The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located under your liver. It stores bile, a fluid made and released by the liver that helps with fat digestion.
Gallbladder problems are usually caused when bile cannot exit the gallbladder because the bile ducts, the tube that the bile is supposed to leave through, are blocked by gallstones. Gallstones are small, hard stones often made of cholesterol or bilirubin (the substance that makes bile yellow).1
You can reduce your risk of gallbladder complications by preventing gallstones. One way to do that is by maintaining a well-balanced diet.
What to Eat
Many risk factors for gallbladder problems, such as age, a family history of gallstones, and gender, are out of your control. However, there are several dietary strategies that may help protect against gallbladder issues and keep you healthy.2
Mediterranean and DASH Diets
One large study among men found that adherence to the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets were associated with around a 35% lower risk of symptomatic gallbladder disease.3
Both diet patterns have also been shown to improve heart health and promote blood sugar control in people with diabetes, another risk factor for gallstones.4
A Mediterranean diet patten is mostly plant-based, with small amounts of lean meat and chicken. It focuses on high amounts of:5
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fish and seafood
- Olive oil
A DASH diet pattern includes these Mediterranean diet foods but also encourages low-fat dairy and the limitation of red meat and sodium.6
Gallbladder cancer is rare. Still, a diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can reduce the risk of gallbladder cancer.7
Healthy Fats and Nuts
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help prevent gallstone formation and reduce the risk of gallbladder disease.2 In particular, research shows that monounsaturated fats may help the gallbladder contract and move out bile more effectively.8
Healthy fats that have been directly linked to gallbladder health include:8
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish and fish oil supplements
Fruits and Vegetables
Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet can improve the health of your gallbladder. These foods are not only high in nutrients, but they’re also rich in fiber, which is important for gallbladder health.9 That’s because fiber can speed up digestion, reducing the production of bile acids.10
Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit have been shown to be particularly important for gallbladder health. Other fruits that are high in vitamin C, such as kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes, as well as Vitamin C-packed leafy greens like kale and spinach, have been shown to play a protective role in gallstone formation, too.8
Vegetarian diets may help reduce gallbladder disease due to their cholesterol-lowering effects.
One study found that women who consumed a vegetarian diet had a decreased risk of gallstones compared to women who followed a non-vegetarian diet. Women with high cholesterol levels who followed a non-vegetarian diet had 3.8 times the risk of gallstone disease compared to women with normal cholesterol levels who followed a vegetarian diet. The protective effect of the diet remained even after accounting for the cholesterol levels.11
Eating three balanced meals per day can help your gallbladder empty regularly. By emptying regularly, you’ll be less likely to develop gallstones. Ideally, these meals should be low in saturated fat and high in fiber and calcium to avoid the buildup of bile acids.2
Coffee consumption has been shown to decrease the risk of gallstone development. While the exact mechanism is unknown, coffee compounds are believed to help stimulate gallbladder contractions and reduce cholesterol levels in the bile.12
One large study found that people who drank more than six cups of coffee daily had a 23% lower risk of gallstones than non-coffee drinkers.12
What to Avoid
Studies have linked the following foods with an increased risk of gallbladder disorders:2
Afdhal NH, Zakko SF. Gallstones: Epidemiology, risk factors and prevention. In: Chopra S, Grover S, eds. UpToDate. UpToDate; 2023.
- Fast food
- Foods high in trans fats and saturated fats, like fatty cuts of meat, cured meat, and desserts
- Foods that are low in fiber
- Refined carbohydrates and added sugars
A high intake of saturated and trans fats can increase cholesterol, which plays a role in forming gallstones.8
When you consume high amounts of added sugar and refined carbohydrates, insulin production ramps up. This can increase cholesterol production in the liver. In fact, one study found 40 grams of sugar daily doubles the risk of gallstone formation.13
High-calorie diets and very low-calorie diets can also increase the risk of gallstone formation. Studies have shown that rapid weight loss caused by low-calorie diets increases the risk of gallstones. This may be due to changes in gallbladder bile during weight loss.2
Diet After Gallbladder Removal
If gallstones are causing you pain or other symptoms or your gallbladder isn’t working correctly, you may need to have your gallbladder surgically removed (cholecystectomy). Most of the time, gallbladder problems improve after the surgery.14
Fortunately, you can live a normal, healthy life without a gallbladder. However, when the gallbladder is removed, bile produced by the liver will then flow directly into your small intestine, where it can act as a laxative. This may initially cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.15
Reducing your intake of fatty foods and increasing fiber intake may help prevent these symptoms.16 For example, one study found an increased risk of symptoms after gallbladder removal in people who ate more animal protein, eggs, and cholesterol and fewer vegetables.17
Your healthcare will probably recommend avoiding fried foods, greasy foods, and high-fat foods for several weeks after surgery. They may also recommend eating small, frequent meals and increasing your daily fiber intake to keep your bowel movements regular.
Good sources of fiber include:
- Whole grains like oats, brown rice, and barley
- Legumes and beans
A Quick Review
A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains may help improve gallbladder health. Limiting your intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and saturated fats can reduce your risk of gallstones and other gallbladder problems. Sometimes the best way to treat your gallbladder problem is to remove the gallbladder. After this surgery, you might want to reduce your intake of fatty foods and increase how much fiber you are eating to help with recovery. Talk to your healthcare provider before making any significant dietary changes.
- MedlinePlus. Gallbladder diseases.
- Afdhal NH, Zakko SF. Gallstones: Epidemiology, risk factors and prevention. In: Chopra S, Grover S, eds. UpToDate. UpToDate; 2023.
- Wirth J, Song M, Fung TT, et al. Diet-quality scores and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease: a prospective cohort study of male US health professionals. Int J Epidemiol. 2018;47(6):1938-1946. doi:10.1093/ije/dyy210
- Benson G, Hayes J. An Update on the Mediterranean, Vegetarian, and DASH Eating Patterns in People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2020;33(2):125-132. doi:10.2337/ds19-0073
- MedlinePlus. Mediterranean diet.
- MedlinePlus. Understanding the DASH diet.
- American Cancer Society. Can gallbladder cancer be prevented?
- Di Ciaula A, Garruti G, Frühbeck G, et al. The Role of Diet in the Pathogenesis of Cholesterol Gallstones. Curr Med Chem. 2019;26(19):3620-3638. doi:10.2174/0929867324666170530080636
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Eating, diet, and nutrition for gallstones.
- Tehrani AN, Saadati S, Yari Z, et al. Dietary fiber intake and risk of gallstone: a case–control study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2023;23(1):119. doi:10.1186/s12876-023-02752-0
- Chang CM, Chiu THT, Chang CC, Lin MN, Lin CL. Plant-Based Diet, Cholesterol, and Risk of Gallstone Disease: A Prospective Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):335. doi:10.3390/nu11020335
- Nordestgaard AT, Stender S, Nordestgaard BG, Tybjærg‐Hansen A. Coffee intake protects against symptomatic gallstone disease in the general population: a Mendelian randomization study. J Intern Med. 2020;287(1):42-53. doi:0.1111/joim.12970
- Jessri M, Rashidkhani B. Dietary patterns and risk of gallbladder disease: a hospital-based case-control study in adult women. J Health Popul Nutr. 2015;33(1):39-49.
- MedlinePlus. Laparoscopic gallbladder removal.
- Arora D, Kaushik R, Kaur R, Sachdev A. Post-cholecystectomy syndrome: A new look at an old problem. J Minim Access Surg. 2018;14(3):202. doi:10.4103/jmas.JMAS_92_17
- Altomare DF, Rotelli MT, Palasciano N. Diet after cholecystectomy. CMC. 2019;26(19):3662-3665. doi:10.2174/0929867324666170518100053
- Shin Y, Choi D, Lee KG, Choi HS, Park Y. Association between dietary intake and postlaparoscopic cholecystectomic symptoms in patients with gallbladder disease. Korean J Intern Med. 2018;33(4):829-836. doi:10.3904/kjim.2016.223
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