Foods to Eat When You Don't Have a Gallbladder

Some people find that they experience continued digestive symptoms even after their gallbladder has been removed, a condition known as postcholecystectomy syndrome.

If you have had your gallbladder out and are experiencing ongoing digestive symptoms you may be finding that it is particularly challenging to figure out what to eat. This is particularly the case if you find yourself experiencing diarrhea after eating.

Note: There are many medical reasons why you might be experiencing ongoing symptoms following your gallbladder surgery. It is essential that you speak with your doctor about your symptoms so as to obtain proper diagnosis and treatment.

Why Does Gallbladder Removal Affect Your Digestion?

Before we get into what foods might be helpful, it would be advantageous for you to have a sense of what is going wrong. The job of your lost gallbladder was to store the bile that your liver makes. Even though you don't have a gallbladder, your liver is still producing bile. Since it has no place to store it, the bile drips slowly into your small intestine. This causes 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.

Here are some suggestions, based on a little bit of research and a little bit of common sense, for foods to choose when you are struggling with post-gallbladder-removal digestive symptoms. The foods were chosen because they are easy to digest or because they bind with bile acids to reduce their effect in the large intestine.

Immediate Post-Surgery Diet

man eating toast with tea
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In the initial few days following surgery, you will want to eat a bland diet, with foods that are easily digested. This will allow your body to focus on both the healing process and the changes in the way that bile is being processed by your body.

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

Steamed Vegetables

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Here is an area where there is actually some research to back up the recommendation! A study in Nutrition Research found that when vegetables are steamed as opposed to raw, they improve their ability to bind bile acid. Thus, it is theoretically possible that eating steamed vegetables will reduce the amount of bile acid making its way into the large intestine and contributing to diarrhea. The specific vegetables tested in the study were:

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

Foods High In Soluble Fiber

woman making fruit smoothie
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Research has shown that soluble fiber is effective in binding with bile acids, reducing any negative impact of the acids on gut functioning and therefore may help to prevent unwanted symptoms. 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

sliced turkey breast
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You don't need your gallbladder in order to digest protein. Therefore, you will not 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.

So avoid beef that looks marbled and cut away the fat from the side of your pork chops! Instead, choose:

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

Healthy Fats

woman with a plate of salmon
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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 fats in order to be healthy. Your pancreas is still on the job pumping out enzymes to help to break down fats, but 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

Smaller Meals

woman eating a salad
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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 it is only given small portions to deal with at a time. Instead of eating your "three squares," aim to eat four smaller meals throughout your day.

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