Gallbladder removal surgery, also known as a cholecystectomy, is a fairly minor procedure. However, your doctor may recommend avoiding certain foods for a period of time following gallbladder removal. Avoiding these foods can help minimize side effects associated with the procedure.
Gallstone Formation and Gallbladder Health
Your gallbladder is an organ that stores bile in your body. Bile is a complex substance produced by your liver. It's an important component of digestion and the absorption of certain nutrients, like fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
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Unfortunately, your gallbladder may also produce gallstones if there's an imbalance in the components that make up your body's bile. Too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin or too few bile salts can all result in gallstones. People living with overweight or obesity are also more likely to develop gallstones, as are those who have lost weight very rapidly.
In some cases, gallstones aren't particularly serious, but it's possible for gallstones to block your bile ducts and cause a gallbladder attack. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, gallbladder attacks can cause symptoms like pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and jaundice.
You may also see changes in the color of your urine and feces. Your doctor may recommend gallbladder removal surgery if you've experience repeated gallbladder attacks or other serious side effects caused by gallstone formation.
Preparing for Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Although it sounds quite serious, gallbladder removal is a fairly common procedure. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's typically performed to prevent gallstone formation and any associated complications. However, gallbladder removal may also be needed because of persistent inflammation, gallbladder polyps or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) associated with gallstones.
If you're planning to have gallbladder removal surgery, part of your preparation should be learning which foods to avoid after gallbladder removal. You don't need to avoid these foods forever, but reducing your consumption of them can help support your recovery in the weeks following the procedure.
In most cases, gallbladder removal surgery is noninvasive. But some cases require a single, large incision to be made. If you've had noninvasive surgery, you'll likely be back on your feet within just a few days and fully recovered within a week. Full recovery from invasive surgery takes around four to six weeks.
Read more: The Top 10 Cleansing Foods
Gallbladder Removal Surgery and Diet
In general, gallbladder removal surgery should produce minimal side effects. While there is no post-gallbladder removal diet, your provider may recommend limiting certain foods right after surgery. In general, it's best to avoid fatty, greasy, overprocessed foods and foods with too much added sugar.
Some people may experience gastrointestinal issues for a few months after their surgery. According to the Mayo Clinic, these gut issues typically present as loose, watery stools. An August 2012 study in the Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies reported that post-cholecystectomy syndrome can also cause nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas and stomach cramps.
Gastrointestinal issues like these occur because your body is still producing bile. Instead of going into your gallbladder, this bile is now going directly into your intestines. Unfortunately, bile draining into your intestines can have a laxative effect.
Anyone can experience these gastrointestinal side effects after gallbladder removal surgery. However, according to an October 2014 study in the Asian Journal of Surgery, people who are younger than 45 years of age and male, and those who are prone to having diarrhea may be more likely to experience these side effects.
Fortunately, it's possible to adjust your diet to minimize these symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should avoid most foods right after gallbladder removal surgery. For the first few days, your doctor may recommend that you consume only clear liquids, broths and gelatin.
After those first few days, you may need to make some longer-lasting dietary changes. The Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Asian Journal of Surgery study all recommend adjusting your fat consumption and consuming a low-fat diet. This means you'll need to eliminate greasy, fried and other high-fat foods from your diet in the weeks following gallbladder removal surgery. Instead, consume fat-free or low-fat foods to slowly reintroduce fat into your diet.
Fiber, specifically soluble fiber, can also help minimize these symptoms. However, soluble fiber also needs to be introduced into your diet slowly. Consuming too much after gallbladder removal surgery can produce gas and cramping ,and even worsen symptoms.
Consuming several small meals throughout the day — rather than the standard breakfast, lunch and dinner — may also be helpful in reducing your symptoms. Avoiding foods that worsen diarrhea, like caffeine, dairy products and sweets, can help promote healthier bowel movements.
Read more: The 10 Worst Foods You Can Buy
Gallbladder Surgery Foods to Avoid
If you've already had surgery, you may be struggling to figure out which foods to avoid after gallbladder removal. Fortunately, a lot of those foods are processed foods that you should already be consuming in limited amounts.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, foods to avoid after gallbladder surgery include high-fat foods like:
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Processed meats
- High-fat meats, like ground meats and sausage
- High-fat dairy products, like cheese and ice cream
- Meat gravies
- Creamy soups
- Creamy sauces
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
- Animal skin
You'll notice that these fatty foods are products that are rich in unhealthy saturated and trans fats, rather than healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Read more: 10 Ways to De-Junk Your Diet
The Cleveland Clinic also recommends limiting your intake of gas-producing foods (which are often also referred to as fermentable carbohydrates). These include plant-based products like:
- Whole-grain bread
- Brussels sprouts
In addition, you may want to avoid foods containing capsaicin and other spicy products that often produce gastrointestinal side effects. You should be able to consume these foods in increasing amounts as you recover from your procedure.
Avoiding these food products after your gallbladder removal surgery should help minimize most side effects. The Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies study recommends consuming meals composed of lean proteins, like chicken or fish, alongside fruit, vegetables and cereal grains as you recover from your procedure.
If you've already made the recommended dietary changes and are experiencing symptoms like nausea, vomiting, increasing stomach pain, severe diarrhea, or yellow eyes and skin (signs of jaundice), be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner. You may also need to take medications or multivitamins to counteract any nutrient malabsorption caused by your bowel issues.
- Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies: "Diet and Postcholecystectomy Syndrome"
- Asian Journal of Surgery: "Diarrhea After Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: Associated Factors and Predictors"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can You Recommend a Diet After Gallbladder Removal?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "5 Ways to Avoid Discomfort After Your Gallbladder Removal"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms & Causes of Gallstones"
- Colorado State: VIVO Pathophysiology: "Secretion of Bile and the Role of Bile Acids in Digestion"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.