If you have gallbladder pain attacks because of gallstones, tweaking your diet may help. Gallstones are associated with high-fat and high-sugar diets, while fiber-rich foods and lean sources of protein are linked to a lower risk of gallbladder issues.
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Swap out fatty meats for lean poultry, fish, shellfish and vegetarian sources of protein. Because cholesterol may be linked to gallstone problems, try to limit meats that contain a high level of cholesterol and saturated fats.
Cholesterol and Gallbladder Problems
Typically, gallbladder pain is caused by gallstones — small, hardened deposits that form in the digestive fluid (bile) that the gallbladder holds. Gallstones can be made from a pigment called bilirubin, or from cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic says that cholesterol gallstones are much more common.
The majority of gallstones are asymptomatic, and people may not even know they're present. However, according to a study published in Gut and Liver in April 2012, roughly 20 percent of people who have them will experience painful gallstone attacks. The symptoms of a gallbladder attack include:
- Sudden upper-right abdomen pain that rapidly intensifies
- Sudden upper-center abdomen pain, near the sternum, that rapidly intensifies
- Back pain between your shoulder blades
- Right shoulder pain
Gallbladder Diet Changes
If you do have gallbladder pain, your doctor can recommend various treatment options. Sometimes gallstones can be removed using an endoscope or can be dissolved by an oral medication. In serious cases, your physician may recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder, called a cholecystectomy (your body can function without a gallbladder, because your liver also produces bile and can release it into your digestive tract).
University of Utah Health says that the dietary risks of gallstone problems have been tricky to definitively identify, but experts think there's a link between high sugar and saturated-fat intake and an increased risk of gallstones.
That means that if you have a history of gallbladder pain, you may be advised to track your diet for a while, then make some more tweaks. Specifically, you'll need to increase your fiber intake and reconsider your main sources of protein. Switching from meat high in saturated fats (which can raise your "bad" cholesterol levels) to different types of protein may make a difference.
Read more: Foods to Avoid When You Have Gallstones
Cutting Out Fatty Meats
If you have gallbladder issues, try keeping a food diary for a while. This will give you a clear sense of what you're eating and will allow you to see which foods trigger your gallbladder pain attacks. Keeping an eye on your meat intake can allow you to assess how much saturated fat you're eating.
For instance, a 3-ounce ground beef patty provides 251 calories, 20 grams of protein and 19 grams of fat. The fat content includes over 7 grams of saturated fatty acids, almost 8 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids, less than 1 gram of polyunsaturated fatty acids and 71 milligrams of cholesterol.
Three ounces of cured bacon, baked rather than fried, provides 466 calories, 30 grams of protein and 37 grams of fat. The fat content includes 12 grams of saturated fatty acids, over 16 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids, 4 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids and 91 milligrams of cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to around 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories. So, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, the association says that 120 of those should come from saturated fat — which is about 13 grams.
Meat Options With Less Fat
If you're watching your saturated fat intake, opt for lean beef. A 3-ounce serving of broiled, 97-percent lean beef patty provides 130 calories, 22 grams of protein and almost 4 grams of fat. The fat content breaks down to almost 2 grams of saturated fatty acids, over 1 gram of monounsaturated fatty acids, less than 1 gram of polyunsaturated fatty acids and 75 milligrams of cholesterol.
Other ways to reduce your fat intake when it comes to red meat: Trim any visible fat off the meat before you cook it and look for lean or extra-lean ground meats (the American Heart Association says a fat content of 15 percent or less is ideal).
Lean poultry with the skin removed is another source of protein that is lower in saturated fat. Three ounces of ground, 93-percent lean turkey provides 181 calories, 23 grams of protein and almost 10 grams of fat. The fat content of the turkey serving breaks down to almost 3 grams saturated fatty acids, almost 4 grams monounsaturated fatty acids, just over 3 grams polyunsaturated fatty acids and 88 milligrams of cholesterol.
Three ounces of white chicken meat, roasted without the skin, provides 147 calories, almost 27 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of fat. The fat content of the white chicken meat breaks down to just over 1 gram of saturated fatty acids, over 1 gram of monounsaturated fatty acids, less than 1 gram of polyunsaturated fatty acids and 72 milligrams of cholesterol.
Read more: How To Bake a Plain Chicken Breast
Seafood and Vegetarian Proteins
If you have gallbladder issues, protein from fish and seafood is an excellent option. A 3-ounce serving of cooked sockeye salmon provides 133 calories, including almost 23 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.
The fat content of the salmon serving breaks down to under 1 gram of saturated fatty acids, almost 2 grams monounsaturated fatty acids, just over 1 gram polyunsaturated fatty acids and 52 milligrams of cholesterol.
Shellfish are also high in protein and low in saturated fat. Three ounces of cooked shrimp provides 80 calories and 15 grams of protein, with 1 gram of fat total. Similarly, 3 ounces of cooked blue crab meat provides 71 calories, 15 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat overall.
Switching to vegetarian proteins can also lower your fat intake. Beans, tofu, legumes and peas are all good sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Fish, Salmon, Sockeye, Cooked, Dry Heat"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Turkey, Ground, 93% Lean, 7% Fat, Pan-broiled Crumbles"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Chicken, Broilers or Fryers, Light Meat, Meat Only, Cooked, Roasted"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gallstones"
- Gut and Liver: "Epidemiology of Gallbladder Disease: Cholelithiasis and Cancer"
- Cedars-Sinai: "Gallstones"
- University of Utah Health: "Your Gallbladder and You"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Beef, Ground, Patties, Frozen, Cooked, Broiled"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Pork, Cured, Bacon, Cooked, Baked"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Beef, Ground, 97% Lean Meat / 3% Fat, Patty, Cooked, Broiled"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Crustaceans, Shrimp, Cooked"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Crustaceans, Crab, Blue, Cooked, Moist Heat"