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The main purpose of the gallbladder is to store and release bile into the digestive system. Bile is a substance that helps us to digest fats. Gallbladder disease can occur for different reasons such as a blockage caused by gallstones, or inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). The treatment you have will depend on what has caused the gallbladder disease and how bad your symptoms are. Treatment may include painkillers, or the surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). There is no specific diet for gallbladder disease, but it is important to follow general healthy
eating advice. Additionally, there are some dietary changes you can consider to help manage your gallbladder disease and to relieve any related symptoms.
The three main points to consider are:
1. Follow a reduced fat diet (particularly low saturated fat)
Large amounts of fat can be particularly difficult to digest if you have gallbladder disease. This can cause symptoms such as pain, wind, bloating and diarrhoea. Also, a diet high in saturated fat can increase the risk of developing gallstones. Therefore, following a diet that is low in fat, particularly saturated fat can be beneficial and may relieve symptoms.
Foods high in saturated fat include: processed meat products, fatty cuts of meat, butter, ghee, lard, cream, hard cheeses, pastry products, cakes and biscuits and foods containing coconut or palm oil.
Below are two lists of high fat foods to avoid and lower fat alternatives:
|High fat foods to avoid||Low fat alternatives|
|Fried meat, fried eggs, fried fish in batter, tinned fish in oil and fatty processed meat e.g. sausages, burgers, meat pies, bacon, salami, lamb and corned beef.||Plain pieces of lean red meat, chicken, turkey, white fish such as cod, haddock and pollock, tinned fish in brine or water, boiled and poached eggs.|
|Whole/full fat milk, evaporated and condensed milk, full fat yoghurts, cream and full fat cheese e.g. cheddar, brie and stilton.||Semi/skimmed milk, low fat yoghurts, low fat crème fraiche and low fat cheese e.g. cottage cheese, reduced fat cheese spread, mozzarella and ricotta.|
|Fried chips, roast potatoes, croquette and dauphinoise potatoes, crisps and nuts.||Oven chips, boiled potatoes, mashed or jacket potatoes (without added butter), and reduced fat crisps e.g. Quavers or Skips.|
|Garlic bread, pizza, pies, dumplings, onion bhajis, samosas, spring rolls, croissants, pastries, doughnuts, cakes, flapjacks, strudel or ice cream||White, brown or granary bread rolls, fruit and vegetables, dried fruit, teacakes, rice cakes, oatcakes, popcorn, plain pretzels, toasted teacake, meringue, rich tea biscuits and jelly.|
Practical tips for reducing fat intake
• Avoid processed convenience foods and takeaways and make more meals from scratch. If buying ready meals, choose the ‘low fat’ or ‘healthy’ options.
• Check food labels and look for options containing 3g of fat per 100g or less per portion, and avoid those with a ‘red’ colour coding for fat content on the label.
• Swap dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt for low fat versions.
• Cut off visible white fat off meat and remove skin from chicken. Choose leaner cuts of meat.
• Use healthier cooking methods such as grilling, boiling, steaming and poaching rather than roasting and frying.
• Swap from saturated fats such as butter or lard, to vegetable or olive oils and spreads.
• Swap mayonnaise and creamy or cheese dressings and sauces for low fat dressings, vinaigrettes, and tomato based sauces.
Some people have looser stools following gallbladder removal. This is likely to improve over time and following a low fat diet may help with this. However, if your symptoms persist or if you are unintentionally losing weight then contact your GP or dietitian.
2. Follow general health eating advice with regular meals
Eating a healthy balanced diet that is high in fibre can help to manage your gallbladder disease. You should also include plenty of fruit and vegetables, aiming for at least five a day. Some ways of achieving this include:
• Use brown, wholegrain or granary versions of breads and breakfast cereals.
• Choose wild or brown rice and wholemeal pasta.
• Add sliced or dried fruit or berries to your cereal in the morning.
• Include extra salad in sandwiches or on the side at lunch.
• Choose higher fibre snacks such as a piece of fruit, raw vegetable sticks, oatcakes or popcorn.
• Add chopped or tinned fruit to milk puddings such as yoghurts, custard and rice pudding.
• Have at least two portions of fresh or frozen vegetables or salad with your main meal.
• Add baked beans or red lentils to main meals such as bolognaise sauces, shepherd’s pie and curries.
A regular eating pattern is also important to help relieve any symptoms, particularly if you have had your gallbladder removed. Aim to eat regularly three times a day, or have smaller meals more frequently throughout the day e.g. three small meals with 2-3 snack in-between, if this works better for you.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight can increase your risk of developing gallbladder disease so maintaining a healthy weight is recommended. If you need to lose weight, aim to do this gradually – not more than 1-2lbs or ½ – 1kg per week. Gradual weight loss is safer for people with gallbladder disease, and if you lose weight slowly it is more likely to stay off. Following the low fat, healthy eating advice above will help if you need to lose weight, but for more specific weight reducing advice ask your GP to refer you to a weight loss service.