Although the gallbladder is not a vital organ, it plays an important role in digestion. As a result, people who undergo gallbladder removal will need to change their diet. Changes may include avoiding fatty, greasy, or spicy foods.
According to a 2017 review, there is no specific recommended diet for people without a gallbladder to follow. However, avoiding certain foods and prioritizing others can help someone recover from surgery and avoid adverse effects.
In this article, we explain how gallbladder removal affects digestion and list the best types of foods for someone who has had this surgery.
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ up to 10 centimeters in length that resides below the liver. It stores bile acids, which the liver produces. Bile acids help the body digest and absorb fats.
After gallbladder removal, a person may be less able to digest fats effectively. Their stomach may empty more slowly after meals. Bile will also flow directly into the small intestine, which can result in food moving faster through the digestive tract and may harm the microbiome.
As a result of the effects that gallbladder removal has on digestion, a person will need to change their diet after surgery.
For some people, these changes may be temporary, but for others — particularly those whose diet was previously high in carbohydrates or fat and low in fiber — the changes will need to be permanent.
When a person wakes up from anesthesia after the surgery, they can drink small amounts of liquid. The American College of Surgeons state that if a person does not feel sick, they can begin to eat solid foods.
Anesthesia, decreased activity, and pain medication can cause constipation following surgery. Drinking 8–10 glasses of water each day can help reduce this symptom. A doctor may also prescribe a stool softener to minimize discomfort and straining.
When a person begins to eat solids again, it is a good idea for them to eat smaller meals more regularly and to monitor the effect that certain foods have on their symptoms. Experts also recommend taking supplements of fat soluble vitamins, as these may be more difficult for the body to absorb after surgery.
People who have had gallbladder removal surgery should avoid certain foods, including:
- fatty, greasy, or fried foods
- spicy food
- refined sugar
- caffeine, which is often in tea, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks
- alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine, and spirits
- carbonated beverages
Fat is present in a variety of foods, including those below:
- desserts, such as cakes, cookies, and pastries
- fast food, such as pizza or fries
- processed meats, such as sausages
Some types of nonprocessed meat can also contain a significant amount of fat. Examples include:
- lamb and mutton
- pork, including bacon and ribs
- fatty cuts of beef, such as T-bone and rib eye steaks
Whole dairy products also contain fat. Following gallbladder removal, a person may need to avoid:
- whole milk
- full fat yogurt
- full fat cheese
- ice cream
- creamy sauces and dressings
Including more of certain foods in the diet can be helpful following gallbladder removal. People can focus on eating the types of foods below.
People who eat meat can choose low fat cuts to avoid eating too much fat. Some examples of low fat protein sources include:
- chicken or turkey breast
- fish and seafood
- nuts and seeds, but only in small amounts, as they are high in fat
High fiber foods
High fiber foods can help prevent constipation. However, people who no longer have a gallbladder should reintroduce high fiber foods to their diet slowly after surgery. High fiber foods to try include:
- whole grains
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- legumes and beans
- nuts and seeds
- bran cereals and oatmeal
Low fat dairy
Dairy products are a good source of calcium. If someone has to avoid full fat dairy after gallbladder removal, they can substitute low fat dairy products, such as skimmed milk or low fat yogurt. People can also get calcium from other foods, such as:
- leafy green vegetables
- legumes and pulses
- calcium-fortified milk alternatives
- sardines and canned salmon
According to a study in Nutrition & Diabetes, low fat products often contain more added sugar than full fat versions. A person can read the nutritional data on food packaging to check that they are not eating too much fat or added sugar.
Postcholecystectomy syndrome (PCS) is a term that doctors use to describe the gastrointestinal symptoms that people can develop after gallbladder removal. These symptoms include:
- fatty food intolerance
- intermittent stomach pain
The exact number of people who develop PCS after gallbladder removal is unclear, but estimates range from 5–30%. The symptoms may be a continuation of the symptoms that the person had before surgery, or they could be new.
Doctors treat PCS by identifying the cause of the symptoms and then prescribing medication or performing further surgery. In one study, 75% of people with PCS felt significant long-term relief from pain after treatment.
Although some symptoms, including diarrhea and gas, are common after gallbladder removal, a person should contact a doctor if they experience more severe symptoms, such as jaundice, swelling of the abdomen, vomiting, or high fever. These symptoms may require immediate medical attention.
Anyone who experiences PCS symptoms should also talk to a doctor. PCS requires an interprofessional approach, which may involve investigation by different specialists and consultants to discover the cause and determine the best treatment.
No single diet will work best for everyone who undergoes gallbladder removal. However, doctors generally advise that people avoid fatty foods and foods that can irritate the gut. Switching to low fat products and lean proteins while slowly introducing high fiber foods can help.
Some people may be able to go back to their original diet by gradually reintroducing foods one at a time and monitoring the effects. For others, though, some dietary changes may be permanent.
If a person has new or persistent symptoms after gallbladder removal, they should see a doctor.