If you’ve suffered with troublesome gallstones, you know that eating fatty foods can trigger pain. Gallbladder removal solves that problem, but you may temporarily have some other issues with eating after cholecystectomy. Your gallbladder isn’t vital for proper digestion, but your body needs time to adjust without it. As you recover, you may have diarrhea and bloating after you eat fatty foods. Here are six tips on how to eat and what to include (and exclude) in your diet after gallbladder removal.
If you have undergone a cholecystectomy (surgical gallbladder removal), you will likely be advised to adjust your eating habits. Without a gallbladder, the bile meant to be stored there will flow freely into the small intestine, increasing the risk of diarrhea while impeding the absorption of important nutrients.1 A diet specifically designed to address your body’s new needs can help bring these symptoms under control.
After having their gallbladder removed (cholecystectomy), some people develop frequent loose, watery stools. In most cases, the diarrhea lasts no more than a few weeks to a few months. There isn’t a specific gallbladder removal diet that you should follow if you have this problem, but there are a few things you might consider.
First, it helps to understand why you’re having diarrhea. Diarrhea after gallbladder removal seems to be related to the release of bile directly into the intestines. Normally, the gallbladder collects and concentrates bile, releasing it when you eat to aid the digestion of fat. When the gallbladder is removed, bile is less concentrated and drains more continuously into the intestines, where it can have a laxative effect.
After surgery, your liver will still make enough bile, but you might have difficulty processing fatty foods – at least for a while. More than half of patients who have their gallbladder removed have trouble digesting fat.
Gallbladder removal surgery is a common procedure that is considered to be very safe. Still, it is not without risks and side effects. Following your procedure, you must rest and eat a healthy diet. Learn about how your diet may impact your healing time after gallbladder surgery.
Understanding Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Gallbladder surgery is most commonly used to address the following:
- Gallstones in your gallbladder, or cholelithiasis
- Gallstones in your bile duct, or choledocholithiasis
- Gallbladder inflammation, or cholecystitis
- Large polyps in your gallbladder
- Inflammation in your pancreas, or pancreatitis, caused by gallstones
- Gallbladder surgery is called a cholecystectomy. Your gallbladder sits below your liver in the upper right side of your abdomen. It collects and stores digestive fluids or bile produced by your liver.
If your gallbladder doesn’t function properly, it may need to be removed. The incisions made to remove your gallbladder are very small. The surgery is generally considered low-risk, and many patients go home the same day after surgery. If a larger incision is made, your healing time may be extended.
How Should My Diet Change After Gallbladder Removal?
Your gallbladder is a 4-inch-long, oval-shaped organ connected to your liver. It concentrates bile from your liver and releases it into your small intestine to help break down food.
If your gallbladder becomes infected or develops stones, it may need to be removed. This procedure is known as cholecystectomy.
Without your gallbladder, bile flows freely into your small intestine, where it can’t break down food as effectively as it did in your gallbladder. While you can live without your gallbladder, you might need to make some changes to your diet to make up this change.
For the most part, you’ll need to limit or avoid high-fat, oily, greasy, and processed foods, which are harder for your body to digest. You may not need to make these changes forever. In the months after the procedure, you’ll probably be able to slowly add some of these foods back into your diet.
Read on to learn exactly what you should eat, what you should look out for, and what else you can do to speed up your recovery from gallbladder removal surgery.
What Foods Should I Avoid?
There’s no standard diet that people should follow after gallbladder removal surgery. In general, it’s best to avoid fatty, greasy, processed, and sugary foods.
Eating these foods after having your gallbladder removed won’t cause serious health problems, but it can lead to a lot of painful gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This is partly because bile flowing freely into your intestine works like a laxative.
Meats that are processed or high in fat can wreak havoc on your digestive system following removal of your gallbladder.
Such meats include:
- steak or high-fat cuts of red meat
- beef, whole or ground
- lunch meats, such as bologna and salami
Dairy can also be hard for your body to digest as it adjusts without a gallbladder.
Try to avoid or limit your consumption of:
- milk, especially whole
- full-fat yogurt
- full-fat cheese
- sour cream
- ice cream
- whipped cream
- sauces or gravies made with cream
If cutting out dairy isn’t realistic for you, try to choose fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese options or versions that contain dairy alternatives, such as almond milk.
Processed foods often contain a lot of additional fat and sugar. This makes them last longer, but they’re also hard to digest and don’t offer much nutrition.
Try to stay away from:
- cinnamon rolls
- sugary cereals
- white or other processed breads
- foods cooked in vegetable or hydrogenated oils
Caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine contains acids that can cause your stomach to make more acid and drain faster. This can lead to stomach pain and discomfort after having gallbladder removed.
Limit or avoid these caffeinated foods and beverages:
- energy drinks
- snacks with caffeine, such as energy bars or coffee-flavored desserts
Best Diet After Gallbladder Removal
One such alternative remedy is the so-called gallbladder cleanse, which is often touted as a treatment for gallstones or an alternative to gallbladder removal.
There are many different recipes for this so-called cleanse, but most involve drinking large amounts of citrus juices, Epsom salts, and olive oil.
The advertised promises may sound enticing, especially if you’re facing the cost and hassle of gallbladder removal.
Plenty of Liquids
Right after surgery, your number one priority will be to stay hydrated. Diarrhea is an unfortunate, but extremely common occurrence after gallbladder surgery, which can quickly drain your body of necessary fluids, vitamins, and minerals.
Due to this fact, it’s crucial that you stick to a ‘’clear liquid diet’’ and drink plenty of water, broths, and vitamin- or mineral-enhanced beverages post-surgery. While sports drinks are a good option during this time, you’ll want to avoid all alcohol and any caffeinated beverages such as coffee, energy drinks, tea, and soda.
Over time, you should slowly begin introducing solid foods back into your diet. In the meantime, stick with liquids to give your body time to heal.
Small Meal Portions
While many of us are used to eating three fairly large meals a day (i.e., breakfast, lunch and dinner), larger portion sizes will no longer be ideal for your body after having your gallbladder removed.
Instead, you should be eating much smaller meals every 2 – 3 hours. This way, you’re getting the nutrients and calories you need without overworking your liver.
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
Increase Fiber Slowly
While adding fiber to your diet can help ease diarrhea after surgery, introducing it too quickly can cause uncomfortable abdominal cramping and gas. To avoid this issue, introduce more soluble fibers into your diet.
Read more Gallstones (Cholelithiasis) Everything You Should to Know