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Foods That Help Sleep Apnea

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 Help Sleep Apnea
A woman eats a fresh salad to help with sleep apnea.

In Greek, the word "apnea" means "without breath." Sleep apnea is a condition that causes precisely that -- repeated interruptions in your breathing during sleep. More than 18 million American adults have it, according to the National Sleep Foundation, many of whom are overweight. In addition to not smoking, avoiding alcohol and sleeping on your side, a healthy diet that supports weight management may help alleviate your symptoms. For best results, seek specified guidance from your doctor or dietitian.

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Fruits and Vegetables

Vegetables for sale at a market.
Vegetables for sale at a market.

As nutrient and fiber-rich, relatively low-calorie foods, fruits and vegetables may help you manage your weight. Since fiber promotes fullness, try enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables in place of less satiating, calorie-dense snack foods, such as cookies and candy. Other than bananas, which may increase mucus production and worsen your symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), incorporate a variety of colors and types into your overall diet. Fruits and vegetables particularly high in fiber include raspberries, citrus fruits, pears, apples, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, dark leafy greens, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Low-Fat Dairy Products

A bowl of greek yogurt.
A bowl of greek yogurt.

Low-fat dairy products supply significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein, which promotes blood sugar balance and fullness between meals. One useful way to reduce your caloric intake and manage your weight, according to "Snoring and Sleep Apnea: Sleep Well, Feel Better," by Ralph A. Pascualy and Sally Warren Soest, involves swapping high-calorie dairy products, such as whole milk and cheddar cheese, out for lower-calorie equivalents, such as skim milk and part-skim mozzarella cheese. Replace heavy cream in recipes and hot beverages, such as coffee, with low-fat milk and enjoy low-fat yogurt topped with fruit in place of cheesecake or ice cream for dessert.

Whole Grains

Slices of whole grain bread on a cutting board.
Slices of whole grain bread on a cutting board.

Unlike refined grains, whole grains have retained valuable nutrient and fiber content during food processing. As a result, they can help you stay fuller longer, maintain digestive regularity and meet your daily fiber needs. Fiber-rich foods can help you manage your weight and potentially reduce sleep apnea symptoms, according to the UMMC. For best results, replace low-fiber breads, cereals, pasta and snack foods with 100 percent whole grain foods. Examples include whole grain breads and cold cereals, whole wheat spaghetti, pearled barley, wild rice, brown rice, old-fashioned oats and air-popped popcorn.

Plant-Based Oils

A small bowl of olive oil and rosemary.
A small bowl of olive oil and rosemary.

Plant-based oils provide unsaturated fats that support nutrient absorption, brain function and heart-health. If you're overweight and have sleep apnea, the UMMC recommends replacing saturated fat sources, such as butter and margarine, with healthier alternatives, such as canola and olive oil. When consumed in excess, saturated fats may increase inflammation and increase your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Try grilling whole grain bread in light amounts of olive oil rather than topping it with butter. When baking, swap shortening out for canola oil. Other plant-based oil varieties include safflower, sunflower, vegetable and flaxseed oil.

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