Diet After Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Contrary to popular belief, life after gallbladder removal surgery can be very painful and exhausting. The associated dietary complications may vary from person to person.
While it may take only a few weeks for some people to return to their favorite foods, others have to wait several months.
Digestion Without a Gallbladder
The job of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile from the liver. Bile plays an important role in the digestion and absorption of fat and certain vitamins called fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). After a meal, the gallbladder contracts and squirts bile into the small intestine.
According to the US National Institutes of Health, we can live a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder. However, the amount of bile available for digestion is reduced after the gallbladder is removed.
Bile will no longer be stored after the gallbladder is removed. It will be released in steady trickles from the liver into the small intestine. This less concentrated bile provides a weaker bile action. The degree to which this affects fat digestion varies from person to person.
Recommended Diet After Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Taking on certain foods too early after your gallbladder is removed can cause great discomfort and even lead to embarrassing situations. As you may already know, the gallbladder is a major player in fat digestion. The ability to digest fat becomes significantly reduced after it is removed as the secretion of bile is no longer regulated. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort are common problems associated with gallbladder removal.
The effects of a gallbladder removal surgery vary from person to person. While there is no specific recommended diet after gallbladder removal surgery, there are some practical dietary tips that can help with the healing process, until your body gets used to functioning without the gallbladder.
What do you think is most frustrating after a gallbladder removal surgery?
Right after surgery
You will be put on a clear liquid diet for up to 48 hours after surgery. The liquid diet contains very little fat and is easy to digest. The hydration also helps with constipation caused by some of the pain killers you may be on.
Some common choices of a clear liquid diet are broth, tea, gelatin and water. You will probably be vomiting and feeling nauseous due to the effect of the anesthetic. It may take 2 to 3 days for the anesthetic to wear off. So you won’t feel like eating much during this period.
After the liquid diet
Many people are often at a loss on what to eat and what to avoid at this point. You could move from clear liquid to full liquid diet by adding things like fruit and vegetable juice, soup and even ice cream if you can tolerate it. You can also slowly introduce solid foods. Start with soft foods like mashed potatoes and maybe add some fish.
One month after surgery
This may be the time to add a few of your old favorite foods and see how your body handles them. If at one point your digestive system doesn’t tolerate something, take a step back and try it again at a later time point.
Even though most people can return to their normal diet soon after surgery, some people have difficulties for months or even years after surgery. I knew a guy who still couldn't drink his favorite beer one year after his gallbladder surgery.
Common problem foods after a gallbladder removal surgery:
- Greasy foods
Avoid Difficult Foods
A healthy well-balanced diet contains fat. It is an important part of our diet and contains key raw materials required for optimal health.
It is therefore wise to introduce fat into your diet once you feel comfortable with it. However, too much fat may cause indigestion, diarrhea, bloating and gas. So you may want to take it easy on fat and foods that will add stress your digestive system.
Avoid greasy cheesy foods, especially during the initial period where your digestive system is still adapting to life without a gallbladder. If you are having a tough time with dairy products, you can try natural plant based substitutes. For example, you could replace your milk with almond or rice milk. Try almond ice cream instead of the full fat ice cream.
Eat Small Frequent Meals
Once you are confident with getting back to your normal diet, you should be careful not to consume too much food in one sitting. It can cause pain and discomfort due to indigestion.
Since bile is now less concentrated, it mixes better with smaller portions of food. So if you are having troubles with three huge meals everyday, you should try breaking them up into five small meals.
Eat Enough Fiber
Slowly add fruits and veggies to your diet. Fruits and veggies are rich in fiber. Fiber helps the contents of your bowel to move smoothly. This reduces the chance of diarrhea and constipation. However, some people have had to go for a low-fiber diet due to pain and cramping. It is important to start gradually—don’t go crazy on the fiber.
Most people love apricot, strawberries, cherries, mango, melons, papaya, peaches and raisins. They are high in fiber and packed with anti-oxidants. Some of my favorite veggies are asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce and squash.
Supplemental Bile Salts should be taken only as a last resort. The goal here is to do everything you can to encourage your body carry on without mimicking the presence of a gallbladder. Supplemental bile salt is an option to consider when everything else has failed.
Definitely contact your doctor if your symptoms don’t diminish or if you have any concerns about your diet after gallbladder removal surgery. What challenges did you face after surgery? Have they been completely resolved?