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Gallbladder Diet Eating Guidelines For Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder Diet Eating Guidelines For Gallbladder Disease

The gallbladder is a small organ located below the liver. It stores bile produced by the liver, and releases the bile into the small intestine to help digest food. Your gallbladder is an organ that you can live without, but it may take some time for your body to adjust to its absence.

When you have a problem with your gallbladder, like gallstones, your doctor may recommend that you have surgery to remove your gallbladder.

Many adults suffer from gallbladder problems during middle or late adulthood, especially women, who develop gallstones much more than men do. And cholecystectomy, surgery to remove the gallbladder, is one of the most common operations performed on adults in the United States every year. Yet it’s common for even those who have gallbladder issues to be a bit unsure of what the gallbladder does exactly and that a gallbladder diet can help prevent and treat certain issues.

The gallbladder is a little pear-shaped pouch tucked behind the lobes of the liver. Its main job is to store up the cholesterol-rich bile that’s secreted by the liver, which then helps the body digest fats and lipids within the diet. Of all the people who experience some sort of gallbladder trouble in their lifetimes, roughly 70 percent of the time that trouble is in the form of gallstones, which form when bile contains excessive amounts of cholesterol. The gallbladder is a sensitive organ, and maintaining a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods helps keep it in perfect health. Certain foods can protect and promote a healthy gallbladder, while others increase the likelihood of problems like inflammation or gallstones.

Most people never give a thought to the health of their gallbladder. The pear-shaped organ does have an important job, collecting and storing bile — the fluid that helps the body digest fats. But unlike the heart, liver, and kidneys, the gallbladder isn’t necessary to keep the body healthy and functioning. Even when it isn’t working as well as it should and gallstones develop, most people are unaware that there is a problem.

Yet in a small percentage of people, gallstones can trigger a variety of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. When gallstone symptoms are frequent, recurrent, and especially uncomfortable, the typical treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder.

“The majority of people with gallstones never develop symptoms their whole lives,” says John Martin, MD, associate professor of medicine and surgery, and director of endoscopy at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Once you start to develop symptoms, you’re going to need to have the gallbladder taken out.”

Knowing what foods to choose and which ones to avoid may help the gallbladder stay healthy, especially for people who have already experienced gallstones or other gallbladder problems.

There is no specific gallbladder diet for a healthy gallbladder, but following some guidelines can help keep the gallbladder healthy and functioning well.

Gallstones Prevention, Gallbladder Diet and Other Natural Treatments

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. Body weight is also a factor; the risk of gallstones is higher in people who are overweight and obese.

Diets that are high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber appear to play a role. “There’s a lot of things you can’t change in that list, but you can certainly influence your diet,” says F. Taylor Wootton III, MD, clinical counselor, associate professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and a member of the American Gastroenterological Association governing board.

If you’re overweight, try to lose the extra weight; but do it gradually. There is a link between quick weight loss and gallstone formation. Crash or “yo-yo” diets can cause the liver to release more cholesterol into the bile, disrupting the normal balance of cholesterol and bile salts. That extra cholesterol can form into crystals, leading to gallstones.

Follow a Gallbladder Diet

The foods below can help reduce gallbladder distress because overall they’re easier for the body to digest, contain only natural fats and supply important nutrients like antioxidants and fiber:

  • High-fiber foods — Aim for 30–40 grams of fiber per day, which can help reduce the risk of gallstones. Good sources of fiber that support digestion are soaked/sprouted beans and legumes, nuts, seeds along with fresh veggies and fruit.
  • Beets, artichoke and dandelion greens — These vegetables especially help support liver health, have detoxifying effects and can improve bile flow, which breaks down fat. You can also consume more fresh produce from making your own vegetable juices or smoothies. Try to add potassium-rich foods like avocado, leafy greens, tomato, sweet potato and bananas.
  • Unrefined healthy fats (including olive or coconut oil) — Coconut oil contains one of the easiest forms of fat for the body to digest, called medium-chained fatty acids. I recommend consuming healthy fats in small amounts over the course of the day, only about one tablespoon of oil at one time, or about two tablespoons of sprouted nuts and seeds. This is because you don’t want to overconsume fats, which puts more stress on the liver and gallbladder. Extra virgin olive oil is another anti-inflammatory fat with many benefits.
  • Sprouted nuts and seeds — Sprouted flax, chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds are easier to digest and can reduce inflammation. But only consume one to two tablespoons of sprouted nuts and seeds at a time.
  • A diet high in plants, including raw foods — People who eat a gallbladder diet high in raw plants like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds tend to have lower occurrence of gallstones. These foods are naturally high in water, electrolytes, antioxidants and fiber but low in salt and fats. Consuming a vegetarian diet is also associated with decreased gallstone risk, as is avoiding processed meats or allergenic dairy foods.
  • Lean protein foods — Including lean sources of organic protein in a gallbladder diet can relieve stress. Consider chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, bison, wild-caught fish and organic protein powder, including protein from bone broth powder.


Flaxseed not only offers fiber, which is essential for a healthy digestive system, but it also offers fats that you need in your gallbladder diet.”Ground flaxseed makes an excellent fiber supplement and can be added to cereal, smoothies, and juices to increase fiber intake,” says Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about two grams of dietary fiber.) “As an added benefit, you get healthy, gallbladder-friendly fats in the form of plant-based omega 3s,” he says. (Here are other proven ways to boost your fiber intake). Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 38 grams (or 21 and 30 grams daily, respectively, for those older than 50), according to the Institute of Medicine.


When it comes to potassium-rich foods, avocados rank high for a gallbladder diet. “This is a superfood that is rich in healthy fats and very high in potassium,” says Carrie Burrows, PhD, a nutrition scientist in Orlando, FL. “Potassium is an essential nutrient for fluid and electrolyte balance that keeps us hydrated.” Most of us are chronically dehydrated, which leads to a number of health issues including gallstones, she says: “Gallstones form when bile is too thick, so being hydrated helps keep bile at the right consistency so you can prevent the formation of gallstones.” Gallstones may also form if bile contains too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin. Include sliced avocados with your lunchtime salad or add them to your morning toast.


There are many health benefits of beans, so it’s no surprise that they’re a gallbladder diet all-star. “A meal high in fat stimulates more bile release,” explains Sheila Reddy, MD, a gastroenterologist with Austin Gastroenterology in Austin, Texas. “When there is too much fat or cholesterol in your diet, it can crystallize in the bile and form gallstones.” Cutting back on meats and focusing instead on eating a plant-based diet can improve cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of developing gallstones, she says. “Plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu are excellent replacements for fatty red meat, one of the major culprits of gallbladder inflammation,” adds Dr. Bulsiewicz.

If you need more suggestions, these are the healthiest plant-based proteins you can eat. Prevention is key, but each year about 600,000 people undergo gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy), and this changes the game a bit, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. There is no gallbladder removal diet but “fatty foods such as fried foods, cheese, ice cream, and meat should be consumed in moderation after cholecystectomy. Without a gallbladder, you cannot adequately digest fat and, as result, get malabsorption and diarrhea,” he says.


Oranges are one of the healthiest fruits for your body. “Vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits and berries are another great choice for a healthy gallbladder,” says Dr. Bulsiewicz. “Studies have shown that Vitamin C may have a preventative effect against gallstones.” In fact, a review in 2015 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology noted that some research indicates consuming vitamin C supplementation can cut risk of gallstones nearly in half. And oranges aren’t the only C-rich food either. Check out these foods that pack more vitamin C than oranges.

Bitter Greens

Bitter greens may be one of those healthy vegetables you never knew you liked—and they’re great for setting up healthy fat digestion. “Eating bitter foods like okra, endives, broccoli rabe, and bitter artichoke before fatty foods will stimulate bile production,” explains Tara Nayak, a naturopathic doctor in Philadelphia, PA. “When the gallbladder doesn’t produce enough bile or when its release is blocked, symptoms occur.”

“Bitter is better,” adds David Friedman, a clinical nutritionist and alternative medicine practitioner in Wilmington, NC, and the author of Food Sanity:How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. Other bitters include arugula, leeks, kale, dill, dandelion greens, parsley, and pickled ginger. “Bitter foods act to stimulate digestive juices and healthy bile production [and] the more bitter, the stronger the digestive action created; from the first taste, bitters induce the flow of juices in your mouth, which is the very start of the digestive process,” he says. Find out how to start liking more of the veggies you think you hate.

Dark, Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens—think spinach and broccoli—are loaded with magnesium, which has a role to play in any gallbladder diet, Nayak says. This is important because many gallstones contain calcium. “Magnesium helps us clear calcium so it doesn’t build up and form gallstones,” she says. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in magnesium, she adds. These are the signs you may not be getting enough magnesium.


Here’s one of the health benefits of beets you never knew: Beets contain betaine, a substance that helps protect the liver and stimulate the flow of bile to break down fat. This is why they should be a staple in a gallbladder diet. “Drink beet juice, beet soup, or even add beets to a smoothie to get the benefits,” Nayak says. Find out the health secrets your gut is trying to tell you.


We hear a lot about the importance of keeping our gut bacteria in balance because when the bad bugs outnumber good ones, it can cause a host of symptoms including some that affect the gallbladder. “Keeping the gut balanced will reduce the need for bile and take pressure off the gallbladder,” Nayak says. Probiotic-filled foods including fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha and tepache can help restore this balance and have a role in a healthy gallbladder diet. Although you might think yogurt is a good source of probiotics, it’s not necessary a friend to the gallbladder. “Yogurt with active cultures can irritate the stomach, so it’s best to avoid dairy for gallbladder health,” Nayak adds. But a nutritious diet isn’t the only health concern for this organ. Next, find out the gallbladder cancer symptoms to never ignore.

Gallbladder Problem Foods to Avoid on a Gallbladder Diet

  • Fried foods and hydrogenated oils — Fast foods, processed oils, and fatty packaged meats or cheese can be some of the hardest foods to properly digest. To cut the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet, reduce intake of lunch/deli meats, convenience foods like chips or cookies, salami and other cured meats, pork products, processed dairy, and conventional, grain-fed animal meat.
  • Sugar and simple carbohydrates — Sugar can increase the likelihood the gallstones due to weight gain and inflammation.
  • Foods you might be allergic to — Gallbladder problems are potentially related to food allergies. Potential allergens include dairy products, gluten, shellfish, peanuts or nightshade vegetables.
  • Conventional dairy products — These foods are pro-inflammatory and can cause your body to produce more gallstones. This includes cheese, ice cream, pizza, etc.
  • High-fat meals — It’s been found that gallbladder attacks often follow heavy meals, and they usually occur in the evening or during the night. Any food high in fat can potentially worsen gallbladder issues. This applies most to refined vegetable oils (like sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, etc.) but can also include even healthy vegetables oils like olive oil in some cases — or even things like almond butter. While having some healthy fats is important, portion control is key. If symptoms become worse when eating even healthy fats, further reduce how much you have at one time or try another type of fat instead.

Use Gallbladder Herbs, Acids and Enzymes

In addition to changing your diet, here are other natural gallbladder supplements to reduce pain and inflammation that should coincide with a gallbladder diet:

  • Milk thistle (150 milligrams twice daily) — It’s been shown that milk thistle increases bile flow and aids the liver and gallbladder in detoxification. Research has found that milk thistle is a natural hepatoprotective and works in some of the following ways: It has antioxidant activity, is a toxin blockade at the membrane level, enhances protein synthesis, has antifibrotic activity, and is also capable of producing anti-inflammatory or immunomodulating effects. (2)
  • Lipase enzymes (two caps with meals) — This enzyme can offer improvements in fat digestion and the use of bile.
  • Bile salts or ox bile (500–1,000 milligrams with meals) — Bile salts and ox bile might help improve the breakdown of fats and can greatly improve gallbladder distress.
  • Turmeric (1,000 milligrams daily) — Turmeric and its most active compound, curcumin, have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce gallbladder swelling and improve bile flow.
  • Dandelion root (500 milligrams with meals) — Dandelion has been used for centuries to improve multiple digestive processes, support health of the liver and regulate use of bile.
  • Barberry — This plant extract may help treat GI troubles, fight infections, and cleanse the liver and gallbladder.
  • Rosemary oil — Mix three drops of rosemary oil with quarter teaspoon of coconut oil and rub over gallbladder area twice daily to help with cleansing and reduce inflammation.

Maintain a Healthy Weight without “Crash Dieting”

Being overweight or obese might increase your chances of having gallbladder problems, such as gallstones. This seems to be especially true in overweight, middle-aged females due to the effects that hormonal changes (especially of estrogen) seem to have on the liver. Obesity has been shown to contribute to higher levels of cholesterol in the liver and can contribute to many different digestive dysfunctions.

Research also shows that people who don’t maintain healthy weight might experience more inflammation and swelling within the gallbladder, especially if they have large amounts of fat around their waists called visceral fat. Tips for safely reaching and staying at a healthy weight (without over-stressing the digestive organs due to “crash dieting”) include:

  • Avoiding “yo-yo dieting” (gaining and losing over and over again). Most yo-yo dieting is the result of fad dieting. Research shows that people who lose more than three pounds per week might have a greater chance of getting gallstones than those who lose weight more slowly and without drastic measures.
  • Under-eating due to other health concerns, recovering from weight loss surgery or other reasons for rapid weight loss can also contribute to nutrient deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances that stress the liver.
  • Reach a healthy weight safely by focusing on consuming more high-fiber foods as part of a gallbladder diet, drinking water in place of sweetened beverages, eating mindfully, being more active and controlling stress, which can contribute to hormone imbalances or emotional eating.

Exercise Regularly

Stay active throughout adulthood and even into older age to protect yourself against gallstones. This is beneficial for hormonal balance, reducing inflammation, overall digestive health and maintaining a healthy weight without needing to dramatically cut calories. The general recommendation is 30–60 minutes of moderately intense exercise each day, plus several times per week performing strength or full-body HIIT/burst training.

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