What is Mediterranean Diet and Can it Help with CPAP Therapy?

What is Mediterranean Diet and Can it Help with CPAP Therapy?

This post was originally published on March 18, 2013, and updated on September 28, 2022. 

What Is the Mediterranean Diet? 

The Mediterranean diet is a constant topic in the press as everyone including health professionals touts its health benefits. The diet has been effective at reducing many illnesses. This includes risks of heart disease and several cancers including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It’s even a tool in the fight against Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in conjunction with a CPAP machine. Before exploring the available evidence, let us see if we can determine the components of the Mediterranean diet. 

About the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet was inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of residents along the Mediterranean coast. It is historically and geographically associated with the people and places of southern Italy, Greece, and Spain. The diet consists of nuts, whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, unrefined cereals, and legumes in high proportions. 

Foods that constitute the more moderate consumption tier of the diet include fish, cheese, yogurt, and wine. Red meat is limited to several times a month while butter is replaced with olive oil and canola oil. Herbs and spices replace salts for food flavoring. When we add in the component of getting plenty of exercise, the Mediterranean diet looks more like common sense. It just happens to include the staples that have traditionally been in the greatest supply in this part of the world. 

Although these foods are almost always mentioned as components of the diet, it seems to be far from definitive in terms of how the meals collectively reduce health risks like heart disease, cancer, and other chronic ailments. 

What we do know is that the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables guard against free radicals. These play a role in cancer development. The antioxidant properties in red wine, known as Flavonoids, also contribute to better health. The monounsaturated fats contained in nuts have long been associated with reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. 

Still, it is unclear to what degree these foods play in greater health. We also don’t know how other factors such as genetics and environment come into play. In the case of people with OSA, questions arise as to the effect of weight loss on reducing the symptoms via diet. 

How to Get Started with a Mediterranean Diet 

Include Fish Once a Week  

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are the main protein sources in the Mediterranean diet. These fish contain high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels. White fish and shellfish are also good lean protein sources but aren't as high in omega-3s. Look for ways to add tuna as a sandwich or salad to your lunch. You can also cook salmon filets or other fish to eat at any meal.

Include Meat Once a Week  

New research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that lean red meat can support heart health when it’s included in a Mediterranean-style eating pattern. Interestingly, many Mediterranean countries eat about the same amount of red meat, or more, as the United States, but those countries pair red meat with more fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy oils. a Mediterranean-style eating pattern that includes up to 18 ounces of cooked, fresh lean beef and pork per week – along with poultry and fish – is just as effective at improving certain heart disease risk factors (such as blood pressure and total and LDL cholesterol) as a Mediterranean-style eating pattern that limits red meat. 

Include Vegetables and Fruits  

The Mediterranean diet encourages a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including a variety of fruits, and vegetables which offer vitamins without unhealthy fats. As such, following this eating pattern may help stabilize blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes. While any vegetables or fruits are good, preferred vegetables include:

  • tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • spinach
  • onions
  • cauliflower
  • carrots
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cucumbers
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • turnips.

Preferred fruits include:

  • apples
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • pears
  • strawberries
  • grapes
  • dates
  • figs
  • melons
  • peaches. 

Include Olive Oil and Nuts  

A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts may be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to a reduced-fat diet. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (or "bad") cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat. Use extra-virgin olive oil in all your cooking instead of dairy fats such as butter. Turn to nuts and seeds as an in-between-meal snack to curb hunger without turning to processed foods like chips.  

Add Aromatics  

The most commonly used aromatic herbs in Mediterranean cookery are parsley, mint, laurel, oregano, thyme, rosemary, coriander, dill, basil, tarragon, chives, sage, marjoram, fennel, and chervil. Aromatics are essential for spicing up and enhancing the healthy foods you eat daily. While most processed foods use salt and sugar to satisfy cravings, aromatics that are natural help to enhance food flavor without compromising health benefits. Get creative with aromatics in your cooking to make your Mediterranean diet less of a diet and more of a culinary experience.  

How Can It Prove to Be Beneficial for Sleep Apnea Recovery? 

A Mediterranean diet can do more than improve overall health, it can improve sleep health as well. This is critical for anyone managing sleep apnea. A Mediterranean diet reduces the fat intake in your daily diet so you can begin to lose weight, which contributes to sleep apnea episodes. A lighter, healthier diet also means fewer calories, so you are not eating heavy meals before bedtime. Also eating a Mediterranean diet combined with physical activity can help to improve some of the symptoms of sleep apnea, according to new research. The study was published online in the European Respiratory Journal. It looked at the impact a Mediterranean diet can have on obese people with sleep apnea, compared to those on a prudent diet. 

The results showed that people following the Mediterranean diet had a reduced number of disturbances, known as apneas, during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which usually accounts for approximately 25% of total sleep during the night. 

Benefits Of the Mediterranean Diet 

There’s a long list of other health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet, which is one that the American Heart Association recommends. According to AHA, following this diet may help to reduce the risk of stroke in women by significant numbers. This diet can be effective in helping to reduce the risk of other cardiovascular diseases. One study even found that it can lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 30%. Among the wide range of other health benefits reported, researchers have said it can lower cholesterol levels and prevent or help control diseases like diabetes. 

The Mediterranean diet can also help you feel better. You may feel less sluggish after eating when you enjoy this diet lifestyle. The meals are lighter and can give you more energy as you reduce the number of fats and sugars in your daily intake. 

With a healthy diet comes healthy sleep. This means if you struggle with sleep apnea, a change in diet can be a game changer.  

Prudent Diet Vs Mediterranean Diet  

The “prudent” diet includes a high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, fish, and other seafood. It also includes a selection of other foods, such as 99% fat-free milk, cholesterol-free egg products, and highly polyunsaturated margarine. While the prudent diet is another excellent option for healthy eating, the Mediterranean diet still focuses on natural foods rather than relying on changes in food products to make a difference in health results.  

The Facts Behind the Mediterranean Diet and OSA 

The research appears to show that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The findings of a recent study published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s website showed the results of the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. 

The most rigorous study examined the impact of a Mediterranean diet on obese people with sleep apnea. It compares them to those on a prudent diet. Published online in the European Respiratory Journal, the study’s researchers from the University of Crete divided 40 people suffering from sleep apnea into two groups. 

The first group of 20 was given a prudent diet to follow. The second group of 20 followed a Mediterranean diet. Both groups were also encouraged to increase their physical activity. And, both groups utilize a CPAP machine as part of their therapy. 

After six months it was found that the group following the Mediterranean diet had fewer numbers of apneas during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. This stage diet group also had a greater decrease in abdominal fat. 

While the results appeared to be very positive, the study seemed to de-emphasize the fact that the participants were utilizing a CPAP machine. Although few studies of this type have been conducted, there have been far more studies surrounding using a CPAP machine. The studies look into their effects on reducing the short-term and long-term effects of OSA. When we look at the use of CPAP therapy in conjunction with the Mediterranean diet and exercise, which facilitated weight loss, the correlation between the diet and its impact on OSA seems less clear. 

OSA patients face each day knowing that they will battle the effects of their conditions forever. The desire for a cure is strong. OSA patients must avoid the tendency to see equal possibilities in every study and OSA treatment that is made available. 

On the positive side of these and, other studies are the known facts that a diet that contains foods similar to a Mediterranean diet along with CPAP therapy and exercise can work collectively to diminish the effects of OSA for most.  The future of research and medical technology may discover a defacto “cure” for OSA. Today, almost everyone living with the condition can work with their medical professional, diet and lifestyle coaches, and respiratory therapists to plot a course for a healthier and fuller life. 

The CPAP Shop enhances the lives of people with sleep apnea through information and high-quality therapeutic products. If you have questions about CPAP machines or any of our line of accessories, please call (866) 414-9700. You can contact us through our website at www.thecpapshop.com 


Chris Vasta

Chris Vasta is the president of The CPAP Shop and an expert in sleep and respiratory therapy. He often provides insights on product design and functionality on various manufacturers’ prototypes and is frequently tapped to provide reviews on new releases.