Foods to Avoid When You Don't Have a Gallbladder

1
Why You Can't Eat Like You Used To

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If you have had your gallbladder removed, you may have found that you can't eat the way you did before the surgery. You may find yourself in pain or running to the bathroom soon after eating.

To understand why this is happening it helps to have a quick digestion review. As an ordinary part of digestion, your liver produces bile and stores it in the gallbladder. The bile is released from the gallbladder to digest any fats that you may have eaten. When you no longer have a gallbladder, there is no storage unit to call upon. Instead, bile from the liver drips out. This means that not only is there less bile to break down fats, but also that bile can make its way into the large intestine where it can contribute to diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Thus, you may find that you need to be more careful with the foods that you eat then you did before the surgery. Although this may mean that you will no longer be able to enjoy some of your favorite foods, over the course of the next few slides, you will see that the "silver lining" of having your gallbladder removed is that it may force you into a healthier way of eating.

Note: There are a number of health conditions, including postcholecystectomy syndrome, that can cause ongoing digestive symptoms. It is essential that you speak with your doctor about your post-surgery symptoms in order to obtain a proper diagnosis and course of treatment. For more information, see:

2
Fried Foods

plate of fried chicken
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Fried foods are hard on most people's digestive systems. Take the gallbladder out of the equation and you are asking for trouble. Fried foods have a high fat content. Your ability to digest and process fats has been compromised due to the fact that bile is no longer being stored in the gallbladder. You still need to eat fats, but due to the compromised ability to break them down, you will want to save your bile for fats that are good for you.

Now that you have said good-bye to your gallbladder, it is also time to say good-bye to:

  • French fries
  • Fried chicken and chicken cutlet
  • Fried fish
  • Chicken-fried steak
  • Hash browns
  • Onion rings
  • Fried anything!

To add a little sweetness to the sacrifice, your heart will be so grateful!

3
Greasy Foods

bacon cheeseburger with fries
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When you no longer have a gallbladder, greasy foods are to be avoided for the same reason that fried foods are to be avoided - there is just too large a fat load for your body to digest comfortably. What are greasy foods? Anything that requires that you keep a napkin or wet wipe handy as you eat it! If the grease is coming off on your hands and lips, you know that it is also making its way into your digestive tract, where without a gallbladder it cannot be comfortably managed.

Therefore, you will want to avoid:

  • Hamburgers
  • Bacon
  • Cheese pizza
  • Heavy or creamed gravies
  • Fatty cuts of meat

4
Vegetable Oils

man at supermarket looking at cooking oils
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Our health needs require an optimal balance of Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids. The typical Western diet tends to lean way too heavily on the Omega-6 side of things. Since your fat absorption is compromised without the help of your gallbladder, you will want to limit your exposure to foods that are excessively high in Omega-6 fatty acids, so that you can focus on those with a higher amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetable oils tend to be the worst offenders, so avoid eating anything that is prepared with or in the following:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Shortening
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil

Vegetable oils can also be found in the following, so avoid these foods as well:

  • Cooking oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Store-bought salad dressings

What to use instead? Whenever possible, choose extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil which are good sources of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. If you can't find store-bought salad dressings and mayonnaise that contain contain healthy oils, you may need to learn to make your own.

5
Convenience Foods

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Convenience foods may be convenient, but they tend to be terrible for our health. In addition to having unhealthy levels of sugar and refined grains, both of which raise your risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, they tend to contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids. This is because many convenience foods are made with soybean oil. Therefore, your digestive system (as well as your heart and arteries!) is likely to thank you if you avoid store-bought versions of the following:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Potato chips
  • Tortilla chops
  • Other pre-packaged baked goods or snack food items

6
Liquids During Meals?

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You may find that you are better able to digest your meals if you keep your liquid intake to a minimum before and during a meal. Why? The theory is that too much liquid in the stomach and large intestine inhibits the secretion of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Without a gallbladder, you will want all the help that you can get from these substances to fully digest the foods that you are eating and therefore allow you to feel comfortable, not ill, after meals.

Some researchers will argue that this tip is a myth - that water is rapidly absorbed at the level of the stomach and therefore does not play that big a role in acid and enzyme secretion. I was able to find one study that compared digestive system reactions to a regular meal versus a liquid meal and concluded that digestive secretions were higher with a lower meal liquid level. As of this point, it seems that there is no firm conclusion that can be made, but it should not do you harm to be a scientist and to test it out for yourself.

7
Large Heavy Meals

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Common sense is such that large meals will put more pressure on your digestive system than small meals. Eating too large a meal can strenghten intestinal contractions, adding to any symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhea. With your body's compromised ability to digest fats, you will be doing yourself a great favor by choosing to eat small meals, perhaps more frequently, during your day.

The loss of your gallbladder means that you have to steer away from the "super-size me" meals that are all too prevalent in our Western diet. In doing so, you may just find that you will be rewarded with a quieter digestive system and a smaller waistline.

8
Other Potentially Troublesome Foods

loaf of bread with corn stalk
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Every body is different in terms of how it reacts to foods. Once you have eliminated the major suspects from the previous slides, you may find that you need to take things a step further. The following foods have the potential for causing digestive upset for many people, regardless of whether or not they have a gallbladder. You may need to try an elimination diet to find out if any of the following are problematic for you:

Sources:

"Foods highest in Total Omega-6 fatty acids" SELFNutritionData Website accessed March 10, 2015.

Heizer, W., Southern, S. & McGovern, S. "The Role of Diet in Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: A Narrative Review" The Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009 109:1204-1214.

Malagelada, J., et.al. "Different gastric, pancreatic, and biliary responses to solid-liquid or homogenized meals" Digestive Diseases and Sciences 1979 24:101-110.

Schofer, J. "Biliary Causes of Postcholecystectomy Syndrome" The Journal of Emergency Medicine 2010 39:406–410.

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