What to Know About Diet After Gallbladder Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on February 28, 2024
5 min read

‌Gallbladder surgery is most commonly used to address the following:‌

  • Gallstones in your gallbladder (cholelithiasis)
  • Gallstones in your bile duct (choledocholithiasis)
  • Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
  • Large polyps in your gallbladder
  • Inflammation in your pancreas, or pancreatitis, caused by gallstones

‌Gallbladder surgery is called a cholecystectomy. Your gallbladder sits below your liver in the upper right side of your abdomen. It collects and stores digestive fluids or bile produced by your liver.

‌‌If your gallbladder doesn’t function properly, it may need to be removed. The incisions made to remove your gallbladder are very small. The surgery is generally considered low-risk, and many patients go home the same day after surgery. If a larger incision is made, your healing time may be extended.

First, you must understand why a special diet is necessary following gallbladder removal. After surgery, you’re likely to experience diarrhea or frequent stools that are loose and watery. This condition may last a few weeks to a month as your body adjusts to not having a gallbladder.

‌Usually, your gallbladder releases bile in a controlled manner to aid digestion. If your gallbladder is removed, there is no organ to concentrate or control your bile. Instead of funneling into your gallbladder, bile now travels directly to your intestines. This leads to an effect similar to that of a laxative until your body adjusts.‌‌

The amount of fat you eat also contributes to the condition. If you eat a small amount of fat, it's easier to digest. Eating larger amounts of fat may lead to more diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

For the first few days after your surgery, your diet should be made up of clear liquids, broth, and gelatin. And while some alcoholic beverages may be clear, you should avoid alcohol for at least 2 days after your surgery.

After the first few days, you can start gradually adding solid food back into your diet. You should stick with small meals at first.

Avoid these types of foods when you start adding foods back into your diet:

You may develop diarrhea after having your gallbladder removed, but it usually goes away in a few weeks to a few months. For quickest results, try to avoid the following:‌

High-fat foods. Because high-fat foods are harder to digest, you should avoid them if you're having gas, bloating, or diarrhea after your surgery. In general, fat should make up no more than 30% of your daily calories. Saturated fat should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories.

Try to stick with foods that contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving. Foods that are high in fat include:

  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Bacon fat
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Veal
  • Poultry skin
  • Hot dogs
  • Bologna
  • Salami
  • Cream
  • Whole milk
  • Ice cream
  • Full-fat cheese
  • Tropical oils such as palm and coconut
  • Processed baked goods such as cookies, pastries, and cakes

Spicy foods. Foods that contain capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, can irritate your stomach lining. This can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Foods that generally worsen diarrhea. You may get some relief by avoiding caffeine, dairy products, and very sweet foods.

There is no set diet you should follow after having your gallbladder removed, but there are some guidelines that may help avoid problems.

Fluids. Diarrhea can drain your body of vitamins, minerals, and fluids, so it's crucial to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, broth, and sports drinks. But again, avoid alcohol for at least 2 days after your surgery, especially if you're feeling the effects of anesthesia or pain meds.

Low-fat foods. Low-fat foods will be easier for you to digest and are less likely to cause gas, bloating, or diarrhea. After your surgery, you shouldn't eat more than 30% of your calories from fat, even if it's from low-fat foods. Low-fat options include:

  • Low-fat, 1%, or fat-free dairy products
  • Fat-free cheeses
  • Egg whites or egg substitutes
  • Veggie burgers
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grains
  • Brown rice
  • Low-fat crackers and bread
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Soups with a vegetable base
  • Mustard
  • Salsa
  • Sauces made with skim milk
  • Light margarine
  • Light mayonnaise
  • Light salad dressings

High-fiber foods. Foods high in fiber can help normalize your bowel movements. However, you should gradually increase your fiber intake over several weeks, as increasing it rapidly can make gas and cramping worse. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Both should be a part of your diet.

Soluble fiber absorbs water during digestion. It can increase the bulk of your stool and slow down digestion. Examples of foods high in soluble fiber include:

  • Black beans
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Tofu
  • Chickpeas
  • Soy burgers
  • Oatmeal
  • Oat bran
  • Apples
  • Okra
  • Beets
  • Pears
  • Prunes

Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve in water. It absorbs fluid and sticks to other materials. This forms softer, bulkier, and more regular stools. Insoluble fiber helps your body process waste better. Good sources of insoluble fiber include:

  • Wheat bran
  • Wheat germ
  • Oat bran
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Berries such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries
  • Green peas
  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Whole wheat flour

Writing down what you eat, how much, and when can help you see how foods affect you after you have your gallbladder removed. Keeping a log of any negative reactions to food can help you avoid foods that cause problems. Most people will be able to return to a regular diet within a month after surgery.

Diarrhea that persists for several months is common after gallbladder removal. However, you should still discuss it with your doctor if it persists for more than 3 days after surgery. Additionally, if you have any of the following symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about them:

  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal pain that doesn't go away or gets worse
  • Inability to pass gas for more than 3 days after surgery
  • Inability to have a bowel movement for more than 3 days after surgery
  • Fever