Foods to Avoid When You Don't Have a Gallbladder

If you have had your gallbladder removed, you may have found that you can't eat the way you did before the surgery. You may find yourself in pain or running to the bathroom soon after eating.

To understand why this is happening, it helps to have a quick digestion review. As an ordinary part of digestion, your liver produces bile and stores it in the gallbladder. The bile is released from the gallbladder to digest any fats that you may have eaten.

When you no longer have a gallbladder, there is no storage unit to call upon. Instead, bile from the liver drips out. This means that not only is there less bile to break down fats, but also that bile can make its way into the large intestine where it can contribute to diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Thus, you may find that you need to be more careful with the foods that you eat than you did before the surgery. Although this may mean that you will no longer be able to enjoy some of your favorite foods, you will see that the silver lining of having your gallbladder removed is that it may force you into a healthier way of eating.

There are a number of health conditions, including postcholecystectomy syndrome, that can cause ongoing digestive symptoms. It is essential that you speak with your healthcare provider about your post-surgery symptoms in order to obtain a proper diagnosis and course of treatment. 

Fried Foods

Sweet Potato Fries

TheCrimsonMonkey / Getty Images

Fried foods are hard on most people's digestive systems. Take the gallbladder out of the equation and you are asking for trouble.

Fried foods have a high fat content. Your ability to digest and process fats has been compromised due to the fact that bile is no longer being stored in the gallbladder. You still need to eat fats, but due to the compromised ability to break them down, you will want to save your bile for fats that are good for you.

Now that you have said goodbye to your gallbladder, it is also time to say goodbye to:

  • French fries
  • Fried chicken and chicken cutlet
  • Fried fish
  • Chicken-fried steak
  • Hash browns
  • Onion rings
  • Fried anything

To add a little sweetness to the sacrifice, your heart will be so grateful.

Greasy Foods

Turkey Bacon

Jenna Greenwell / EyeEm / GettyImages

When you no longer have a gallbladder, avoid greasy foods for the same reason you avoid fried foods—there is just too large a fat load for your body to digest comfortably.

What are greasy foods? Anything that requires that you keep a napkin or wet wipe handy as you eat it! If the grease is coming off on your hands and lips, you know that it is also making its way into your digestive tract, where without a gallbladder it cannot be comfortably managed.

Therefore, you will want to avoid:

  • Hamburgers
  • Bacon
  • Cheese pizza
  • Heavy or creamed gravies
  • Fatty cuts of meat

Vegetable Oils

Different types of olive oil
Nico Tondini / Getty Images

Your health needs require an optimal balance of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. The typical Western diet tends to lean way too heavily on the omega-6 side of things.

Since your fat absorption is compromised without the help of your gallbladder, you will want to limit your exposure to foods that are excessively high in omega-6 fatty acids, so that you can focus on those with a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegetable oils tend to be the worst offenders, so avoid eating anything that is prepared with or in the following to reduce your omega-6 fatty acid intake:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Shortening
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil

Vegetable oils can also be found in the following, so avoid these foods as well:

  • Cooking oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Store-bought salad dressings

If you can't find store-bought salad dressings and mayonnaise that contain healthy oils, you may need to learn to make your own.

Whenever possible, choose extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, which are good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

Convenience Foods

Potato chips
Krystian Nawrocki / Getty Images

Convenience foods may be convenient, but they tend to be terrible for our health. In addition to having unhealthy levels of sugar and refined grains, both of which raise your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, they tend to contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. This is because many convenience foods are made with soybean oil.

Therefore, your digestive system (as well as your heart and arteries) is likely to thank you if you avoid store-bought versions of the following:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Potato chips
  • Tortilla chips
  • Other pre-packaged baked goods or snack food items

Liquids During Meals

Multi-generational family sitting around a dinner table

10'000 Hours / Getty Images

You may find that you are better able to digest your meals if you keep your liquid intake to a minimum before and during a meal. Why?

The theory is that too much liquid in the stomach and large intestine inhibits the secretion of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Without a gallbladder, you will want all the help that you can get from these substances to fully digest the foods that you are eating and therefore allow you to feel comfortable, not ill, after meals.

However, water is rapidly absorbed at the level of the stomach and therefore does not play that big a role in acid and enzyme secretion. So drink when you are thirsty.

There is a very old study that compared digestive system reactions to a regular meal versus a liquid meal and concluded that digestive secretions were higher with a lower meal liquid level. With this minimal evidence, it's your choice whether to experiment with it on yourself.

Large, Heavy Meals

A full plate at Thanksgiving dinner

James Pauls / Getty Images

Common sense is such that large meals will put more pressure on your digestive system than small ones. Eating too large a meal can strengthen intestinal contractions, adding to any symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea.

With your body's compromised ability to digest fats, you will be doing yourself a great favor by choosing to eat small meals, perhaps more frequently, during your day.

The loss of your gallbladder means that you have to steer away from the "super-size me" meals that are all too prevalent in our Western diet. In doing so, you may just find that you will be rewarded with a quieter digestive system and a smaller waistline.

Other Potentially Troublesome Foods

Fried corn

Sino Images / Getty Images

Everybody is different in terms of how they react to foods. Once you have eliminated the major suspects, you may find that you need to take things a step further.

The following foods have the potential for causing digestive upset for many people, regardless of whether or not they have a gallbladder. You may need to try an elimination diet to find out if any of the following are problematic for you:

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  1. Shin Y, Choi D, Lee KG, Choi HS, Park Y. Association between dietary intake and postlaparoscopic cholecystectomic symptoms in patients with gallbladder disease. Korean J Intern Med. 2018;33(4):829-836. doi:10.3904/kjim.2016.223

  2. Arora D, Kaushik R, Kaur R, Sachdev A. Post-cholecystectomy syndrome: A new look at an old problem. J Minim Access Surg. 2018;14(3):202-207. doi:10.4103/jmas.JMAS_92_17

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