Foods that cause gallbladder pain, like high-fat or high-cholesterol meals, do so by triggering gallstone attacks. Plus, certain dietary choices may increase your risk of developing gallstones in the first place.
High-cholesterol and fatty foods can cause gallbladder pain, and some dietary factors are linked to developing gallstones in the first place. Gallstones are associated with high intakes of saturated fats, sugar and cholesterol.
Generally speaking, fried foods, spicy foods, fatty foods and anything very high in added sugar can contribute to a gallbladder attack. If you know you have gallstones, note which foods trigger gallbladder pain attacks and do your best to cut down on or eliminate them. If you need to have your gallbladder removed, ask your doctor what diet is recommended during your recovery.
What Causes Gallbladder Pain?
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located on the right side of your body, underneath your liver. The Mayo Clinic explains that your gallbladder stores bile, a digestive fluid that is released into the small intestine to help break down fats.
Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form inside your gallbladder, ranging in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. Some stones are made by deposits of cholesterol, while others are made from a pigment called bilirubin.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that gallstones may form when your bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin (a pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells) or not enough bile salts. Harvard Health says that the majority of people who have gallstones don't even know it. While 10 to 15 percent of people in the U.S. have gallstones, 80 percent won't experience symptoms.
Some people experience gallbladder attacks, which is caused by gallstones blocking the bile ducts. Pain from a gallbladder attack typically comes on suddenly and intensifies. This pain can be located on the upper right side of your abdomen, the center of your abdomen, on your back between your shoulder blades or near your right shoulder.
Certain groups of people are more likely to develop gallstones than others, including women, older people, people with a family history of gallstones, people with obesity and people who have undergone rapid weight loss, such as from weight-loss surgery.
Foods That Cause Gallbladder Pain
The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center notes that certain foods are linked to gallstones, too. Gallstone attacks are linked to a high intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy sources, sugar and cholesterol. Conversely, consuming nuts, fiber, vitamin C-rich foods and coffee may reduce your risk of developing gallstones.
You may also be more likely to experience a gallstone attack after a meal high in cholesterol or fat. If you know you have gallstones, try to avoid high-fat meals. Some simple swaps include lowering red meat intake in favor of lean poultry or fish, cutting any visible fat from meat before you cook it, baking or grilling your protein instead of frying it in oil and having low-fat milk and yogurt.
If you're concerned about gallbladder attacks, your doctor may be able to share a list of foods that cause gallbladder pain so you can learn what to avoid. It may also be helpful to keep a food diary and to log any gallbladder attacks for a few weeks in order to see what foods trigger them for you.
Gallbladder Diet Menu Ideas
If you suffer from gallstones, you can ask your doctor what's recommended in terms of a gallbladder diet menu. Generally speaking, you should avoid high-fat and high-sugar options and load up on whole grains, fruits, veggies and lean protein. Guidelines for a gallbladder diet menu:
- Eat plenty of fiber. According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, a high intake of insoluble fiber is associated with a lower risk of needing gallbladder surgery. High-fiber foods include whole-wheat pasta, raspberries, pears, popcorn, brown rice, apples, broccoli, sweetcorn and raw carrots.
- Eat more nuts, especially nuts that are high in fiber and/or lower in fat content. Gallbladder-friendly nuts include almonds, pistachios, peanuts and cashews. Nuts make a great standalone snack, or you can add them to soups, salads and grain bowls for some extra crunch in your meal.
- Cut down on refined carbohydrates and sugar intake. Identify any foods you commonly eat that are high in refined carbs or added sugar, and see how you can limit your consumption or swap them out for healthier options.
- Focus on healthy fats, like fatty fish, olive oil and nuts. If you're confused about the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats, speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian about how much fat — and what types of fat — you should be eating.
Ideal Gallbladder Diet After Surgery
Some people may need their gallbladder removed, which is done in an operation known as a cholecystectomy. The surgery can be done via laparoscopic procedure or through a larger incision, with a full recovery time of a few weeks. If you've had surgery to remove your gallbladder, your doctor may recommend some dietary limitations while you're recovering.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some people experience frequent diarrhea after gallbladder removal. To help prevent this, the clinic recommends a gallbladder diet after surgery that is low in fat and high in fiber. Until your digestive system settles, stick to low-fat foods that contain not more than 3 grams of fat per serving. You should also avoid foods that trigger or worsen diarrhea, including caffeine and sugar.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests eating several small meals throughout the course of each day rather than three large meals. Other recommendations for gallbladder diet after surgery include avoiding spicy foods, keeping a food journal in which you note any gastrointestinal symptoms and slowly reintroducing high-fiber foods to your diet.
- Harvard Health: "What to Do About Gallstones"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gallstones"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms & Causes of Gallstones"
- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: "Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease"
- Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: "Fibre May Reduce the Need for Gallbladder Surgery"
- Mayo Clinic: "Can You Recommend a Diet After Gallbladder Removal?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "5 Ways to Avoid Discomfort After Your Gallbladder Removal"