A diet of high cholesterol foods may lead to gallstones forming.
There are a few important diet tips to consider for a healthy gallbladder, as well as some things to avoid.
Contents of this article:
What is a gallbladder diet?
A gallbladder diet is not one type of diet in particular. It is simply a set of dietary guidelines used to help people keep their gallbladder healthy and fully functioning.
The guidelines are also commonly followed by people who have had their gallbladders removed as a result of gallstones or other such complications.
How does diet affect the health of the gallbladder?
The diet can directly affect the health of the gallbladder due to the key role that the gallbladder plays in digesting foods. Its job is to collect and store bile, and then add that bile to food as it enters the small intestine. The bile helps to break down fats.
Gallstones form when the bile that comes into the gallbladder is too high in cholesterol or bilirubin, or is too low in bile salts. Most gallstones themselves are made from hardened cholesterol.
When gallstones start to form, they can block the connection from the gallbladder to the small intestine. This can make it difficult or even impossible for bile to get through.
If the gallstones cannot be removed, the gallbladder may need to be removed from the body. Even without the gallbladder, the liver still makes enough bile for most normal digestion to be possible, though a low fat diet is recommended. However, it is best to care for the gallbladder before complications occur in order to avoid them altogether.
Gallbladder supporting foods
The gallbladder diet aims to help reduce the stress that diet has on the gallbladder. The foods will be easier to digest, may help the digestion process, or support the gallbladder itself.
High plant intake
One of the most important aspects of any balanced diet is to provide the body with a variety of foods in order to get as many different nutrients as possible.
The easy way to do this is to increase the number of different fruits and vegetables eaten regularly. Eating a wide variety of plant foods can help to provide a broad range of nutrients to the body and keep it healthy.
Fats can add stress to the gallbladder and so it is important that proteins in the diet be as lean as possible.
White-meat foods, fish, and vegetable proteins are more lean proteins, which may help to relieve excess stress on the gallbladder.
Fiber plays an important role in a healthy digestive system. Fiber in its various forms can help to keep a person feeling full for a longer period of time, feed healthy bacteria in the gut, and add bulk to the stool.
Fiber can also assist the body in toxin removal.
Polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 seem to help keep the gallbladder healthy and reduce the risk of gallbladder problems.
These fats are commonly found in cold-water fish, nuts such as walnuts, seeds such as flaxseed, and oils from fish or flaxseed.
Healthful coffee consumption also appears to play an important role in keeping the gallbladder working correctly.
A healthy gallbladder is supported by a diet of calcium rich foods such as leafy greens, broccoli, and sardines.
Dairy products have a lot of calcium as well, but they can also have a very high fat content, mainly from saturated fats. Alternative plants milks that are fortified with calcium, such as almond or flax milk, are higher in healthful fats and lower in saturated fats and may still provide ample calcium.
While heavily drinking can cause problems for the liver, it appears that moderate drinking (that is, around one drink per day) can help to protect the gallbladder from gallstones and other complications.
People who have higher levels of vitamin C in their blood appear to experience fewer gallbladder problems.
Vitamin C is easily obtained by eating a varied diet containing many fruits and vegetables. It can also be found easily as a supplement in most markets, but supplements do not offer the same health benefits as getting the nutrient from food.
Foods to avoid
There are also foods that seem to increase the chances of developing gallbladder disorders such as gallstones. If gallbladder health is a concern, it may help to avoid or limit these foods:
While carbohydrates make up much of the food that humans eat, refined carbohydrates may increase the risk of gallbladder disorders. Refined carbs include sugars and sweeteners, flour, refined grains, and starches.
They are most often found in baked goods including cookies and cakes, as well as in candy, chocolate, soft drinks, and battered and fried foods.
The bile produced from the gallbladder is important in digesting fats, so eating a fat-heavy diet may force it to work overtime.
Processed foods high in trans fats, hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and excessive saturated animal fats can overwork the gallbladder. A study from 2008 revealed that men with the highest long-chain saturated fat intake, primarily from red meat, were the most at risk for gallstones. Medium-chain fats, found in plant foods such as coconut, did not increase gallstone risk.
Diet after gallbladder surgery or with gallbladder problems
For mild gallbladder issues, symptoms may be eased with an easy-to-digest diet including juiced vegetables.
After a gallbladder surgery, the hospital will often give a patient liquid food for 1-2 days and then switch them back to solid foods. The liver produces enough bile for normal digestion under most circumstances, but it does take time for the body to adjust.
A low-fat diet is recommended indefinitely after surgery. Some people may experience diarrhea and other digestive symptoms if they eat fatty or greasy foods after surgery, if they are unable to digest fat optimally, or both. Report to your doctor if you notice greasy, frothy, or foamy stools.
For those with mild gallbladder issues, a liquid and easy-to-digest diet can be done at home to try to ease symptoms. This usually starts with liquids including chicken broth, vegetable broth, and fresh, juiced vegetables. Watery soups can then be added, as well as low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber foods.
A gallbladder cleanse, or gallbladder flush, has recently become a trend. It is designed to reset the gallbladder, flush out gallstones, and improve digestive health and function of the gallbladder.
A sample process involves eating a strict diet including apple juice for 2 weeks. The person then follows a plan of drinking Epsom salts and a mixture of olive oil and citrus juice.
There are many claims made about this gallbladder flush, but little research has been done on the topic. As research in the World Journal of Gastroenterology points out, the gallbladder flush may be misleading, and the "stones" that people see in their stools have been found to simply be the oil and citrus juice mixed together.
Cleansing the gallbladder may not be as simple as drinking a solution, but there are definite steps that can be taken to help keep the gallbladder healthy.
When to see a doctor
The symptoms of gallstones are not felt by everyone, but they can include:
If these symptoms are noticed, it is best to see a doctor to be properly diagnosed.
Other lifestyle tips for gallbladder health
There are several steps that people can take to improve gallbladder health. These lifestyle measures include the following:
- Controlling obesity: Because obesity is a risk factor for gallbladder problems, it may be helpful to stay physically active and in shape.
- Avoiding rapid weight loss: Rapid weight loss demands the liver and gallbladder to work overtime, which can sometimes mean more gallstones. Slow and steady weight loss is best and is also able to be maintained for longer.
- Avoiding allergens: There may also be a link to food allergies and gallstone health. Taking an allergy test, following an elimination diet, and avoiding specific allergens may be helpful for people with gallbladder issues.
- Quitting smoking: Tobacco smoke can contribute to gallbladder dysfunction, up to and including gallbladder cancers.
- Trying a vegetarian diet: Eating a high-fiber, vegetarian diet rich in plant foods may be a step in the right direction for gallbladder health. Many of the foods to avoid, such as excessive saturated fat, are found in animal products.