The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ situated just under the liver. It collects and stores bile from the liver. Problems that can affect the gallbladder include gallstones and cancer, but dietary choices may help prevent these.
Research suggests that people who follow a healthful diet have a lower risk of gallbladder disease.
There is no specific diet for a healthy gallbladder, but following some guidelines can help keep the gallbladder healthy and functioning well.
In this article, find some diet tips for keeping the gallbladder healthy.
The gallbladder diet aims to help reduce the stress that diet can impose on the gallbladder, either by easing digestion or by supporting the gallbladder.
For this study, the researchers broadly described two types of diet:
Healthful diet: A high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juice, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts, spices, and legumes.
Unhealthful diet: A high intake of processed meat, soft drinks, refined grains, red meat, high-fat dairy products, sugar, tea, solid fat, baked potato, snacks, egg, salt, pickled food, and sauerkraut.
People who followed a healthful diet pattern overall were less likely to develop gallbladder disease.
Here are some tips on foods that can help keep the gallbladder healthy.
A healthful diet will provide a variety of nutrients. A diet that includes a range of plant foods can provide the nutrients the body needs to stay healthy.
Antioxidants are nutrients that help rid the body of toxic molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals develop in the body as a result of natural processes and environmental stresses, including processed foods. As free radicals build up, oxidative stress can result. This can cause cell damage, which can lead to various diseases, including cancer.
Which other foods provide antioxidants? Find out here.
Protein is essential for the repair and growth of body tissues. Red meat and dairy products are good sources of protein, but they can also be high in fat, and a high fat intake can put stress on the gallbladder.
Low-fat protein foods are a suitable option. They include:
- zero fat dairy products
- nuts and seeds
- soy and soy products
- legumes, such as beans and lentils
- dairy alternatives, such as soy milk
Processed meats and dairy products are often high in added salt. Fresh foods without added sugar are a more healthful option.
A 2016 study found a link between a high intake vegetable protein and a lower risk of gallbladder disease.
Why do people need protein? Find out here.
Fiber supports digestive health, and it may offer protection from gallbladder disease by enhancing the movement of food through the gut and lowering the production of secondary bile acids, experts say.
In 2014, researchers looked at how a high-fiber diet affected the production of biliary sludge during a rapid weight-loss diet for people with obesity. Biliary or gallbladder sludge is a substance that increases the risk of developing gallbladder disease. It can build up in people who fast or lose weight quickly.
Those who followed the high fiber diet accumulated less gallbladder sludge, which reduced their risk of developing gallbladder disease.
This suggests that fiber can help prevent gallbladder disease in people who need to lose weight quickly, and perhaps overall.
Sources of fiber include:
- nuts and seeds
- whole grains
Learn more here about dietary fiber and its benefits.
- cold-water fish
- nuts, such as walnuts
- seeds, such as flaxseed
- oils from fish or flaxseed
People can also take supplements, but they should check first with a doctor, as some supplements are not suitable for everyone.
Learn more here about how healthful and unhealthful fats.
Research suggests that substances in coffee may have various benefits for gallbladder function, including balancing certain chemicals and stimulating the action of the gallbladder, and possibly intestinal activity, too.
Click here to learn more about the health benefits of coffee.
Calcium is present in:
- dark, leafy greens, such as kale and broccoli
- dairy foods, such as yogurt, cheese, and milk
- fortified dairy alternatives, such as almond or flax milk
- orange juice
People with a risk of gallbladder disease should choose zero fat dairy products.
Vitamin C, magnesium, and folate
Vitamin C is available in:
- red and green peppers
- oranges and other citrus foods
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that cooking in water may remove some of it from the food. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are the best sources.
Magnesium is present in:
- almonds and cashews
- peanuts and peanut butter
- beans, including black beans and edamame
- soy milk
Good source of folate include:
- beef liver
- black-eyed peas
- fortified cereals
Supplements are also available, but it is best to get nutrients from dietary sources. People should ask their doctor before taking supplements.
Which foods are good sources of vitamin C? Find out here.
Some foods may increase the chances of developing gallbladder disorders such as gallstones.
People who have concerns about the health of their gallbladder should consider avoiding or limiting the following food types.
Carbohydrates are a key part of most people’s diet, and unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole grains and oats, can provide essential nutrients.
However, refined carbohydrates may increase the risk of gallbladder disorders. In one study, researchers found that eating 40 grams (g) or more of sugar a day doubled the risk of gallstones with symptoms.
Carbs to limit or avoid include:
- added sugars and sweeteners
- white flour
- other refined grains
- premade baked goods, including cookies and cakes
- candy and chocolate
Find out more here about carbohydrates.
The gallbladder produces bile that helps the body digest fats. A high intake of fats, and especially saturated and trans fats, may put extra strain on this process.
Researchers have found that people who consume red, processed meats, and egg as part of an overall unhealthful diet have a higher risk of gallstones.
Unhealthful fats are present in:
- red, fatty meats
- processed meats
- other processed foods
- full-fat dairy products
- fried foods
- many fast foods
- premade salad dressings and sauces
- premade baked goods and desserts
- chocolate and other candies
- ice cream
People who have surgery to remove their gallbladder will still be able to digest food, but they may need to make some dietary changes, at least for the first few days or weeks.
A doctor may advise a person to:
- eat small meals on the days after surgery
- follow a low-fat diet for several weeks
If the individual experiences bloating, diarrhea, or other digestive symptoms, it may help to:
- avoid caffeine
- avoid spicy or fatty foods
- avoid anything that makes symptoms worse
- gradually introduce more fiber into the diet
Anyone who notices greasy, frothy, or foamy stools should contact their doctor.
A gallbladder cleanse, flush, or detox is a dietary trend that scientists have described as “misleading.”
Supporters say it can reset the gallbladder, flush out gallstones, improve digestive health, and enhance the function of the gallbladder.
One example is to:
- eat a strict diet, including apple juice, for 2 weeks
- follow up by drinking Epsom salts and a mixture of olive oil and citrus juice
There is little evidence to support the use of this diet, and experts say such recommendations may be dangerous.
Some people have reported seeing “stones” leave the body in stool, but analysis has shown these to be clumps of oil and citrus juice.
Anyone who has concerns about gallbladder disease should see a doctor.
Is detox a good idea? Find out more here.
When to see a doctor
Not everyone with gallstones will notice symptoms, but if symptoms do occur, they may include:
- yellowing skin
- a fever
Anyone who notices these symptoms should see a doctor.
People can take several steps to improve gallbladder health.
Avoiding rapid weight loss: When a person loses weight rapidly, this can put a strain on the liver and gallbladder and may increase the risk of gallstones. It is best to lose weight steadily. Fasting or receiving nutrition intravenously can also contribute to gallbladder disease.
Avoiding allergens: In some people, an allergic reaction can trigger gallbladder symptoms. Taking an allergy test, following an elimination diet, and avoiding specific allergens may be helpful for some people.
Quitting smoking: Smoking tobacco can contribute to gallbladder dysfunction, including gallbladder cancer.
A high-fiber diet that favors plant-based foods may boost gallbladder health. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants and are low in fat and calories.
Many of the foods to avoid, such as saturated fat, are present in animal products.
However, a plant-based diet is not automatically healthful. People should favor fresh foods over processed ones and check the labels on premade foods for added fats, salt, and sugar.
Are there foods that can get rid of gallstones?
There is no one food or group of foods that will eradicate gallstones. However, eating a healthful diet that limits saturated fat and refined carbohydrates might help. A higher intake of fiber is associated with fewer gallstones.
According to an article in Alternative Medicine Review, 10-50 grams per day of wheat bran has been shown to decrease cholesterol saturation of bile in those with gallstones. Also, avoiding allergenic foods has been shown to eliminate gallbladder symptoms and consuming at least 5 ounces (oz) of nuts weekly showed a 25% lower risk of gallbladder removal.
Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.