Edmund has spent the last ten years working in clinical research. He has written many articles on human anatomy and physiology.
Contrary to popular belief, life after gallbladder removal surgery can be very painful and exhausting. The associated dietary complications may vary from person to person.
While it may take only a few weeks for some people to return to their favorite foods, others have to wait several months.
Digestion Without a Gallbladder
The job of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile from the liver. Bile plays an important role in the digestion and absorption of fat and certain vitamins called fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). After a meal, the gallbladder contracts and squirts bile into the small intestine.
According to the US National Institutes of Health, we can live a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder. However, the amount of bile available for digestion is reduced after the gallbladder is removed.
Bile will no longer be stored after the gallbladder is removed. It will be released in steady trickles from the liver into the small intestine. This less concentrated bile provides a weaker bile action. The degree to which this affects fat digestion varies from person to person.
Recommended Diet After Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Taking on certain foods too early after your gallbladder is removed can cause great discomfort and even lead to embarrassing situations. As you may already know, the gallbladder is a major player in fat digestion. The ability to digest fat becomes significantly reduced after it is removed as the secretion of bile is no longer regulated. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort are common problems associated with gallbladder removal.
The effects of a gallbladder removal surgery vary from person to person. While there is no specific recommended diet after gallbladder removal surgery, there are some practical dietary tips that can help with the healing process, until your body gets used to functioning without the gallbladder.
Right after surgery
You will be put on a clear liquid diet for up to 48 hours after surgery. The liquid diet contains very little fat and is easy to digest. The hydration also helps with constipation caused by some of the pain killers you may be on.
Some common choices of a clear liquid diet are broth, tea, gelatin and water. You will probably be vomiting and feeling nauseous due to the effect of the anesthetic. It may take 2 to 3 days for the anesthetic to wear off. So you won’t feel like eating much during this period.
After the liquid diet
Many people are often at a loss on what to eat and what to avoid at this point. You could move from clear liquid to full liquid diet by adding things like fruit and vegetable juice, soup and even ice cream if you can tolerate it. You can also slowly introduce solid foods. Start with soft foods like mashed potatoes and maybe add some fish.
One month after surgery
This may be the time to add a few of your old favorite foods and see how your body handles them. If at one point your digestive system doesn’t tolerate something, take a step back and try it again at a later time point.
Even though most people can return to their normal diet soon after surgery, some people have difficulties for months or even years after surgery. I knew a guy who still couldn't drink his favorite beer one year after his gallbladder surgery.
Common problem foods after a gallbladder removal surgery:
- Greasy foods
Avoid Difficult Foods
A healthy well-balanced diet contains fat. It is an important part of our diet and contains key raw materials required for optimal health.
It is therefore wise to introduce fat into your diet once you feel comfortable with it. However, too much fat may cause indigestion, diarrhea, bloating and gas. So you may want to take it easy on fat and foods that will add stress your digestive system.
Avoid greasy cheesy foods, especially during the initial period where your digestive system is still adapting to life without a gallbladder. If you are having a tough time with dairy products, you can try natural plant based substitutes. For example, you could replace your milk with almond or rice milk. Try almond ice cream instead of the full fat ice cream.
Eat Small Frequent Meals
Once you are confident with getting back to your normal diet, you should be careful not to consume too much food in one sitting. It can cause pain and discomfort due to indigestion.
Since bile is now less concentrated, it mixes better with smaller portions of food. So if you are having troubles with three huge meals everyday, you should try breaking them up into five small meals.
Eat Enough Fiber
Slowly add fruits and veggies to your diet. Fruits and veggies are rich in fiber. Fiber helps the contents of your bowel to move smoothly. This reduces the chance of diarrhea and constipation. However, some people have had to go for a low-fiber diet due to pain and cramping. It is important to start gradually—don’t go crazy on the fiber.
Most people love apricot, strawberries, cherries, mango, melons, papaya, peaches and raisins. They are high in fiber and packed with anti-oxidants. Some of my favorite veggies are asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce and squash.
Supplemental Bile Salts should be taken only as a last resort. The goal here is to do everything you can to encourage your body carry on without mimicking the presence of a gallbladder. Supplemental bile salt is an option to consider when everything else has failed.
Definitely contact your doctor if your symptoms don’t diminish or if you have any concerns about your diet after gallbladder removal surgery. What challenges did you face after surgery? Have they been completely resolved?
- Gallbladder diseases, NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine
- Gallbladder post-op, UNC Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery
- Do I need to change my diet after a gallbladder surgery, NHS Choices, UK
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Amber on December 29, 2018:
Susan, I highly recommend Super Enzymes by NOW brand (available on Amazon). I tried regular ox bile salts first, but they digest in the stomach and cause diarrhea. Super Enzymes has certain ingredients that help with digestion in the stomach, and certain ingredients that don’t release until they’ve reached the colon (like the bile salts, which is where your natural bile is released). I only take these when I eat something fatty (like sausage). It also helps to cut WAY back on refined carbs & sugars as well as full fat dairy (I only eat cheese in small amounts & ive replaces milk with almond milk). And don’t eat fats for breakfast! It usually causes diarrhea (food seems to go right through you). Definitely try to eat much smaller meals so it’s easier on your digestive system. Take Beano when you eat beans or cruciferous veggies (like broccoli & cabbage).
Susan on December 28, 2018:
Where can you purchase the supplemental bile salts?
Judy on April 01, 2018:
My gallbladder was removed almost 2 years ago. I have tried deleting glutin from my diet, thinking that was causing my episodes in the bathroom. It has helped a little, but the problem persists. Any thoughts?
Manuela on February 25, 2018:
It's been 9 month since my removal. I'm experiencing the same discomfort since about a month now when eating certain foods it feels the same as the previous attacks so I'm not sure what's going on. You definitely can't eat as before and lots of ongoing gas. I guess I need to be even more so careful with my eating. Nondairy only no red wine only a cup of coffee for bowl movement lol . Just watch what you eat
Edmund Custers (author) on November 11, 2017:
Hi Bernice, it is nice to hear that you are doing great after your surgery. Thanks for commenting. I wish you all the best.
Bernice Robinson on November 11, 2017:
Had surgery all went well, im doing great!!
Daniel Vallejo on July 01, 2017:
I had my gallbladder, taken out, feeling good, pain is little, just a lot of gas, which I don't mine.. lol, because it happens , eating is just cracker and broth , do that for four days, drink water and juices' keep yourself, hydrated, then you'll have , no problem. and listen to your body, and your doctor.. it helps' out a lot..
Edmund Custers (author) on September 25, 2016:
Hi Steph, thanks for stopping by and commenting. If you go in on the 6th, I wish you a speedy recovery. I hope you will not have to feel too much pain.
Steph on September 23, 2016:
Not sure yet I go in on Oct 6 to get mine out but we shall see, I'm nervous