Gallbladder Diets To Prevent Gallstones And Gallbladder Pain

The gallbladder has a funny way of letting you know it’s there, after hiding right under the liver for decades.

It quietly goes about its job helping the digestive system, day after day. The gallbladder stores bile, which the small intestine then uses to break down fat. You’d probably never even know that you have a healthy gallbladder.

That is, unless small stones begin to form in the bile. Some may then block passageways leading in and out of the gallbladder, most often the bile duct that leads to the small intestine. When that happens, the stones can cause abdominal pain as well as bloating, nausea and vomiting.

In some cases, gallstones can cause the organ to become infected (cholecystitis) and cause nearly unbearable pain. At that point, you most definitely know that your gallbladder is there.

Some gallstones are tiny and cause no symptoms. Others can be destroyed by high-energy shockwaves. Minor pain from some gallbladder issues can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications, and some gallbladder infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics. However, if pain and infections continue or keep returning, surgery to remove the stones or the gallbladder itself is usually the next step.

Once you start experiencing gallbladder symptoms or develop gallbladder disease, can you avoid gallbladder surgery?

Quite possibly. But that can require making major changes to your diet.

What Causes a Gallbladder to Go “Tilt?”

Doctors can’t always be sure why people develop gallstones or other gallbladder diseases. However, they’ve narrowed it down to some major risk factors.

Some of them are simply sex-, age- or genetically-based. People over 40, women, and Native- or Mexican-Americans have a greater risk of gallstones, as do those with a family history of gallbladder problems. Other risk factors include conditions or illnesses like pregnancy, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, liver disease, or leukemia. Rapid weight loss or yo-yo dieting, and birth control pills, can also contribute to the problem. And as you’ll hear about most medical conditions, smoking plays a factor as well.

However, the most common formation of gallstones is from cholesterol in the bile, which means dietary factors are quite often the culprits. Diets which are high-fat, high-cholesterol and low-fiber typically include highly-refined sugars and sweets, high-fructose foods, fast food (and low vitamin C intake) are more likely to lead to the development of gallstones (6), as is obesity and living a sedentary lifestyle.

You can probably see where this is heading. A low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber healthy diet that’s high in monounsaturated fats and fiber, olive oil and fish (ω-3 fatty acids) consumption, vegetable protein intake, fruit, coffee, moderate alcohol consumption, and vitamin C [7] is one of the best weapons against gallbladder problems, and one of the best ways to avoid gallbladder removal (known as cholecystectomy).

A Smart Gallbladder Diet

Just as with most medical conditions, there aren’t hard-and-fast diet rules like the ones in many weight loss regimens. There are solid guidelines, though, and when followed properly they can greatly reduce the pain and discomfort caused by gallstones and gallbladder infections. They may also prevent the constant development of new stones.

You’ll notice that these guidelines suggest a balanced diet with healthy foods, so there’s very little here that’s arduous or surprising. In fact, following these low-fat diet suggestions isn’t just good for your gallbladder, but will help most people maintain a healthy weight.

What to Eat on a “Gallbladder Diet”

The key ingredients in this eating plan are lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of fruit and vegetables. [2]

Poultry and fish are much better protein choices than red meat, which is high in cholesterol. Poultry should have the skin removed, and if you are going to eat meat, it should be lean meat. Skip the thick gravies, too. Eggs and plant-based proteins like lentils, beans and tofu are great alternatives to traditional proteins.

Whole grains like whole-wheat bread, bran and oats, and brown rice are high in fiber, an important element of gallbladder health. You can eat other starchy carbs in moderation, like cereal, potatoes, pasta and plantains, as long as they’re whole-grain carbs whenever possible.

Fruits and vegetables are also loaded with fiber and contain important nutrients, so they’re crucial when caring for a sensitive gallbladder. Shoot for 5-7 servings per day. Unlike many medically-based diets, you can even eat acidic choices like tomatoes and citrus fruits in addition to leafy greens.

You can have several portions of low-fat dairy products per day, and healthy fats like olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocados and nuts (in addition to fatty proteins like salmon) are good for those with gallbladder issues. Drink lots of water, too.

Some research shows that other foods may help with gallbladder pain or inflammation, or even better, help prevent them completely.

One final note: vitamin C has been shown to help prevent gallstone formation. Foods which are high in vitamin C, (particularly fruits and vegetables [8]) or vitamin supplements, would be a good idea.

Foods Which Can Make Gallbladder Pain Worse

High-fat foods are just about the worst thing you can eat if you have a problematic gallbladder. The main culprit here is saturated fat, which promotes the creation of gallstones. (An exception to this general rule is when you’re trying to lose weight. [9])

Some of the worst fatty foods on the list are fried foods, butter, whole milk and ice cream, full-fat cheese, creamy sauces and salad dressings, processed meats – and for that matter, just about all processed foods. If you’re buying packaged products, they should contain no more than three grams of fat per serving. Oh, and skip the potato chips as well.

You should also aim to limit refined carbs (replacing them with whole grains, as mentioned earlier). And avoid added sugar when possible (and the sugar in baked goods and processed snack foods); artificial sweeteners are a much better alternative.

If you’re dealing with repeated gallstone or gallbladder issues, consult with your doctor and a dietitian for more detailed dietary and health information. They can advise you whether diet adjustments will help, and if so, the right changes to make.

What about Diet After Gallbladder Removal?

Even though the dietary guidelines described above are good for nearly everyone, they aren’t completely necessary if you have your gallbladder surgically removed. In fact, there’s no such thing as a “gallbladder removal diet.”

The biggest problem most patients suffer after a cholecystectomy is diarrhea. That’s because there’s no longer a gallbladder in the body to produce bile salts, a key component of bile responsible for breaking down fat. Increasing fiber-rich foods, eating small and healthy meals frequently, and limiting your intake of fat, sugar, dairy and caffeine can help as well. Bile salt supplements can also help with the issue.