What to Eat After Gallbladder Removal

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If you’ve recently had your gallbladder removed, you’re likely looking forward to relief from the gastrointestinal symptoms of gallbladder disease. If you’re still experiencing symptoms, it’s important to know that digestive problems can occur after gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy). 

Since your gallbladder has an important role in the digestive system, it’s not unusual to notice a difference in how your body handles food in its absence. The good news is, there are some changes you can make to your diet to help promote healing and reduce discomfort.

Benefits

Your gallbladder’s primary job is to store bile made by the liver. Bile is sort of an acidic juice that is especially important when your body is trying to digest a high-fat meal. When you eat fatty food, it signals your gallbladder to release some bile into your small intestine. 

When your gallbladder has been removed, the bile your liver makes flows directly into your small intestine at a slow and regular rate—whether or not you’ve eaten fatty food.

There are two main problems that can occur when you don’t have a gallbladder:

  1. If there’s less bile available to help break down fat, the body can have a harder time absorbing nutrients
  2. Freely flowing bile tends to have a laxative effect, making diarrhea common (bile acid diarrhea).
Potential Health Problems Following Gallbladder Removal
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Research has suggested that having your gallbladder out can change your digestion in measurable ways. For example, the balance of bacteria (microbiota) in your intestines may be altered and the rate at which your stomach empties food (gastric emptying) and moves through your intestines (motility) may change

Between 10-40% of patients report persistent symptoms, such as diarrhea, after having their gallbladder out. These symptoms have myriad causes, but appear to respond well to changes in diet. 

How It Works

You can live just fine without a gallbladder and most people who have the organ taken out don’t have any long term problems. However, some studies have proposed that people who have had their gallbladder removed may be more likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms or be at increased risk of developing other health conditions.

Several studies have suggested that having your gallbladder removed may be linked to an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, the proposed relationship is complex and more research is needed to establish cause and effect. 

Research has indicated people tend to notice digestive changes within the first three years after having their gallbladder out, though the symptoms are usually mild. However, some people experience persistent diarrhea after surgery, which can be distressing and make it harder to absorb nutrition.

A 2014 study published in the Asian Journal of Surgery found that male patients older than 45 years who didn’t follow a low-fat diet after having their gallbladder removed were more likely to experience postcholecystectomy symptoms.

Patients who were prone to experiencing diarrhea prior to surgery were also more likely to experience it after having their gallbladder removed. However, postcholecystectomy symptoms tended to improve over time, especially with a modified low-fat diet. 

A 2018 study published in the Korean Journal of Internal Medicine suggested diets high in cholesterol (primarily from animal products and eggs) could influence whether patients would have persistent digestive symptoms in the first three months after surgery. While the study was small and limited in scope, the researchers felt the findings demonstrated the need for clinical trials and additional research.

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Duration

Immediately after your gallbladder surgery, your doctor will likely want you to stick to a clear liquid diet. Over the next few days, you can gradually advance to a bland soft BRAT diet. This doesn’t put a lot of demand on your digestive system and allows it to heal. It also gives your body time to adjust to the changes in bile production.

For the next couple of weeks, you can gradually begin to add harder to digest foods with fat and fiber into your diet. If your body is struggling to digest these foods after the first few months, you may be experiencing what is sometimes called “postcholecystectomy syndrome” or another condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

If you continue to have diarrhea after eating or other symptoms after your gallbladder has been removed, your doctor may suggest you adhere to the gallbladder disease diet even after you’ve healed from surgery. 

What to Eat

There isn’t one gallbladder disease diet that works for everyone after surgery. As you begin to heal, you’ll want to experiment with certain food groups, such as those that are high in fat, to see how well your body digests them. 

Over time, you may be able to gradually increase the amount of these foods you include in your diet. However, if you have persistent symptoms (especially a tendency to develop diarrhea) you may feel the best limiting or avoiding these foods for the long term. 

Compliant

  • Apples/applesauce, pears

  • Avocados

  • Bananas

  • Beans, legumes, lentils

  • Berries

  • Broth, clear soups

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Carrots

  • Chickpeas

  • Collard greens, mustard greens

  • Dairy-free milk alternatives (soy, rice, almond, oat)

  • Eggs, egg whites, egg substitutes

  • Fish (salmon, cod, halibut)

  • Grapefruit, oranges

  • Green bell pepper

  • Kale

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt

  • Nuts, nut butter (almond, cashew, walnut)

  • Oats, barley

  • Olive oil (extra virgin), coconut oil

  • Plums, prunes

  • Rice (brown; white if having symptoms)

  • Seeds (chia, flax)

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Tofu, tempeh

  • White meat chicken, turkey (lean cuts without the skin)

Non-Compliant

  • Alcohol

  • Butter, lard, vegetable oils, margarine

  • Caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda)

  • Chocolate, candy

  • Fatty/fried food

  • Frozen meals/snacks/treats

  • Full-fat dairy

  • Ice cream, whipped cream, custard, pudding

  • Lamb

  • Processed, packaged snacks

  • Pies, pastries, doughnuts, cake, cookies

  • Pizza, calzones

  • Pork, bacon, sausage, lunchmeat

  • Potato chips, buttered popcorn

  • Red meat

  • Spices (as tolerated)

  • White flour bread, pasta, crackers, cereal

Fruits and Vegetables: The soluble fiber in produce like sweet potato and broccoli can help prevent diarrhea. If you find citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit too acidic, stick with apples, bananas, avocado, and berries. Soups and broths made with veggies and protein make the filling, nutritious meals, though you may want to avoid creamy soups and milk-based chowders. 

Dairy: Full-fat dairy products may be too difficult for your body to break down, especially while you’re still healing from surgery. In general, it’s healthier to avoid cooking with butter, lard, and oils, but this may be especially important to keep in mind after you’ve had your gallbladder out. Low-fat yogurt, dairy-free milk alternatives like almond or soy, and some low-fat cheese may be tolerable in moderation. You can also explore dairy-free “cheese” made from cashews and other plant-based sources. 

Grains: As you begin easing back into a regular diet, focus on fiber that comes from whole grains, such as brown rice. Plain toast and crackers can be helpful while you’re first healing from surgery, but you’ll want to eventually try to replace refined white flour versions with those made from whole grains. You may need to limit or avoid creamy, cheesy, pasta dishes which tend to be high in fat. Pizza, calzones, and other foods that have many different high-fat ingredients together can be especially hard to digest. You can make a lighter dairy-free pizza with tortillas, lactose-free cheese substitutes, and crisp veggies. 

Protein: You don't need your gallbladder to digest protein, so high-protein foods aren’t likely to cause you trouble unless they are also high in fat. Avoid cuts of beef that look marbled and cut away the fat from the side of your chicken, pork chops, beef, and other meat. Experiment with nuts, seeds, and butter made from these foods are an excellent source of plant-based protein, though they can be high in fat. Small portions of beans, legumes, lentils, and soy products like tofu and tempeh are other protein options, as long as they don’t cause digestive symptoms. 

Desserts: Foods that are high in sugar and fat can be especially difficult to digest. Ice cream, cake or cookies made with refined flour, custards, puddings, as well as chocolate are best avoided or had in moderation as tolerated. You can find non-dairy, low-fat, and low-sugar alternatives, though keep an eye out for the presence of sugar alcohols such as sorbitol. Consuming these products in large amounts may cause digestive distress, including diarrhea. 

Beverages: You may need to initially avoid caffeinated beverages, carbonated drinks, and alcohol after having your gallbladder removed. You can experiment with adding these drinks back into your diet, though it’s best to avoid beverages that have a lot of sugar (such as soda, fruit juices, and energy drinks). Milky coffee drinks such as lattes made with whole milk may be too difficult to digest. Instead, look for non-dairy options. Herbal tea, especially peppermint, can be soothing for your digestion

Recommended Timing

You may need to experiment with the timing of your meals and snacks. Without your gallbladder to assist with digestion, your body may tolerate food best when you eat smaller portions more frequently rather than three square meals a day.

Moderation is key, especially when it comes to fat. Certain types of fat (even healthy fats) may be fine in small portions but others may not agree with you at all. If you tend to feel full quickly or experience indigestion, it can be helpful to avoid having beverages when you eat. 

Cooking Tips

Vegetables bind to bile acid more easily when they’ve been lightly cooked as opposed to eating them raw. Steaming vegetables is a quick and tasty way to make them easier to digest. 

It’s not uncommon for people who have had their gallbladder removed to find they don’t tolerate fried or greasy meals well. Instead of cooking with high-fat butter and oil, try grilling, broiling, or baking.

While you may find spicy food to be rough on your stomach, some fresh herbs and spices may be easier for you to digest. Try adding flavor to your meals with turmeric to promote digestion or ginger, which is often used to soothe an upset stomach. 

Modifications

You may have another health condition unrelated to your gallbladder that requires certain dietary changes, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In this case, you may need to modify your gallbladder disease diet with these needs in mind.

People with Celiac disease may be more likely to have symptoms related to their gallbladder. While research hasn't specifically connected gallstones with Celiac disease, some studies have suggested intestinal damage, inflammation, and altered gut hormones in people with the condition can make the gallbladder "sluggish." Over time, ineffective gallbladder function may contribute to gallstone formation and bile duct disease.

Some changes may only be temporary. For example, gallbladder problems can occur during pregnancy; a time when your nutritional needs also change.

If you are pregnant or nursing, not only will your nutritional needs be changed, but your tastes or food preferences may also be different. Your doctor can help you find a gallbladder disease diet plan that provides the nutrition your body needs that's also sensitive to the changes in your body.

Considerations

When you make changes to your diet, it’s important to remember that other aspects of your life can influence how easy (or difficult) these changes will be. The need to follow a gallbladder disease diet may be temporary while you’re recovering from surgery, but if you find you need to continue to avoid certain foods and make long-lasting adjustments to the way you eat, there are some other factors you’ll want to consider. 

General Nutrition 

A gallbladder disease diet can be a balanced and overall healthy one, though it may take some time to determine what works for you—especially with fat and fiber. 

After your gallbladder is removed your pancreas continues to pump out enzymes to help break down fat. Although your ability to digest fats will be reduced without a gallbladder, you still need some fat in your diet; you’ll just need to be more careful about which types you include.

Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and limit those that are heavily processed, fried in butter or oil, and have a lot of sodium or sugar. 

Flexibility

If you need to limit the amount of fat you eat, especially the type of fat that comes from fried and processed food, you may have to make different choices when dining out. Most fast-food meals will be too high in trans fats, salt, and sugar. 

You may have more options at a sit-down casual dining restaurant. Asking for your meal to be prepared a different way, having ingredients left out, or asking for swaps and substitutions may help. The other issue with meals when dining out is portion sizes. 

A full entree will likely be more than your body can digest at once, especially if it’s made with rich ingredients. To avoid overstressing your system, consider sharing your meal with a friend or packing half of it up to take home.

Dietary Restrictions

You may have other dietary needs to consider before and after surgery to remove your gallbladder. For example, you may prefer to follow a vegetarian diet or you may have a food allergy. When you are planning a gallbladder disease diet you’ll need to think about all the different dietary needs you have. It may be challenging to balance them all, but a nutritionist or dietician may be able to help.

If you already follow a plant-based diet, you may not find you need to adjust your diet a great deal after having your gallbladder removed. Initially, you may need to avoid high-fiber, cruciferous vegetables to give your body time to heal. But in the long term, these can be an important staple of your diet. Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, you may decide to adjust your intake of eggs and dairy. 

If you follow a vegan diet, your normal diet will likely work fine after you have your gallbladder out. However, if you find that beans, legumes, and lentils cause or worsen digestive systems, you may need to temporarily reduce your intake of these proteins until your body has adjusted. 

People who have food allergies or sensitivities are often already quite skilled at closely evaluating their diet. If you are already avoiding certain allergens or ingredients, you may feel daunted by the prospect of adding other food groups to your list.

While it can be more challenging to maintain nutrition when your diet is limited, if you need to exclude more than one type of food from your diet your doctor may suggest certain nutritional supplements or vitamins help prevent deficiency. 

In some cases, a preexisting food allergy or sensitivity might make it easier for you to make changes to your diet. For example, if you are lactose intolerant you likely already avoid full-fat dairy products. If you have Celiac disease and need to avoid gluten and wheat, you're probably used to carefully checking food labels and asking about substitutions at restaurants. 

Support and Community

Making changes to the way you eat can be stressful for a number of physical and practical reasons, but you may also notice an emotional reaction as well. If you’re feeling frustrated or disappointed by the need to change how you eat, it can be helpful to talk to other people who have been through it. 

Your support system can be made up of many different people, including doctors, family, and even other patients. Your health care team can answer many of your questions about symptoms, treatment, and nutrition. Family and friends can help with grocery shopping and meal preparation as you heal from surgery. 

After your surgery, there may be times when you just feel like talking to someone who has “been there.” Support groups, either in person or online, can provide a space for you to talk with other patients creating their own gallbladder disease diets. While the specifics of what has worked for them may not work for you, sharing ideas and having someone to empathize with during the process of “trial and error” can provide inspiration and help you stay motivated. 

Side Effects

Any time you change the way you eat you may notice changes in your digestion, including your bowel movements. If you’re adjusting your fiber intake after having your gallbladder removed, you may experience constipation. If this occurs, your doctor may recommend you add supplemental fiber to your diet to help regulate your bowels.

You’ll also want to be sure to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is helpful to your digestion but especially important when you’re taking a fiber supplement

Adding too much fiber to your diet too quickly may worsen diarrhea. While you will want to include fiber in your gallbladder disease diet, it may take some time for you to figure out the right amount for your body. 

If you limiting or removing foods from your diet has you concerned about your overall energy and nutrition, working with a dietician or nutritionist may be helpful. There are many different sources of fat, protein, and other important nutrients, it’s just a matter of figuring out which ones will work for you and the quantities your body needs. 

A Word From Verywell

Most people who have their gallbladder removed only need to change their diet for a few weeks while they heal. In some cases, people experience lasting changes to their digestion, including diarrhea, which usually improves if they are careful to limit or avoid certain types of food, especially fat. There is no single gallbladder disease diet and most people find they need to experiment with types and amounts of foods their body can handle. In general, a balanced that is focused on fiber-rich produce, whole grains, and plant-based sources of protein can help manage any lingering effects of having your gallbladder out. 

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