Gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located below the liver. It has an important job: collecting and storing bile produced by the liver. When we have a meal, gallbladder releases the bile into the small intestine. Bile is essential for digestion and absorption of fats.
Most disorders of the biliary tract result from gallstones. They can be asymptomatic or cause various health issues and can even require surgery to remove gallbladder. Food we eat plays a major role in development, prevention and sometimes in the treatment of 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 years have gallstones. About 80% of these people are asymptomatic. The remaining have a wide range of manifestations, from a characteristic type of pain, called biliary colic, to life-threatening inflammation of gallbladder (cholecystitis). The cause of cholecystitis are 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 development of gallstones include:
- Female sex
- Increased age
- American Indian ethnicity
- Family history
- Rapid weight loss
- Western diet
Foods for 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 breads, bulgur wheat). Among 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 type of diet is essentially 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 sources of protein 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 the intake of unhealthy fats.
- Healthy fats: Unsaturated fats such as omega-3 fats found in fish like tuna, salmon and sardines help to protect gallbladder. Walnuts and flaxseed are also rich sources of unsaturated fatty acids. Be sure to include them into your diet.
- Antioxidants and vitamins: Plant based foods are the best source of antioxidants and vitamins. According to studies, antioxidants found in berries, red grapes, peaches, broccoli, spinach, carrots and other plants have protective effects 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, strawberry), folate (asparagus, spinach, beef liver are rich in folate) and magnesium (present in beans, soy milk, rice, yogurt).
- Coffee: As researches suggest, moderate amounts of coffee can actually be beneficial for 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 products you buy.
- Refined carbs – these types of food contain almost no fiber, minerals or vitamins and are often referred to as “empty calories”. White bread, white flour, sweet dessert and many breakfast cereals with added sugars are among the list.
- Food prepared with vegetable or peanut oil
Diet after gallbladder surgery
If you have acute or chronic inflammation of gallbladder the only treatment is to surgically remove it. 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 normalise 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 are free to gradually return to your usual meal plan.
The diet for a healthy gallbladder is generally similar to the well-balanced diet that dietitians recommend for our everyday nutrition in textbooks. Eat more fruits and veggies and cut down on fat. This will be beneficial not only to your gallbladder but your whole body as well.