Your liver makes bile, a thick, greenish liquid that your gallbladder stores until your digestive tract needs it. Bile contains bile salts, which help emulsify fatty nutrients, making them easier for your body to absorb. It also contains waste products that result from breakdown of damaged red blood cells. Under some circumstances, your gallbladder may be surgically removed and, in that case, you might need to modify your diet in certain ways.
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located near the lower part of your liver. It collects bile as your liver makes it, storing and concentrating it. When you consume dietary fats, your gallbladder contracts to propel bile into your intestine where it helps digest these nutrients. If your gallbladder becomes inflamed, for example when bile inside it solidifies into gall stones, you might require surgery to remove it, a procedure called a cholecystectomy. Without a gallbladder, bile is no longer concentrated or stored, but flows continuously into your intestines, potentially compromising your ability to digest fat and causing intestinal distress. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom reports that problems such as diarrhea occur at least temporarily in about 20 percent of patients who undergo gallbladder removal.
The Mayo Clinic says that the effect of gallbladder removal may vary significantly from individual to individual, with some people needing more major dietary changes than others. In general, however, your body might have difficulty digesting high-fat foods, a situation that could lead to intestinal problems. Mayo Clinic experts suggest you limit your consumption of dietary fat, reducing the amount you consume at a single meal. You should avoid high-fat foods that are deep-fried or tend to be greasy, such as french fries, high-fat hamburgers and hot dogs, and minimize your consumption of high-fat sauces and foods cooked in butter. Check food labels when possible, aiming to keep your fat intake to 3 grams or less per serving of any food.
Although dairy foods are generally healthy choices, full-fat versions may cause intestinal discomfort after gallbladder surgery. This is especially true if you consume several types of these foods in a single meal, such as a glass of full-fat milk that accompanies a dish containing full-fat cheese. Instead of full-fat dairy foods, substitute low-fat or non-fat versions of milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy-based foods. Choose low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt over premium ice cream, and replace butter with reduced-fat versions of margarine or other spreads.
In addition to avoiding high-fat foods, the Mayo Clinic recommends you eat frequent, small meals that include some lean protein. You should also increase your intake of dietary fiber, since this may help you avoid diarrhea by providing bulk to your stool. Opt for whole-grain breads, cereals and baked goods over those made with refined flour, and consume fiber-rich fruits and vegetables regularly. Add fiber gradually over several weeks, to allow your digestive system time to adjust. According to Dr. David L. Katz, you might also add a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria to your regimen, since this may increase the efficiency of your digestion. Discuss these supplements with your doctor first to decide if they might be helpful for you.
- MayoClinic.com: What's OK to Eat After Gallbladder Removal?
- National Health Service: Do I Need to Change My Diet After Gallbladder Surgery?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease - Symptoms
- What To Eat After a Gallbladder Removal; D. Katz, M.D.
- Merck Home Health Handbook: Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders
- American Dietetic Association: Gallbladder Nutrition Therapy
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.