Gallstones Diet – Foods to Eat and Avoid for Prevention

A blanced diet is beneficial for overall health as well as the management and prevention of certain diseases. Sometimes a change in diet is required for specific conditions. While it may not be a balanced diet, these changes are necessary to restrict the nutrients that can be a problem for some people. Gallstones are one of the conditions that may benefit from a change in diet, especially if the problem is recurring.

Where gallstones come from?

The gallbladder is a hollow, pouch-shaped organ that sits beneath the liver. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile, which is a yellowish-green digestive fluid that is produced by the liver. The bile is concentrated in the gallbladder before being released into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The bile released by the gallbladder is composed of water and other components (bilirubin, bile salts, inorganic salts, and fats) that help in the digestion of fats in the small intestine. Water constitutes as much as 97% of the bile in the gallbladder.

Read more on gallstones.

Gallstones refer to the stones formed from some of the components of the bile in the gallbladder. Gallstones are usually formed when the concentration of bilirubin or cholesterol in the bile reaches saturation. These stones may be of various sizes. The formation of gallstones is one of the most common clinical conditions affecting the gallbladder. However, in the majority of cases, the gallstones are tiny and do not cause any symptoms.

Most gallstones are passed along with the bile through the biliary system. Sometimes, gallstones may be large enough to block the flow of bile through the gallbladder and the biliary system. This can result in inflammation of the gallbladder (technically referred to as cholecystitis) and jaundice. The gallstones may also block the pancreatic duct, resulting in inflammation of the pancreas (technically referred to as pancreatitis). These conditions cause severe abdominal pain, especially in the upper right region where the gallbladder is located.

In most cases, gallstones pass out on their own and the condition resolves naturally. In some cases (such as recurrent gallstones), surgical removal of the gallbladder may be done to treat the condition. The surgical removal of gallbladder is technically referred to as cholecystectomy.

Dietary Management of Gallstones

It is widely believed that formation of gallstones is influenced by the diet. High intake of processed foods, fats, and sugar in particular are thought to contribute to the formation of gallstones. The link between diet and the formation of gallstones is not conclusive. The following are some of the foods that should be avoided in the case of gallstones:

Foods with high fat content

Fats such as cholesterol is a component of the bile in the gallbladder. However, the majority of the bile (as much as 97%) is composed of water. Bile salts help in solubilizing the fats in the bile. However, if the concentration of fats in the bile exceeds the capacity of the bile salts to solubilize them, they precipitate out as stones. In fact, the majority of gallstones are composed of high amounts of cholesterol.

These cholesterol gallstones form when the concentration of cholesterol in the bile exceeds the saturation point. Since cholesterol is a product of fat metabolism in the liver, it is assumed that intake of foods with high fat content aids the formation of gallstones. However, this link between high fat diet and gallstone formation is not entirely accepted. There are many people who take high fat diet but do not develop gallstones.

Read more on high blood cholesterol.

Therefore, a high-fat diet should be seen as one of the possible contributory factors to the formation of gallstones. Foods to avoid include margarine, butter, lard, and cooking oils. Frying should not be used as the cooking method.

Low fiber diets

High fiber diets are considered beneficial for the prevention of gallstone formation. Diets that are high in water-soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol from the gut. In addition, high fiber also reduces absorption of sugar, which is also considered to be a contributory factor in the formation of gallstones.

Sugar-rich foods

Consumption of foods that are high in sugar have been linked to an increase in the concentration of triglycerides and a decrease in the concentration of high density lipoproteins (commonly abbreviated as HDL) in the blood. A high concentration of triglycerides and a low concentration of high density lipoproteins (also known as the good cholesterol) in the blood are associated with a higher chance of gallstone formation.

Dairy products

Dairy products, especially those that are full-fat and full-cream versions, should be avoided by people who are at the risk of developing gallstones. These products include milk (including condensed milk and evaporated milk), cream, ice-cream, cheese, and yogurt.

Fatty and processed meats

A large part of our dietary cholesterol comes from the consumption of meats. Some of the meats to avoid include fatty meats (such as oily fish, marbled meat, skin, and meats with visible fat content), processed meats (such as sausages, canned meats, ham and bologna), liver, brain, and smoked or dried meats (such as smoked sausages and jerky). Meats that can be consumed include poultry (without skin), non-oily fish, and lean red meat. Baking, grilling, and poaching are more acceptable meat preparation techniques than frying, processing, and smoking.

High fat and sugar baked foods

Baked foods usually have a high amount of sugar. Some of the baked foods to avoid include puddings, pies, pastries, cakes, and cookies. It is better to avoid baked foods containing chocolate, sugar, full cream milk, butter, and egg yolks.

Condiments

Bottled sauces, mayonnaise, and salad dressings should also be avoided due to their high salt and sugar content.

Junk foods

A lot of sugar and fat in our diet come through a variety of “junk” foods that the modern food habits are built around. Some of the common junk foods to avoid include sodas, French fries, chips, candies, milkshakes, ice creams, and fried fast foods.

Fasting, Dieting and Gallstones

Obesity results from a sedentary lifestyle coupled with a high fat and high calorie diet. Weight loss can help in reducing the risk of gallstone formation. However, weight loss should not be rapid. Fasting and dieting to reduce weight rapidly may actually increase the chances of gallstone formation. Lack of food in the gut leads to longer bile storage times, which can result in increased bile concentration. This can promote gallstone formation.

Rapid weight loss methods such as bariatric surgery, consumption of very low calorie diets, and a loss of more than 1.5 kilograms (or 3 pounds) of weight per week, are all known to contribute to gallstone formation. It is important to note that fat is an important nutrient, and should not be eliminated from the diet. Low fat diets, rather than fat-free diets, are advisable.

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