Gallbladder surgery – or laparoscopic cholecystectomy, to give it its scientific name – can provide considerable relief to patients who have developed gallstones, or whose gallbladder has become infected.
The gallbladder is about 4 inches long and oval-shaped. It’s connected to the liver, concentrating the bile from it and helping to break down food by releasing it into the small intestine.
The gallbladder isn’t essential for digestion, but when it’s removed, the bile flows directly into the small intestine. It’s also less concentrated, which means that it isn’t as effective in breaking down what’s been eaten.
Generally, any side effects following gallbladder removal will last just a few weeks, but as the free-flowing bile works like a laxative, it’s sensible to make some changes to your diet to take this change into account so that you’re avoiding foods which are more likely to cause bloating, painful flatulence and/or diarrhoea.
What foods should I eat?
Just a few hours after your operation, you should be able to start eating normally, although in small portions initially.
You should focus on making sure that your diet is healthy and balanced as you recover, and try to follow the same type of diet long-term.
Fruit and vegetables are packed full of nutrients and vitamins, as well as fibre that can help to improve the digestion. Other high fibre foods include beans, nuts, whole grain bread, rice and pasta, lentils and oats. Just make sure that you introduce additional amounts slowly, because fibre can also cause gas, which can be uncomfortable.
Lean meat like chicken and turkey, fish and plant-based meat alternatives are other foods that contribute to a healthy diet after you’ve had your gallbladder removed.
And don’t cut out fat completely – try low fat versions of milk, mayonnaise and ice cream, for example, and use healthier oils like olive oil when cooking.
What foods should I avoid?
Generally, it’s best to limit your consumption of fatty, oily or greasy foods – or avoid them altogether, which is better for your health overall too. The amount of fat you eat at one time can make a difference – it’s easier to digest smaller amounts of fat, while larger amounts can remain undigested and cause discomfort.
Your body may find it harder to digest other types of food, too, such as red meat and dairy products. Cutting back on these is sensible – look for alternatives that are more easily digestible, such as chicken or fish, or almond milk instead of cows’ milk.
Processed foods can also be more difficult to digest, so try to stay away from cakes, biscuits, pies, white bread and high-sugar cereals. And spicy foods may make any problems worse.
Drinks-wise, caffeine can cause discomfort or pain due to the acids that it contains, because that makes the stomach make more acid which then drains faster. The best advice is to limit your intake of coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, and even chocolate and energy bars with high levels of caffeine.
Remember, though, that changes to your diet may not need to be made forever. As you recover from your operation, you might find that you can reintroduce them slowly back into your diet over a period of weeks or months, with few or no ill-effects.
Handy tip: Some patients find that keeping a food journal is helpful following their gallbladder removal surgery. They can keep track of what they’ve eaten and whether there were any side-effects, so that over time they understand what they can eat comfortable and what they should avoid.