Gallbladder removal surgery — medically known as a cholecystectomy — is a common procedure.
The surgery is usually performed if you have painful stones called gallstones in your gallbladder or surrounding ducts.
Fortunately, you can lead a healthy life without your gallbladder, but you may need to make some changes to your diet after surgery.
This article explains what to eat and avoid after gallbladder removal surgery and provides a 3-day sample gallbladder diet menu.
Gallbladder removal surgery
The gallbladder is a small organ located under the liver.
It stores and releases a digestive fluid known as bile — which the liver produces — into the small intestine where it helps your body break down and absorb fats (1).
In addition to its role in fat digestion, bile also removes excess cholesterol from the body and supports gut health.
An imbalance in the chemical make-up of the bile inside the gallbladder or an issue with its flow can lead to the formation of stones called gallstones (1).
These stones — which are primarily made up of cholesterol — can then cause blockages in ducts that produce, store, and release bile into the small intestine, causing pain, inflammation, and infection.
Consequently, gallstones may require surgery to remove the gallbladder and reduce the risk of future gallstone attacks through a procedure called a cholecystectomy, which remains one of the most common surgeries performed today.
Gallbladder removal surgery is generally safe and carries a low risk of complications but you may need to follow a special diet post-surgery.
Bile’s primary role is to aid the digestion and absorption of fat.
Without the gallbladder, there is no place to store bile, which decreases the body’s capacity to handle large amounts of dietary fat.
As such, a low-fat diet is commonly recommended after gallbladder removal surgery to reduce fat malabsorption and its associated symptoms, such as greasy stools, diarrhea, bloating, and excess gas.
Still, it may be best to follow a low-fat diet for at least one week after surgery before you resume your normal diet (4).
If experience digestive issues when you resume your normal diet, you may have to revert to a low-fat diet and slowly increase the amount of fat in your diet over time to determine your tolerance level.
Keep in mind that you’re more likely to experience symptoms of fat malabsorption if you consume a fatty meal rather than consuming small to moderate amounts of fat equally spaced throughout the day.
Foods to eat
After gallbladder removal surgery, you should follow a low-fat diet for at least one week, but longer if necessary.
A low-fat diet generally restricts fat to 30% of calories or about 65–70 grams per day for the average adult (5).
Low-fat foods are those that provide fewer than three grams of fat per 100 calories.
Examples of low-fat foods to eat include:
- Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, grapes, kiwis, mangos, melons, oranges, pears, pineapple, etc.
- Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, etc.
- Legumes: beans, peas, and lentils
- Grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulger, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, and grain products, such as bread and pasta
- Dairy: low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt
- Poultry: egg whites and skinless chicken or turkey breast
- Seafood: cod, crab, haddock, lobster, mussels, pollack, scallops, shrimp
- Condiments: barbecue sauce, ketchup, light dressings, mustard, relish, salsa, soy sauce
Foods to avoid
High-fat foods to limit or avoid include:
- Fried foods: cheese sticks, chicken strips, french fries, etc.
- Fatty meats: bacon, hot dogs, sausage, ribs
- Bakery items: cakes, croissants, cookies, pastries, pies
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Dairy: butter, cheese, heavy cream, whole milk, whole milk cottage cheese and yogurt
- Poultry: whole eggs, chicken wings and thighs
- Oily fish: herring, salmon, mackerel, and fish packed in oil
- Oils: canola, olive, and other types of vegetable oils, including coconut and palm
- Condiments and sauces: blue cheese dressing, caesar dressing, creamy pasta sauces, gravies, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, tartar sauce
- Other items: avocado, olives, chocolate, nut butters, and snack foods, such as pretzels, chips, and microwave popcorn
Nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish are excellent sources of healthy fats that possess anti-inflammatory properties and offer a range of health benefits, so you should incorporate them into your diet once you can tolerate higher amounts of fat.
3-day sample gallbladder diet
Here’s a 3-day sample gallbladder diet to follow for at least one week after gallbladder removal surgery.
After one week, you can choose to slowly increase the amount of fat in your diet based on your tolerance.
- Breakfast: scrambled egg whites and oatmeal topped with berries
- Lunch: grilled chicken salad with a balsamic vinaigrette
- Snack: low-fat Greek yogurt and apple slices
- Dinner: baked tilapia, lemon rice, and steamed broccoli
Day 2 (vegan option)
- Breakfast: vegan protein pancakes with fruit
- Lunch: kale quinoa bowl with apple cider vinegar
- Snack: soy milk yogurt
- Dinner: broccoli and potato soup
- Breakfast: egg white omelet with whole-grain toast
- Lunch: grilled chicken sandwich and roasted broccoli
- Snack: low-fat cottage cheese with sliced peaches
- Dinner: prawn stir fry with vegetables cooked with water or broth
The bottom line
Gallbladder removal surgery or a cholecystectomy is generally necessary when gallstones form and cause pain, inflammation, or infection.
Owing to the gallbladder’s role as a reservoir for bile, which helps with fat digestion and absorption, a low-fat diet is generally recommended following surgery.
You should follow a low-fat diet for at least one week after surgery before resuming your normal diet.
However, if you experience symptoms of fat malabsorption, such as greasy stools, diarrhea, bloating, and excess gas, you may have to revert to a low-fat diet and slowly increase the amount of fat in your diet over time.
In either case, it’s best to limit fatty meals and instead spread your fat intake evenly throughout the day.