with lettuce, tomato and cheese floating around! However, this poorly named soup is actually the number one, hands down favorite “go-to” recipe for legions of people who have attended our week long Cooper Healthy Living program over the years. It’s a workhouse of a dish exactly like all the various kinds of soft tacos. We incorporate leftover bits of protein with fresh crisp vegetables and salsa! But I digress.

Nutrition is a huge interest for most people, and in the Cooper Healthy Living program we spend about a third of our time either talking about food, or eating! In addition to workshops on optimal nutrition, stocking your pantry and refrigerator and dining out, each session includes two cooking schools and numerous healthy eating cooking demonstrations. This soup often turns up sometime throughout the week and so far, everyone loves this soup!

The recipe makes serious cooks scoff—definitely a semi-homemade recipe, if ever there was one! And yet it tastes delicious, healthy and somehow unhealthy all at once. You know what I’m talking about when I say it tastes “unhealthy”—it’s so delicious it’s hard to believe it’s really a terrific option when you’re trying to eat well and maybe even lose a few pounds!

When we talk with all the folks who have come to Cooper to live a healthier life, a concern for most is that they just don’t have time, or are simply too overwhelmed to figure out how to get a great, good-for-you meal on the table every night. Enter Taco Soup, dinner in a bowl.

Director of Nutrition for Cooper Healthy LivingKathy Duran-Thal, RDN, LD, was thinking about the harried home cook when she concocted this soup. This recipe is quick and easy and it’s adaptable, exactly like building individual tacos. Do you like things hot and spicy? Add a can of green chilies or a can of Ro*Tel®. Hate bell pepper? No problem, just leave it out! Does your kid think they really only like corn? Add an extra can! Want to expand the recipe as you’re having more people for dinner than expected? Again, not a problem!—Add a couple more cans of beans, corn and/or hominy.

All of us on the Cooper Healthy Living team make this recipe and we all make it a bit differently. At my house, I always use two cans of fire roasted tomatoes, a big can of green chilies and three cans of beans (usually one each of pinto, red kidney and black). I sometimes add a second can of hominy (and yes, the yellow and white taste the same). All of us like to make as big a pot of soup as possible as, sans the garnishes, it freezes beautifully.

On nights when we get home late, or are just too tired or busy to think about dinner, I pull out a dinner-for-two sized container from the freezer and pop it into the microwave. As the soup heats, I set out bowls and dig through my pantry and refrigerator for garnishes. While fresh lime, chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream are my favorites, fresh diced raw onion (any type) and pickled jalapenos are also wonderful.

In Cooper Healthy Living we teach the science of nutrition, but within the framework that healthy food should taste good and be easy and attainable. And this soup fills that bill. With a little bit of lean protein, beans for fiber, corn and tomatoes as vegetables, and a little bit of fat, this magic combination makes for an entree that will keep you full for the next 5 or 6 hours. It’s truly a perfect example of healthy eating.

If you need help in making sense out of your health and incorporating some healthier habits into your routine, think about coming to spend the week with us. Until then, enjoy a delicious bowl of Taco Soup. Share in the comments how you and your household adjust this recipe to make it your favorite soup, too!

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, diced (we like red)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean (97/3) ground beef or turkey
  • 15 oz. can low sodium pinto beans, undrained
  • 15 oz. can low sodium corn, undrained
  • 15 oz. can yellow hominy, drained
  • 15 oz. can Muir Glen fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 package reduced sodium taco seasoning mix
  • 1 package (dry) Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
  • Fresh lime (optional as garnish)
  • Chopped Cilantro (optional as garnish)
  • Light Sour Cream (optional as garnish)

Directions

  1. Saute yellow onion and bell pepper in olive oil. Set aside.
  2. Cook ground beef and drain.
  3. Combine vegetables and meat into a medium soup pot. Add beans, corn, hominy, tomatoes, and chicken broth (optional).
  4. Stir in taco seasoning and Hidden Valley Ranch mix. Cook until warm and combined, about 10 minutes.
  5. To serve, fill bowl and garnish with fresh lime, chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Nutritional Analysis
One Serving | One Cup

Calories: 134
Protein: 6 g
Fat: 1 g
Sodium: 650 mg
Carbs: 28 g

A Week With Cooper Wellness

“Cooper helped me regain my confidence, showed me that there were many things I could do that I didn’t think possible any longer and helped me regain my life.” Jason, National Instruments

Walking around the Cooper Aerobics campus in Dallas, you never know who you will cross paths with. After seeing a few groups come in to attend the five-day wellness week hosted by Cooper Wellness, I decided to call my teammate (fellow employee) Susan Thompson, who is the Wellness Director at National Instruments through Cooper Consulting Partners to find out more. Susan explained that participants proactively want to make a change and need manager approval to attend a wellness program. Ideal participants are self-motivated and actively seeking help and support to keep them committed to their health goals.

Susan shared these four activities that participants commit to for the six-month period.

  1. Log food four days (or more) per week for four to six weeks through the MyFitnessPal app before the program starts.
  2. Engage 150 minutes of physical activity (walking or even housework counts) per week.
  3. Personal train once each week with a workout buddy
  4. Attend a support group once a week.

Employees set goals for the six month period and end up with great success stories to share. Jason attended Cooper Wellness beginning on March 31 and has already seen a dramatic difference in his life and is truly Cooperized.

“Before Cooper (or BC as my group coined it), we spent a large amount of time playing video games or watching TV at home,” Jason confessed. “After Cooper (AC) we are hardly ever at home for long stretches of time. We go out, socialize, work out together and live life,” Jason said. “Cooper helped me regain my confidence, showed me that there were many things I could do that I didn’t think possible any longer and helped me regain my life. I’d always heard the phrase ‘a new lease on life.’ Now I understand what that means fully. I’ve been given a second chance. What a difference a year can make.”

Since April, Jason and his wife have completed multiple 5Ks, regularly walk their dogs, are generally active and have even been hiking. Jason’s group collectively was down 200 pounds at their three month weigh-in and will continue to use the behavior change skills they learned at Cooper as they move towards their six month goal.

Last week another group with Cooper Wellness spent a week on campus participating in the five-day wellness week. “Being here this week has shown the impact of education and support in making healthier choices. I am going back to Austin inspired by the enthusiasm the group developed as they tried new foods and exercise classes. Many would not have tried these new behaviors last week,” said Susan. “Watching the Cooper Wellness team unlock the door for a healthy lifestyle for this group and knowing they can take that with them moving forward has been so rewarding. We are genuinely teaching and empowering people to live longer, and live better!”

Register to attend a Cooper Wellness program individually or contact Cooper Consulting Partners for customized services in strategy consulting, leader training and lifestyle education for your company.

H-E-B Slim Down Showdown

Kathy Duran-Thal, RDN, LD, has been the Director of Nutrition for Cooper Wellness for more than 25 years and all who interact with her praise her extensive knowledge, ability to relate and fun personality. In January, Kathy helped kick off the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown, a 12-week health and fitness program for H-E-B grocery store partners (employees) and customers. She spent a week teaching 30 program participants nutrition the Cooper way.

In the weeks since then, participants have had individual phone coaching with Kathy, logged their food, exercised and shared their journey in personal blogs. Kathy recently traveled to San Antonio for the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown finale.

Elizabeth Sandoval, a quality assurance technician at H-E-B’s bakery in Corpus Christi, and Richard Arrington, an H-E-B shopper from Aransas Pass, Texas, were two of the participants Kathy coached. Each of them won a $5,000 “Healthy Hero” prize for their involvement and dedication to the program. Richard, who originally weighed in at 385 pounds, improved his cholesterol by 75 percent, decreased his body fat by 36 percent and lost a total of 66.6 pounds. And Elizabeth improved her cholesterol by 28 percent, decreased her body fat by 36 percent and dropped 46.8 pounds. Read the news release and watch the video below to celebrate their success in their journey to live longer, healthier lives.

To learn about Cooper Wellness, click here or call 972.386.4777.

Is it True that Birds of a Feather Flock Together?

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

By Vitamin Expert Todd Whitthorne

WSJ Image

Image from The Wall Street Journal

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal  I found very interesting. It was about “mixed-weight couples” where one partner is overweight and the other isn’t.  Researchers from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Arizona studied 43 heterosexual couples and found those in the “mixed-weight” category experienced more relationship conflict, including resentfulness and anger, than so-called “same-weight” couples.  The results were published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Results also indicated that those couples with the most conflict involved a healthy-weight man and an overweight woman.  When just the man was overweight it wasn’t much of an issue.

Hmmmm!

It’s not news that men and women are different. John Gray made that very clear in his famous book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex. Weight is a very touchy subject and when it comes to relationships, one should always tread lightly. However, while they certainly exist, “mixed-weight” couples are not the norm. We know that those in our “warm circle,” which obviously includes spouses, have a huge influence on our behaviors and habits, and ultimately our weight. A study in the July 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that if your spouse is obese then you are 37 percent more likely to be obese. It might be surprising to learn that if your friends are obese you are 171 percent more likely to be obese! As I often say, when if comes to your health, which includes your weight, you are NOT the Lone Ranger!

In the Cooper Wellness Program we don’t often see “mixed-weight” couples. Usually those that come with their spouse have similar Body Mass Indexes and their overall health is fairly comparable. What we do see quite often though is a spouse motivated to improve his or her health that comes through the program solo. Then, after they spend six days getting Cooperized they leave campus completely convinced they will return home and “motivate” their spouse to hop on the wellness bus and embrace a healthy lifestyle. “Whoa, slow down!” In cases like this you need to be careful.

The last lecture of the Wellness Week is called “Managing Expectations” and its placement is intentional. We know that if you are willing to invest a reasonable chunk of change and six days of your life to come through the Wellness Program you are most likely in a “stage of change” that vastly improves your odds of success. More simply, you are ready to change. Remember, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But ONLY when the student is ready.

It’s human nature that once you participate in a positive experience you want to share it with those you love. The problem however is if your loved one isn’t ready to change then your unbridled enthusiasm will most likely not be received as you intend it. In fact, it might completely backfire which could then potentially extinguish your flame. I’m not saying this always happens…just don’t be surprised if it does.

Change is difficult and when a spouse or close friend decides to change, even if it’s a positive change, then it often is viewed as a threat to the one being “left behind.” “What’s wrong with the way we’ve been ____________(fill in the blank…living, eating, exercising, etc.) for all these years? Am I suddenly not good enough for you?” It can lead to some very difficult, but necessary, conversations.

Stanford’s Dr. BJ Fogg teaches that as humans we are lazy, social and creatures of habit. Overcoming the status quo is often very hard but relying on the experience of experts can dramatically improve your odds of success. Human “energy” can be phenomenally helpful but remember that we are all unique and when it comes to change, those we love don’t always move at the same speed.    

A Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The holidays are upon us! In between the hustle and bustle of holiday festivities and pulling together Christmas lists, it can be easy to forget to control our appetites and calories as delicious foods abound in our homes and at parties.

Thanks to our amazing Cooper Wellness and Cooper Clinic dietitians, there are ways to turn your  traditional Thanksgiving recipes into a healthy feast for all. Sneak in nutrients along with the decadence in these crowd-pleasing recipes:

Don’t forget, a key to fending off holiday weight gain is knowing that the secret of healthy eating is all about moderation, not deprivation.

If you’d like to learn more about the secrets to a healthy Thanksgiving, join Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Cindy Kleckner in her upcoming culinary demonstration, “Tweaking the Turkey Tradition.” Click here to register.

Podcast: New Weight Loss Drug Approved by FDA

In this podcast, Chip Lavie, MD, joins Todd Whitthorne to discuss Qsymia (formerly dubbed Qnexa), a new weight loss medication approved by the FDA that should be available by the end of this year. Dr. Lavie is triple board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases, and nuclear cardiology, and is a staff cardiologist at the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans and is medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation. Dr. Lavie’s also an active researcher and is the author, or co-author of more than 600 medical publications.

As a society we need additional tools to help those who are struggling with weight. Seventy percent of  Americans are overweight or obese, and the number of those who are morbidly obese continues to grow. The new weight loss medication, Qsymia, is a combination of the drugs phentermine and topiramate, and it’s estimated that weight loss will be 7- to 10 percent. For most individuals, this amount of weight loss can dramatically improve health values, although the person might well still not be at an ideal weight. Dr. Lavie and Todd discuss the potential impact this new medication may have on the obesity epidemic.

Listen to the complete podcast here.

Kitchen Products from Cooper Wellness

By Kathy Duran-Thal, RD, Director of Nutrition, Cooper Wellness

Below is a list of some of my favorite Dexas kitchen products that I use in the Cookery during the Cooper Wellness Program. We receive these items complimentary.


The Collapsible 8’ Pop Strainer expands to the capacity of a full quart, and then collapses down to 1 inch taking up to 80% less space. It is cool because the handle is long enough to span ½ of the kitchen sink and will not be in contact with the bottom of the sink where contaminates may be.


4 Pack Heavy Duty Grippmat® Set – I like these because it helps prevent cross contamination when preparing foods. Red is for beef, green is for veggies, blue is for cheese and yellow is for poultry. They are non slip, dishwasher and counter safe. The grippmat is very flexible so you can lift it off the counter and add the food you have diced to your soup pot or salsa recipe.



4-in-1 Trivet with Raised Nibs
– Multi-purpose trivet can be used as a pot holder, jar opener and spoon rest. I like that is comes in 3 colors. I have several that I keep on the counter.
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Spoonula – Stir, scrape, mix or use it as a spoon. It does it all. A silicon tool with a stainless steel handle. It is perfect tool for your kitchen.

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Silicon Basting Brush– Flexible, silicon rubber bristles, this brush is a must have when basting, brushing and coating. Super easy to clean and heat resistant. This brush is really useful when I am cooking in my cast iron wok.

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Watermelon Cutting and Serving Board
– Prepare and serve watermelon on this artistic, non slip cutting board with a raised lip to prevent juices from spilling over. I use this to display all types of fresh fruit, cheese and crackers.

Announcing the New and Improved Cooper Aerobics Website!

We have exciting news! This week we unveiled our brand new website, cooperaerobics.com, where you can access a variety of researched-based health and wellness information helping you to Get Cooperized™.

One of the most exciting and visual changes we made is the new home page for the website. Once you’ve entered cooperaerobics.com into your browser, you’ll see our tagline Get Cooperized, in the center of one circle that is formed by the combination of eight individual circles, each representing a Cooper entity. To learn more, choose an entity page by hovering over any circle. You’ll see a call-out box and photo appear. Then, click on the entity to enter the page. If you click on Get Cooperized in the middle of all of the circles, you’ll be directed to Dr. Cooper’s eight steps to Get Cooperized.

Make sure to check out the following areas of the new website for the latest Cooper information:

  • Get Cooperized section – Here you can learn about the eight steps to Get Cooperized developed by Dr. Cooper and what each step entails.
  • Health Tips – Located in the white navigation bar at the top of your page, Health Tips includes free health articles and videos from Cooper experts and covers the preventive health, exercise, nutrition, stress management and vitamins.
  • The Cooperized E-Newsletter – To sign up for our E-Newsletter or view past issues, click on “Health Tips” in the main navigation bar along the top of your page. You’ll notice a box housing information about the E-Newsletter. You may view past issues and articles all in one place. To receive the E-Newsletter, click on the button located at the right of the page that says “Sign up for our newsletter.”
  • Promotions – Stop here for current promotions offered by all Cooper entities. You can find the link to promotions in the main navigation bar at the top of the page, no matter which page you’re on. Click on “Promotions” and see what Cooper specials are going on now!
  • Buzz section – Also located in the main navigation bar, Buzz offers the latest updates from all of the official Cooper Aerobics media channels including Facebook, Twitter and our blog. Be sure to connect with us on social media!
  • Entity Pages – Each entity has its own page housing everything you need to know. The page even includes a live Facebook feed, giving you the most up-to-date information! To find an entity from our homepage, hover your mouse over the entity of your choice and simply click. From any other page on the website, look towards the top of the page and locate the gray navigation bar where all entities are listed.
  • Events – Never miss an event at Cooper! Located in the main navigation bar at the top of the page, you’ll find all of the upcoming events at Cooper Aerobics Center.

We hope our new website inspires you to make healthy lifestyle choices and reach your ultimate goal— to Get Cooperized!

Coconut Oil

By Kathy Duran-Thal, RD, Director of Nutrition, Cooper Wellness

What is it?
It is the edible oil that is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconut. The majority of the fat in coconuts is saturated, but this saturated fat is considered different than what is found in animal fats. Animal fats are composed of long chain fatty acids (LCFA); whereas, coconut oil is composed of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA).

MCFA are much smaller in size than LCFA, and this is what makes them easily digested in the body. The fats in coconut oil are actually so small that they are able to bypass the intestine in digestion, therefore not entering the bloodstream and going straight to the liver. In the liver, these MCFA are used as fuel to produce energy. The LCFA are digested slowly in the intestine. As they travel through the intestine, they are combined into bundles called lipoproteins, and these do enter the bloodstream. This is what is thought to cause artery blockage and heart problems.

What are the benefits?
Coconut oil is used for a variety of reasons. According to some, coconut oil has helped to treat heartburn and acid reflux. The main benefit that is being studied is that coconut oil may actually promote weight loss. One study that was done by the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) looked at abdominal obesity in women aged 20-40 years. The women who were supplemented with coconut oil showed a decrease in abdominal fat and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. The weight loss though could also be attributed to the fact that the women received dietary advice about physical activity and healthier eating habits during the study.

Also, this oil has been touted to help with hypothyroidism, which can cause weight gain, depression and fatigue. According to the Mayo Clinic though, there is still not enough research to promote this claim. An “immune system” booster is another claim that has been made about coconut oil due to the fact that it contains lauric acid. Lauric acid is a fatty acid that is found in breastmilk, and it helps infants to produce the substance monolaurin to fight off viral or bacterial infections. If consumed by an adult, lauric acid is thought to have this same effect. Lauric acid has also been shown to lower the total cholesterol to HDL ratio.

Should I use coconut oil?
Even with all of the benefits it is thought to have, coconut oil is still considered a saturated fat. The Cooper Clinic recommends for a 2,000 calorie a day diet only to consume 16-22 grams of saturated fat, less than seven percent of total daily calories. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains about 13 grams of saturated fat and 120 calories. Keep these numbers in mind if you do decide to use coconut oil. There still needs to be more research to study its long-term effects. For now, use it in moderation, and continue to follow a healthy eating-plan.

Super Bowl: Three Snacks We Love on Game Day

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or you’re just tuning in for the commercials, your Super Bowl watching party will likely include some tasty treats. So we asked Meridan Zerner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Kathy Duran-Thal, RD,  for their favorite delicious and healthy Game Day snacks. And yes, it is possible.

“Hail Mary” Muffins 
(also known as Savory Corn Bread Muffins)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups white wheat  flour
  • 1 1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 2 cut up turkey sausage patties
  • 2-3 cut up slices of turkey bacon
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Directions
In a bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In another bowl, combine, water, egg substitute and applesauce; mix well. Stir in dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill muffin cups coated with nonstick cooking spray two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 17-20 minutes or until muffins test done. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Bacon Wrapped Apricots with Jalapeno
(Can be made up to three days in advance and placed in the refrigerator)

Ingredients

  • 16 dried apricot halves
  • 2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and cut into 8 strips (you could also use poblano peppers)
  • 2 pieces nitrite free bacon or prosciutto, cut each piece in half lengthwise and then cut again horizontally
Directions
Preheat oven to 325°F. Place 1 thin slice of jalapeno on top of apricot half. Wrap   apricot half with 1 strip of bacon and secure with toothpick. Repeat procedure for remaining 15 apricots. Bake on cookie sheet for approximately 12 minutes. After about 8 minutes turn apricot halves over to allow browning on reverse side. When done, remove apricots from pan and place on paper towel to drain.

Artichoke and Spinach DipIngredients

  • 2-14.5 oz cans of artichokes, rinsed, drained and chopped into 1/4 pieces
  • 3/4 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce (to taste)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400° F. In a food processor, pulse to combine all ingredients. You may also choose to mix by hand. Spread into an 8-inch square baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until heated thoroughly. Serve with whole wheat pita wedges or crudités.

Extra tip: Instead of fat free mayonnaise and light sour cream, you may substitute ½ cup of Fage 0% Greek Yogurt.  This substitution will translate into each serving supplying approximately 55 calories and 2.5g fat  total fat.  For additional nutrition value and color, top this dish with red bell pepper strips.