Nova Scotian Wellness


Sleep Apnea

A recent study found that eating more wholefoods could reduce your risk of sleep apnea by 19%.

Here’s a statistic that might keep you up at night: An estimated 5.4 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or are at high risk of developing the condition. Troubling still, while considered a fairly common condition, it’s estimated that eight out of 10 Canadians living with sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

The condition, categorized as a disorder that causes you to stop breathing while asleep, doesn’t just result in a poor night’s rest. Over time, sleep apnea can negatively affect your mood, lead to headaches, and promote disruptions in brain function, while increasing your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

There are two main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive, the most common, which causes people to experience a collapse in their upper airway that leads to recurrent interruptions in breathing; and central, a more concerning issue where the brain fails to accurately send breathing signals.

The good news is, a recent study published in ERJ Open Research has found that a healthy plant-based diet can be an effective tool against obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), both lowering your risk of developing the disorder and alleviating symptoms in those who suffer from it.


In the study, researchers collected data from more than 14,000 participants to determine the effect that a plant-based diet can have on OSA, scoring each participant’s diet based on their intake of “healthy” and “unhealthy” plant-based foods. For this study, “healthy” foods included whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea, and coffee; while “unhealthy” foods included refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, and salty foods.

The results showed that participants who ate more “healthy” plant-based foods were 17-19 percent less likely to develop sleep apnea than those who selected “unhealthy” foods more often. And the “unhealthy” eaters showed startling results: Those who ate the highest amounts of “unhealthy” plant-based foods actually saw a 22 percent increase in their risk of developing sleep apnea.


How does a “healthy” plant-based diet reduce your risk of OSA, while decreasing symptoms for those who already suffer? Study authors suggest that the low-fat, high-fiber combinations found in many plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grains are the heroes of this story. Because these nutrients promote a healthy body weight, consuming more of them can lead to a reduction of excess pressure placed on the upper airways. One of the main risk factors for developing OSA is obesity, with an estimated 70 percent of cases showing a link, proving that maintaining a healthy body weight can have a positive effect on the disorder.

Additionally, these findings may be due to consuming a diet that encourages moderation and diverse whole-food sources, according to study author Yohannes Adama Melaku, Ph.D. “It’s possible that the broader variety of foods in a general [plant-based diet] offers a wider range of nutrients and phytochemicals, which may contribute to this effect,” says Melaku.


Whether you’re looking to decrease your risk of sleep apnea, reduce your ecofootprint, or simply celebrate Meatless Monday, a plant-based diet can help you do just that—while promoting a healthful diet chockfull of nutrients and phytochemicals. Head to for loads of easy and delicious plant-based recipes, plus the science behind these functional foods. Or, pick up our vegan cookbook featuring 69 recipes your family—and your health—will love.


Sleep apnea affects millions of Canadians, and can lead to serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type, caused by airway collapse during sleep. A recent study found that a healthy plant-based diet can reduce the risk of OSA. Participants who consumed more “healthy” plant-based foods had a lower risk, while those who consumed “unhealthy” plant-based foods had a higher risk. The nutrients in healthy plant-based foods promote a healthy body weight, reducing pressure on airways. Additionally, a diverse plant-based diet may provide a wider range of nutrients and phytochemicals, further benefiting sleep apnea.


  • Chelsea Clarke is a Toronto-based health and wellness writer who’s obsessed with championing the underdog, sparking new perspectives on old ideas, and getting to the root of the latest trends.

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