Gallbladder Diet: Foods for Gallbladder Problems

Most people never think about the health of their gallbladder. The pear-shaped organ does have an important function: it collects and stores bile, a fluid that helps the body digest fats. But unlike the heart, liver, and kidneys, the gallbladder is not needed to keep the body healthy and functioning. Even when it doesn’t work as it should and gallstones form, most people are unaware of a problem.

However, in a small percentage of people, gallstones can cause various symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. When gallstone symptoms are frequent, recurring, and especially bothersome, the typical treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder.

“Most people with gallstones don’t have symptoms throughout their lives,” says John Martin, MD, assistant professor of medicine and surgery and director of endoscopy at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Once you start to have symptoms, you will need to have your gallbladder removed.”

Although diet does not directly cause or cure gallbladder problems, watching what you eat and maintaining a healthy weight can help you prevent gallstones and avoid some discomfort if you do develop gallstones.

Diet and the risk of gallstones

A number of risk factors contribute to the formation of gallstones, including a family history of gallstones and gender. Women are twice as likely as men to develop them. Bodyweight is also a factor; The risk of gallstone formation is higher in overweight and obese people.

Diets high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber seem to play a role. “There are a lot of things on this list that you can’t change, but you can certainly change your diet,” says F. Taylor Wootton III, MD, Clinical Consultant, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine, and board member of the American Gastroenterological Association.

If you are overweight, try to lose excess weight; but do it gradually. There is a link between rapid weight loss and the formation of gallstones. Crash or yo-yo diets can cause the liver to release more cholesterol into bile, upsetting the normal balance of cholesterol and bile salts. This extra cholesterol can form crystals, leading to gallstones, Wootton says.

Healthy food for the gallbladder

Whether or not you’re at risk for gallstones, it’s always a good idea to maintain healthy body weight and eat a diet low in fat and cholesterol, moderate in calories, and high in fiber.

All of the following are healthy foods for your gallbladder as well as the rest of your body:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice, oats, bran)
  • Lean meat, poultry, and fish
  • Low-fat dairy products

Several foods have been studied for their ability to prevent gallbladder problems or reduce symptoms. For example, some studies have shown that drinking caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of gallstones in both men and women. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has also been associated with a reduced incidence of gallstones. In one study, women who ate at least one serving of peanuts a day were 20% less likely to have their gallbladder removed than women who rarely ate peanuts or peanut butter. But the data is still too preliminary to recommend any of these products solely for the purpose of preventing gallbladder problems.

Foods to Avoid for Gallbladder Problems

Researchers say many gallbladder symptoms are linked to the modern Western diet, which is high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. “If you have symptoms due to gallstones, it’s because when your gallbladder tries to shrink, part of the gallstone is blocking the flow of bile that’s stored in your gallbladder,” Martin says. “You’re squeezing a closed door, and that’s why it hurts. If you eat fatty foods, it makes it shrink more.”

Changing your diet won’t get rid of the gallstones you already have, but eating healthy, nutritious meals and limiting saturated fat and high-cholesterol foods can help relieve your symptoms.

Try to avoid or limit the following fatty foods in your diet:

  • fried food
  • Highly processed foods (donuts, pies, cookies)
  • Whole milk dairy products (cottage cheese, ice cream, butter)
  • Fatty red meat

Also, stay away from very-low-calorie diets. If you are overweight, aim for gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercising regularly. Always follow a diet under medical supervision.

If symptoms persist, see a doctor. You may need surgery to remove your gallbladder.

Many other factors also affect the likelihood of developing gallstones, including:

  • Age
  • Gender (gallstones are more common in women than in men).
  • Family history of gallstones
  • Pregnancy
  • Fasting often
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia.

Certain medicines can also increase the chance of gallstones.

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