A few years ago, Dr. Mehmet Oz asked me to create a recipe containing foods that help to naturally reduce stress and to do a cooking demo on “The Dr. Oz Show.” I found that the following ingredients have stress-reducing properties:
Red, Orange and Yellow Bell Peppers — These peppers contain vitamins A and C and folate, which help give you more energy and repair cell damage caused by stress. When under prolonged stress, the body gets depleted of vitamin C, an antioxidant that fights the free radicals that get released when you’re stressed. These free radicals have been shown to cause cancer.
Turkey — An amino acid called L-tryptophan contained in turkey triggers the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good, muscle-relaxing brain chemical. L-tryptophan has a calming effect. Turkey also contains tyrosine, an amino acid that helps your brain produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Activating those chemicals helps your brain work faster and be more effective at handling complex mental problems.
Spinach — Dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress. Many dark green vegetables also contain potassium, which is good for our nerves and can calm them.
Quinoa and Brown Rice — Quinoa is rich in vitamin B, which has a calming effect on the body and helps relieve feelings of stress and anxiety while enhancing your mood. Brown rice is a healthy carbohydrate and boosts serotonin levels, which has a calming, soothing effect. All whole grains contain B vitamins and fiber, and also supply serotonin-producing carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar levels. When you eat a carbohydrate, your body sends an amino acid called tryptophan into the brain to trigger the manufacture of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tranquil and better able to cope.
Low-Fat Cheese, Greek Yogurt — The whey and protein in milk products like cheese and yogurt help your nerves stay healthy, stabilize your blood sugar, stops you from feeling those extreme highs and low when you eat sugar, and has been shown to decrease anxiety and frustration. When consumed over a period of time, the calcium in dairy also has been shown to calm muscles and help keep blood pressure in check.
Avocado — The monounsaturated fats and potassium in avocados help lower blood pressure. Avocados have more potassium than bananas. Monounsaturated fat also helps keep receptors in the brain sensitive to mood-boosting serotonin.
Basil — A great source of folate, which helps to repair cell damage caused by stress.
This is the healthy, stress-reducing recipe I created for “The Dr. Oz Show.” Enjoy and relax.
Stress-Busting Stuffed Bell Peppers
Servings: 8 (2 stuffed pepper halves per serving)
8 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, or a mixture of all (about 4 pounds)
2 tablespoon canola or olive oil, divided
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
16 ounces fresh Italian turkey sausage, removed from casing, or ground turkey
1 (16 ounce) jar chunky salsa, mild or hot
2 cups fresh baby spinach, rinsed and chopped, or 1 (10-ounce) package chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove moisture
2 cups cooked quinoa or cooked brown rice, or mixture of both
1 cup low-fat Cheddar cheese
2 large avocados, peeled and pits removed, sliced
1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, slicing from the stem to the bottoms, leaving the stems intact. Remove the white pithy ribs near stem and down length of inside. Remove the ribs and seeds, and discard. Place the peppers in a shallow 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Drizzle the peppers with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cover the dish with foil, and bake the peppers 15 to 20 minutes, until they start to soften.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, chili powder and cumin; cook until the vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage or ground turkey, breaking it apart with a fork and cooking until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the salsa and spinach. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the cooked quinoa and/or brown rice.
Fill the pepper halves with the turkey mixture. Cover with foil. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until peppers are tender. Remove foil and sprinkle peppers with cheese. Return to oven; bake, uncovered, until cheese has melted. Top peppers with avocado slices, yogurt and basil.