What to Eat When You Don't Have a Gallbladder

Adjusting Your Diet to Manage Postcholecystectomy Syndrome

If you experience digestive problems after having a cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), you can reduce your symptoms by adjusting your diet.

After a cholecystectomy, you may experience postcholecystectomy syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or a sphincter problem. Symptoms can include stomach pain, discomfort, and diarrhea after eating.

Why Does Gallbladder Removal Affect Your Digestion?

The gallbladder and bile ducts in situ


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There are a number of reasons that you may need to have your gallbladder removed, including gallstones or a gallbladder infection. Your gallbladder normally functions to store the bile that your liver makes. Bile helps in digestion of fatty food. When you eat fatty food, your gallbladder contracts (squeezes) to release bile into your small intestine.

If you no longer have a gallbladder, the bile made by your liver flows directly into your small intestine at a slow and regular rate regardless of whether you need it or not, and not in response to food.

The absence of a gallbladder can cause two problems:

  1. There is less bile to effectively break down the fats that you eat. This can result in some difficulty absorbing nutrients.
  2. Bile acids can drip down into the large intestine where they increase fluid secretion, contributing to diarrhea.

There are some ways that you can adjust your diet to avoid stomachaches and diarrhea after gallbladder surgery.

Post-Surgery Diet

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In the initial few days following surgery, your digestive system needs to recover. Usually, a bland, clear, liquid diet is recommended for a few days. As you slowly begin to pass gas and stool, your doctors will advance you to a soft diet with foods that are easily digested. This will allow your body to focus on both the healing process and to adapt to the changes in the way that bile is being processed by your body.

Soft foods you can eat as your diet advances include:

  • Jello
  • Applesauce
  • Bananas
  • Broth
  • Soup
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Chicken or fish, steamed or braised

Steamed Vegetables

Steam-cooked vegetables


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When vegetables are steamed as opposed to raw, they can bind more easily to bile acid. Eating steamed vegetables can reduce the amount of bile acid making its way into the large intestine. This can reduce your chances of developing diarrhea.

Raw vegetables you can eat include:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Green bell pepper
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens

Foods High In Soluble Fiber

Woman peeling off banana for healthy eating


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Soluble fiber is effective in binding with bile acids. This reduces some of the negative impact on gut functioning and may help prevent diarrhea and stomach discomfort.

Good sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Apples
  • Bananas*
  • Beans, e.g. lima, kidney, pinto
  • Blueberries*
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli*
  • Carrots*
  • Chickpeas
  • Grapefruit
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal*
  • Onions
  • Oranges*
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Strawberries*

*Note: appropriate for a low-FODMAP diet.

Lean Protein

Preparing Fresh Alaska Pollock Fillet


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You don't need your gallbladder to digest protein, so you shouldn't experience unwanted digestive symptoms after eating foods that are high in protein. However, you might have a problem if you eat fatty cuts of meat.

To prevent stomach upset, avoid cuts of beef that look marbled and cut away the fat from the side of your chicken, pork chops, beef, and other meat.

Meats that are easier on your digestive system include:

  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Lean cuts of pork
  • White meat chicken or turkey
  • Fish, such as cod, flounder, and halibut

Healthy Fats

Salad Preparation: Slicing Avocado 1


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Although your ability to digest fats will be limited due to the absence of your gallbladder, you still need to consume some fats to maintain healthy nutrition. Even after gallbladder surgery, your pancreas continues to pump out enzymes to help to break down fats. Nevertheless, the loss of your gallbladder means that you will need to be wise about your fat choices.

The average Western diet is too high in pro-inflammatory ​omega-6 fatty acids but deficient in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. The following foods will help you to get in your "good fats":

  • Avocados
  • Coconut oil
  • Fish, such as anchovies, salmon, and sardines
  • Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
  • Olives
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Seeds, such as chia seeds, flaxseed, and psyllium

Be sure to maintain moderation, and to consider eating these items in small portions spread throughout the day rather than all at once.

You may need to experiment a little as you figure out which time of day works best for you when it comes to eating foods that contain fat and whether certain types of fat (even healthy fats) just don't agree with you at all.

Smaller Meals

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You may need to change up your meal routine. Without your gallbladder to assist with digestion, you may find that your body tolerates food better when you only eat small portions at a time. Instead of eating your "three squares," aim to eat four smaller meals throughout your day.

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