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Mediterranean diet may reduce sleep apnea symptoms

26 March 2012

Obstructive sleep apnea can be a significant health issue for men. Online personal trainer Andrew Cate looks at the positive impact that a Mediterranean diet may have on this debilitating condition.

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What is a Mediterranean diet?
There are numerous countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea where people follow a traditional diet to varying degrees, including Greece, Spain, Morocco, southern France, and parts of Italy. While there are some variations, there are also some commonalities, including a strong emphasis on olive oil (not butter), vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and seafood, and possibly the inclusion of moderate amounts of alcohol such as red wine. The end result is a diet low in saturated fat, and high in fibre, antioxidants and healthy fats such as omega – 3 and monounsaturated fatty acids. It’s thought that the traditional Mediterranean diet offers a range of potential health benefits, including weight loss. The Mediterranean diet is thought to promote fullness and improve adherence to a low kilojoule diet by encouraging the consumption of a variety of palatable foods. Weight loss may help to improve the symptoms of a number of health conditions, with recent research investigating the ability of the Mediterranean diet to improve obstructive sleep apnea.

What is Obstructive sleep apnea?
For a detailed explanation about obstructive sleep apnea, including causes, sympyoms and natural treatment options, check out this article from the Blackmores learning centre.
Don't be in denial about your snoring

The research
A study published in the European Respiratory Journal compared the effects of a Mediterranean diet with a typical healthy diet on a small sample of obese subjects with obstructive sleep apnea, being treated with continuous positive airway pressure. Both groups were asked to eliminate or limit their consumption of junk foods, and to consume two servings per day of low-fat dairy products. The men in both groups were also asked to eat 6300 – 7560 kilojoules a day, and to increase their level of physical activity. However, the Mediterranean diet group were encouraged to consume three times more fruits, vegetables, legumes, non-refined cereals and fish, and 2/3 less red meat compared to the healthy diet group2c. The end result was that there were no significant differences in the changes in sleep parameters between the two groups. However, people following the Mediterranean diet had a reduced number of disturbances during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. Other notable findings were that the Mediterranean diet group lost more abdominal fat, and showed a greater adherence to a reduced kilojoule intake diet.

Practical tips on how to follow a Mediterranean diet
A Mediterranean-style diet is not dependent on one single ingredient. Following are some suggestions on the types of foods to eat more of, that are considered ingredients of a traditional Mediterranean diet.

  • Extra virgin olive – Consumed unheated as a salad dressing or with bread, olive oil retains its high antioxidant content. It is also low in saturated fats and rich in healthy fats.
  • Vegetables –Vegetables are packed with fibre, nutrients, and antioxidants while being low in fat and kilojoules. Look to include plenty of vegetables in your diet.
  • Legumes – Legumes are rich in fibre and protein, making them the ideal weight loss food. There are many varieties to choose from, and they are ideal for soups, salads and dips.
  • Nuts and seeds – Once thought of as a dietary bad guy, nuts are packed with fibre, protein and healthy fats. There are many different varieties that can be used in many ways, including salads, spreads and as a snack.
  • Whole grains – Breads, pasta and a wide variety of other grains such as polenta, bulgur, couscous and even rice can all be heart healthy foods depending on how they are processed, and the foods you have with them.
  • Seafood – Fish and other seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an important type of essential fat. However, eating battered fish or prawns smothered in a creamy dressing will negate any benefits.
  • Cut back on junk foods – Participants in the study mentioned above, were not only encouraged to follow a Mediterranean diet, but they were also asked to cut back or cut out junk foods. Limit your intake of cream, butter, margarine, carbonated and/or sugared beverages, commercial bakery products (e.g. sweet desserts, cakes, biscuits/cookies, puddings, and custard), potato fries and processed meats (i.e. burgers and sausages).
  • Exercise is still important – Subjects in the study mentioned above achieved positive results in waist circumference reduction and reduced sleep disturbances during REM sleep by participating in physical activity (mainly involving walking) for at least 30 minutes each day. It was also interesting to note that participants following the Mediterranean diet demonstrated a greater adherence to the recommended exercise program than subjects following a normal healthy diet.

References available upon request

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