Your gallbladder is a “pouch” below the liver that stores a fat emulsifying liquid (bile) produced by the liver.
While a small amount of cholesterol in the bile is normal, bile acids and lecithin are necessary to keep the cholesterol soluble. When there is more cholesterol than the bile salts and lecithin can dissolve, gallstones begin to form.
This type of gallstone, made primarily of cholesterol, occurs most frequently. There are also many types known as “mixed” because they contain varying amounts of calcium and bilirubin along with cholesterol.
Gallstones (cholelithiasis) and inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) are the two most common forms of gallbladder disease. Gallstones are usually present when there is an inflammatory process going on within the gallbladder, and there is a controversy as to which of these disorders occurs first.
What follows are dietary guidelines to decrease both the cholesterol saturation of the bile and the irritation and inflammation of the gallbladder. Since the two conditions are so closely related, the same dietary guidelines apply. If you feel any of them need to be modified for your unique situation, please ask your doctor.
- If applicable, reduce your total caloric intake. Being overweight is associated with an increased incidence/risk of gallstones.
- Avoid fats, particularly if you are experiencing any symptoms, as fats stimulate contractions of the gallbladder. This means avoiding all dairy products, fried foods, meats, chocolate, nuts, olives, avocados, gravy, creamy sauces, etc. Even if you are not currently symptomatic, these foods are to be avoided and high quality fats are encouraged in moderation for overall health and to help keep the bile flowing. These “good fats” are available in foods such as fish (baked, broiled, poached, or grilled, not deep fried), soy beans and soy-derived products, olive oil, cold-pressed vegetable oils and flaxseed oil.
- Avoid all refined and processed foods. They are generally high in fat and sugar, and low in fiber. All three of these factors, together or independently, tend to increase gallstone formation.
- A high fiber diet is also recommended for overall health benefits, but specifically in this case as fiber prevents constipation and binds fats to encourage their excretion. High fiber foods include grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes (beans).
- Eat primarily a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is associated with reduced risk/incidence of gallbladder disease. This may be due to the fact that vegetarian diets generally consist of fewer calories, less fat and more fiber than non-vegetarian.
- Avoid all foods that you have a known sensitivity to (wheat, dairy, etc.). They do not cause gallstones, but can trigger attacks.
- Eliminate eggs, onions and pork from your diet and make note of any changes in your symptoms. These foods are particularly irritating to the gallbladder in many individuals.
- The following foods may also cause gastric distress, and should be omitted from your diet if they are not tolerated well: broccoli, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, green peppers, radishes, turnips, dried peas, and various beans.
- Certain spices can cause distention of the intestinal tract and increased intestinal movement (peristalsis), which may be irritating to the gallbladder. Avoid any spices that cause you discomfort.
- Drink at least 8-10 eight ounce glasses of water a day to keep your system properly hydrated. Additionally, drink juices and teas freely, but avoid coffee and alcohol as they put extra stress on your liver. When drinking juices, dilute them with water (mix half water, half juice), as they have a high natural sugar content.
- Incorporate beets and artichokes into your diet liberally. These foods help to nourish and strengthen your liver, the primary organ responsible for processing cholesterol.
- Read food container labels to avoid “hidden” fats, sugars, and chemicals.