How food affects your gallbladder

Your gallbladder stores and concentrates the bile that is produced in your liver, which is located directly above it. Your gallbladder releases the bile into your small intestine to help digest food.

The gallbladder is a sensitive organ, and maintaining a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods help keep it in perfect health. Certain foods that can protect and promote a healthy gallbladder, while others increase the likelihood of problems like inflammation or gallstones.

Because your gallbladder may need to be removed if it isn’t kept in great health, eating a gallbladder-healthy diet is essential.

Gallbladder-friendly foods

For a healthy gallbladder, incorporate the following foods into your diet:

  • bell peppers
  • citrus fruits
  • dark, leafy greens
  • tomatoes
  • milk
  • sardines
  • fish and shellfish
  • low-fat dairy
  • beans
  • nuts
  • lentils
  • tofu
  • tempeh

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables is the best way to improve and protect your gallbladder’s health. Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and fiber, the latter of which is essential to a healthy gallbladder.

Some of the listed foods are either high in vitamin C, calcium, or B vitamins, which are also good for your gallbladder.

It’s thought that eating more plant-based protein could also help prevent gallbladder disease. Foods like beans, nuts, lentils, tofu and tempeh (as long as you aren’t allergic to soy) are excellent alternatives for red meat.

Foods that aggravate your gallbladder

Avoid the following foods for a healthy gallbladder diet:

  • vegetable oil
  • peanut oil
  • refined, white foods (breads, pastas, etc.)
  • foods high in fat
  • processed foods

You should avoid certain foods to help protect your gallbladder. The biggest problem foods are high-fat and processed foods. Foods that are greasy or fried in oils like vegetable oil and peanut oil are more difficult to break down and can cause gallbladder problems.

Foods with trans fats, like those in processed or commercially baked products, can also hurt gallbladder health.

Avoiding refined white foods, like white pastas, breads, and sugars, can protect your gallbladder. You should also avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Gallbladder diet after surgery

Avoid these foods after gallbladder surgery:

  • foods containing more than 3 grams of fat
  • greasy, fried, or processed foods
  • cream sauces or gravies
  • full-fat dairy

If you need to have your gallbladder removed, you’ll likely experience diarrhea and loose stools in the weeks after surgery due to the more continuous release of bile into your intestines. To reduce these side effects, you should avoid high-fat foods, especially foods that are processed, fried, or greasy. Even high-fat liquids like cream sauces or gravies can affect symptoms. Skip full-fat diary for no-fat dairy or dairy substitute alternatives.

Instead, eat high-fiber foods that are low in fat. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should eat foods with less than 3 grams of fat per serving. Increase your fiber slowly, and start with soluble fiber, like oats. You can also eat smaller meals on a more frequent basis.

Causes of gallbladder problems

There are two primary types of gallbladder problems: cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) and cholestasis (gallstones). Some people with gallstones don’t experience any symptoms. In those that do, symptoms of gallbladder problems can include:

  • pain on the upper right side of the abdomen, especially following meals and eating fatty foods
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • jaundice, if the gallbladder ducts are blocked
  • low-grade fever
  • tea-colored urine
  • light-colored stools

Gallstones can be painful. If large enough, they can also block the duct that leads out of the gallbladder. Over time, this can become life-threatening. In these cases, removal of the gallbladder is often necessary.

Women are more likely to develop gallstones than men. Pregnant women, women using hormonal birth control, and women who use hormone replacement therapy are at increased risk for the formation of gallstones. Other risk factors include:

  • a history of gallbladder problems, either personally or in your immediate family
  • excess weight
  • rapid weight loss followed by weight gain
  • coronary artery disease
  • diabetes
  • diets high in refined carbohydrates and calories but low in fiber
  • existing food allergies, like celiac disease or lactose intolerance, that are being ignored

The takeaway

Gallbladder problems can be painful and, in some cases, dangerous. Eating the right foods — and avoiding the wrong ones, namely those high in fat — can help improve and protect the health of your gallbladder. Ultimately, a diet for a healthy gallbladder will benefit your overall health, keeping your whole body healthier in the long run.