One main job of your gallbladder, a pear-shaped organ just beneath your liver, is to digest fat. When it’s not working right, you might get acid reflux, gas, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. There’s no gallbladder diet, per se, but certain foods can keep your gallbladder in prime shape—while others may make its job harder.
Fiber keeps the digestive system moving, which helps to usher toxins and old bile out of the body, but when we don’t get enough fiber, these unwanted substances can build up. Sluggish bile flow, in particular, can cause a host of symptoms including bloating and constipation. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 38 grams (or 21 and 30 grams daily, respectively, for those older than 50), according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Ground flaxseed makes an excellent fiber supplement and can be added to cereal, smoothies, and juices to increase fiber intake,” says Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. (One tablespoon of flaxseed has about 2.8 grams of dietary fiber.) “As an added benefit, you get healthy, gallbladder-friendly fats in the form of plant-based omega 3s,” he says. Here are other proven ways to boost your fiber intake.
When it comes to potassium-rich foods, avocados rank high for a gallbladder diet. “This is a superfood that is rich in healthy fats and very high in potassium,” says Carrie Burrows, PhD, a nutrition scientist in Orlando, FL. “Potassium is an essential nutrient for fluid and electrolyte balance that keeps us hydrated.” Most of us are chronically dehydrated, which leads to a number of health issues including gallstones, she says. “Gallstones form when bile is too thick, so being hydrated helps keep bile at the right consistency so you can prevent the formation of gallstones.” Gallstones may also form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. Reduce your risk by including sliced avocados with your lunchtime salad or adding them to your morning toast.
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There are many health benefits of beans, so it’s no surprise that they’re a gallbladder diet all-star. “A meal high in fat stimulates more bile release,” explains Sheila Reddy, MD, a gastroenterologist with Austin Gastroenterology in Texas. “When there is too much fat or cholesterol in your diet, it can crystallize in the bile and form gallstones.” Cutting back on meats and focusing instead on eating a plant-based diet can improve cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of developing gallstones, she says. “Plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu are excellent replacements for fatty red meat, one of the major culprits of gallbladder inflammation,” adds Dr. Bulsiewicz. If you need more suggestions, these are the healthiest plant-based proteins you can eat. Prevention is key, but each year about 600,000 people undergo gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy), and this changes the game a bit, says Bulsiewicz. There is no gallbladder removal diet but “fatty foods such as fried foods, cheese, ice cream, and meat should be consumed in moderation after cholecystectomy,” he says. “Without a gallbladder, you cannot adequately digest fat and, as result, get malabsorption and diarrhea.”