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Foods That Make Sleep Apnea Worse

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Foods That Make Sleep Apnea Worse
Tipe bananas on a wooden table. Photo Credit alfernec/iStock/Getty Images

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes you to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation -- a daunting statistic since in addition to reducing your sleep quality, it raises your risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Treatment may include use of a breathing machine, dental appliances, medications and lifestyle changes, such as eating healthfully and managing your weight. Avoiding particular foods may also help minimize your symptoms.


Bananas, though a valuable source of fiber and nutrients, may increase mucus production and exacerbate breathing problems associated with sleep apnea. For this reason, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends avoiding bananas and other mucus-producing foods for two weeks to determine whether they are contributing to your symptoms. If your symptoms improve, you may wish to eliminate bananas from your diet entirely. Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, soft, over-ripe bananas may cause more problems than harder, less-ripe varieties.

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High-Fat Dairy Products

High-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, heavy cream and high-fat cheeses, may also trigger or worsen mucus production. As rich sources of saturated fat, whole milk products may also increase your risk for sleep apnea-related health risks, such as heart disease. Research published in the "American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine" in November 2008 in which 72 overweight patients with sleep apnea consumed a calorie-controlled diet, limited in dairy fats and other saturated fat sources showed a positive correlation between avoiding these foods and improved symptoms. After following the diet for one year, participants exhibited positive weight loss results and improved quality of life. For potentially similar benefits, limit or avoid high-fat dairy products and foods and beverages prepared with high-fat dairy products, such as cheese-topped pizza, pasta Alfredo, full-fat lattes, cheesecake, ice cream, butter and nachos.

High-Fat Meats

High-fat meats also supply rich amounts of saturated fat, increase your risk for cardiovascular health problems and may trigger or worsen inflammation in your body. For these reasons, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends replacing saturated fat sources with healthier alternatives. Replacing high-fat steaks with cold-water fish, such as salmon, for example, may enhance your heart-health, reduce inflammation and keep your intake of unhealthy fats low. Meat varieties and dishes particularly high in fat include porterhouse and top sirloin steak, bacon, pork chops, lamb, sausage, meat-topped pizza, fast food breakfast sandwiches, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, deli meats, veal cutlets, bratwursts, fried chicken and spareribs.

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are foods high in added sugars, such as cane sugar, honey or corn syrup, or enriched flour. Unlike complex varieties, such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, refined carbohydrates contribute calories but relatively few dietary benefits to your diet. As high-glycemic foods, refined carbohydrates provide little satiation and may disrupt your blood sugar and energy levels. Since these factors may contribute to weight gain, they increase your risk for sleep apnea symptoms. For best results, limit or avoid processed snack foods, candy, regular soft drinks, pastries, cupcakes, cookies, pie, frozen desserts, pancake syrup, jelly, jam and heavily sweetened cereals. When purchasing breads, cereals, pasta and rice dishes, check food packaging to ensure that whole grains, rather than "enriched" grains or flour, are listed as main ingredients.

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