Gallbladder Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
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The gallbladder plays a helpful role in digestion by storing and supplying bile, which is a fluid that helps digest fats. Bile also transports waste materials from the liver into the small intestine. Eating a healthy diet can help keep your gallbladder healthy and functional. In fact, some research indicates that following a healthy eating plan can lower your risk of gallbladder problems, including gallstones.

This article looks at gallbladder problems and lists the foods to eat and avoid for a healthy gallbladder.

Gallbladder problems

There are two primary types of gallbladder problems: gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis) and gallstones (cholelithiasis). Gallstones are more common.

Gallstones form when high levels of cholesterol or bilirubin in the bile cause the bile to harden within the gallbladder. These stones can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as large as a golfball.

Small gallstones may just irritate your gallbladder, but large ones can block the ducts completely, causing severe pain.

Not all gallstones are preventable. However, avoiding certain foods may lower the risk of stones forming.

Foods for gallbladder health

Gallbladder-friendly foods are typically low in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, and refined carbohydrates. In addition, their chemical makeup makes them less likely to increase bilirubin in the body.

Although there is not necessarily a diet specifically for gallstones, there are foods to eat and foods to avoid for gallbladder health. This article covers the following categories:

  • protein and meats
  • dairy
  • fruits and vegetables
  • grains
  • beverages
  • desserts
  • healthy fats

Protein and meats

Some protein foods are good for the gallbladder, but others are not. It comes down to the amount of fat involved. 

Fresh fish — such as salmon, tuna, and lake trout — promote gallbladder health. They are good sources of healthy omega-3 fat. Canned fish packed in water are also gentle on the gallbladder. They digest easily and are low in calories.

You can still enjoy red meat, but ensure that the meat is lean. If there is visible fat on the meat, cut it off before cooking it.

Chicken and turkey are both sources of lean meat, but remove the skin because it is high in fat.

Check out these 10 best sources of protein.

Avoid frying your meat in favor of using healthier cooking options, such as grilling, baking, or broiling.

A man is cooking fresh fish as part of a healthy gallbladder diet. Try to avoid frying when possible.
Jimena Roquero/Stocksy United

Protein and meats to avoid

Fatty red meats are high in cholesterol, and processed meats are often quite high in fat and can contribute to gallstones. 

Some meats to avoid include:

  • bacon
  • cold cuts
  • fish sticks
  • hot dogs
  • sausages
  • canned meats
  • oil packed fish, including sardines and tuna

Tip: If you like the convenience of processed meats, think about freezing fresh meats in small quantities instead. If you want to eat a hot dog or some bacon, keep your portions as small and infrequent as possible.

Dairy

When it comes to milk and cheese, be sure to choose low fat options.

When shopping for cheese, read the nutritional label for the fat content. You should opt for cheese that contains fewer than 5 grams of fat per ounce.

Other dairy foods for gallbladder health include low fat varieties of:

  • milk 
  • yogurt
  • cottage cheese
  • cream cheese
  • sour cream
  • ice cream 

If you cannot find low fat ice cream, there are many non-dairy frozen desserts that can suffice.

Dairy to avoid

As much as possible, avoid all full fat dairy products. Consuming these may lead to an increased risk of gallstones.

Fruits and vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are low in fat and high in fiber, which is something that is encouraged in a diet for gallstones. The skins and peels of fruits and vegetables contain the most fiber, so eating these makes the food even healthier.

Some examples of good fruits and vegetables include:

  • apples
  • berries
  • bell peppers
  • carrots
  • citrus fruits
  • green beans
  • peas
  • spinach and other leafy vegetables
  • tomatoes

Aside from helping you maintain a moderate weight, these fruits and vegetables can also help keep you hydrated. 

Fruits and vegetables to avoid

Some fruits and vegetables are high in fat, which is something you should try to avoid to protect your gallbladder. For example, it may be best to avoid or limit avocados and coconuts. Although these are not inherently unhealthy, they do contain a lot of fat.

Tip: Although avocados and coconuts contain more fat than other options, you can still enjoy these foods in moderation. Be sure not to eat too much of them.

Grains

Whole grain products are high in fiber, which can boost gallbladder health and function. Examples of such products include:

  • whole wheat breads and pastas
  • multigrain breads and pastas
  • brown rice
  • quinoa, which you cook like rice
  • oats
  • barley

Tip: Quick-cooking oats make a fast breakfast in the morning. Also, you might like to mix oats and nuts into yogurt for a snack.

Grains to limit

Whole grains are healthier than refined grains, which lack fiber.

Refined grains to limit include:

  • white rice
  • white bread
  • white flour products

Beverages

Sodas and high sugar, high caffeine drinks are not healthy for your body, including your gallbladder. However, there are alternatives.

For fizzy drinks, consider buying a dispenser that allows you to make your own carbonated water and control the amount of sugar in your soda. You can also add fruits and flavors to broaden your drink options. 

Juicing is also very popular. You can combine any number of fruits (and vegetables) in your blender for a unique drink that is filling and thirst quenching.

Stay hydrated with these healthy choices:

  • water with a sliced fruit garnish for a little flavor
  • fruit and vegetable juices
  • carbonated water flavored with fruit

Beverages to avoid

Sodas and other high sugar beverages can “stress” the gallbladder. Some sources suggest that avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars can help stave off gallbladder problems.

Caffeine can be present in beverages and even some processed foods. Be sure to check the label for the ingredients and avoid those high in caffeine.

Desserts

Certain desserts can be quite high in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Experts recommend desserts with less sugar and fewer refined carbohydrates.

For example, you can replace sugary desserts with:

  • fruit and yogurt
  • non-dairy frozen desserts
  • fruit pies
  • light cookies
  • unsalted nuts

Desserts to avoid

Try to avoid high sugar, high fat, and salty treats. These include:

  • pretzels
  • chips
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • pastries
  • full fat ice cream

Healthy fats

Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and fish oil helps your gallbladder empty regularly. In gallbladder emptying, the gallbladder releases concentrated bile to aid digestion. 

Other healthy fats include:

  • plant-based oils
  • low fat or vegetable-based mayonnaise
  • low fat salad dressings
  • margarine

Fats to avoid

Unhealthy saturated fats are often present in fried foods and desserts. Butter is common when frying or sauteing, and some people also use it to add flavor to foods. 

Tip: When baking, consider substituting applesauce or mashed bananas. If you need to include a dairy product, such as sour cream, look for low fat varieties. Also, when cooking a main meal or appetizer, use herbs or spices instead of oils or butter to enhance the flavor. 

Summary

The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ that sits underneath the liver. It stores bile, which is a digestive fluid that aids the breakdown of fats.

Following a healthy diet is necessary to prevent gallbladder problems, such as gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis) and gallstones (cholestasis). 

Although there is not necessarily a diet specifically for gallstones, you may wish to:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 5 servings per day.
  • Eat high fiber foods, including whole grains, with each meal.
  • Eat lean meats and fresh fish. Be sure to remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Choose low fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese.
  • Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Focus on healthy fats, such as olive oil, fish oil, and low fat varieties of mayonnaise. Also, avoid butter and other saturated fats.

Consult your healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet. They may have more tips to promote gallbladder health.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 30
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