The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located below the liver. It has an important job: collecting and storing bile produced by the liver.
The gallbladder releases the bile into the small intestine when we have a meal. Bile is essential for the digestion and absorption of fats.
Most disorders of the biliary tract result from gallstones. They can be asymptomatic, cause various health issues, and even require surgery to remove the gallbladder.
Our food plays a significant role in developing, preventing, and sometimes treating gallbladder problems.
Let’s briefly discuss the cause of these disorders and how certain types of food affect our biliary system.
What causes gallbladder problems?
In developed countries, about 10% of adults and 20% of people older than 65 have gallstones. About 80% of these people are asymptomatic.
The remaining have many manifestations, from a distinct type of pain called biliary colic to life-threatening gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis).
The cause of cholecystitis is almost always the biliary stones. They block the duct leading out of the gallbladder. As a result, bile flow is impaired, and inflammation develops.
Risks for the development of gallstones include:
- Female sex
- Increased age
- American Indian ethnicity
- Family history
- Rapid weight loss
- Western diet
Foods for a healthy gallbladder
Whether or not you are at risk for gallstones, eating a well-balanced diet is always recommended to keep your body healthy.
Controlling the intake of cholesterol and regulating body weight is essential. Here are the groups of gallbladder-friendly foods :
- Foods rich in fiber: These include vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, cucumber, cabbage, etc.), fruits (apple with skin, bananas, raspberries), whole grains (oatmeal, whole-grain bread, bulgur wheat). Among the numerous benefits of dietary fiber is the support of digestive health and stimulation of food movement along the intestines. This lowers the risk of biliary diseases. According to a 2014 study, diets high in fiber reduce the production of gallbladder sludge, which can later evolve into gallstones. This diet is beneficial for people who need to lose weight fast and are predisposed to gallstone formation.
- High-protein, low-fat food: Lean meat, poultry, and low-fat fish are excellent protein sources for people with gallbladder problems. In contrast to red meat and dairy, which contain high amounts of fat, these products are safer. Products rich in fat put the most stress on this organ. So people with gallbladder problems should limit their intake of unhealthy fats.
- Healthy fats: Unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fats found in fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines help to protect the gallbladder. Walnuts and flaxseed are also rich sources of unsaturated fatty acids. Be sure to include them in your diet.
- Antioxidants and vitamins: Plant-based foods are the best source of antioxidants and vitamins. According to studies, antioxidants in berries, red grapes, peaches, broccoli, spinach, carrots, and other plants protect against oxidative stress and various diseases.
Some other vitamins and compounds may also help prevent gallbladder abnormalities.
These include vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries), folate (asparagus, spinach, and beef liver are rich in folate), and magnesium (present in beans, soy milk, rice, and yogurt).
- Coffee: As research suggests, moderate amounts of coffee can benefit the gallbladder, stimulating its activity.
Foods to restrict
These foods may increase the risk of developing gallbladder problems. You should avoid or at least limit their intake.
- Saturated and trans fatty acids – unhealthy fats are present in almost all fast foods, baked goods, premade desserts, sweets, red meats, etc. Just make sure to check the label of the products you buy.
- Refined carbs contain almost no fiber, minerals, or vitamins and are often called “empty calories.” White bread, white flour, sweet dessert, and many breakfast bowls of cereal with added sugars are on the list.
- Food prepared with vegetable or peanut oil
Diet after gallbladder surgery
If you have acute or chronic gallbladder inflammation, the only treatment is to remove it surgically. After that, you will need to make some dietary changes:
- Avoid high-fat foods. Foods with more than 3 grams of fat per serving are not recommended.
- You should eat small, frequent meals
- Gradually increase fiber in your diet to normalize bowel movements
- Avoid foods that aggravated gallbladder symptoms earlier.
- Caffeine and spicy food are not recommended either.
You will follow these recommendations for several weeks, and then you can return to your usual meal plan gradually.
The diet for a healthy gallbladder is generally similar to the well-balanced dietitians recommend for everyday nutrition in textbooks.
Eat more fruits and veggies and cut down on fat. This will benefit not only your gallbladder but your whole body as well.